For most of us, a sense of familiarity can be the first step toward trying something new.
Imagine, for instance, a dense, dark slab of chocolate cake on a plate in front of you. Can you smell its rich aroma?
That's enough to convince most people they'll like the taste, says Dominique Duby. Their past experiences have programmed them to believe they'll enjoy it.
"If it looks and smells like a chocolate cake, they'll make the first visual evaluation that they'll like it," he says.
And if they like it, they'll probably still enjoy it after they find out it contains brussels sprouts, says Duby.
Yeah, you read that right. Brussels sprouts in your chocolate cake.
The combination isn't strange, however, to Duby. He and his business and life partner Cindy Duby are the Vancouver-based authors of the new cookbook, Wild Sweets: Chocolate (Whitecap, 2007, $40).
Some recipes in the full-colour, hardcover book sound fairly straight-ahead delicious: Chocolate-Mascarpone Cake, Lemon-Almond Cream Cakes, Chocolate-Mango Custard.
But others are, well, a little more unusual in their flavour combinations. Take the prawns with orange chili chocolate mayonnaise, for instance. Or the scallops with a baked grapefruit chocolate cheesecake, asparagus ribbons and a bacon porcini crumble.
Sounds odd to the novice foodie, but some call it molecular gastronomy, a.k.a. the act of applying modern science to cooking. The trend has been sweeping the world's high-end cuisine scene for the past few years.
The Dubys are part of the unorthodox approach to food combinations. Indeed, their ideas have garnered the West Coast chefs an international reputation for innovation in the kitchen.
In addition to their successful Vancouver-based chocolate boutique, DC Duby Wild Sweets, the couple won Best Book in the World for Food and Wine Matching at the Gourmand World Food Awards in 2003 for their first book, Wild Sweets: Exotic Dessert and Wine Pairings.
While anyone can stir together a few savoury and sweet ingredients, it takes a special talent -- and a broad palate -- to make them harmonious.
"If you don't eat star anise and Belgian endive, all these types of ingredients, you don't know what they taste like," Dominique says.
"And if you don't know what they taste like, you don't know how to use them in a recipe and you for sure won't know how they're going to taste in a recipe."
The process is about creating culinary memories, he says.
"We have a mental as well as a physical library of flavours. We understand from our minds what something's going to taste like, what each flavour is like and what's going to work together."
That's why it only takes them a couple of times to create a new dish; unlike some chefs, he says they don't have to test and retest their latest creations.
"In the past, it was by trial and error," he says. "But now it's by confirmation. We already know that something's going to work."
The new book took them about four months to write, including recipe development -- the Dubys also did all the photography and art direction.
The process went so well, the couple is already starting to develop their third book -- but they're not talking about its contents yet.
"We already have the whole idea of what the book is going to be about, but things may change," says Cindy with a laugh.
In addition to the chocolate business and cookbook writing, the couple supervises University of British Columbia students working on molecular gastronomy projects.
This year, they're developing a food perfume -- to literally be sprayed on food (not people) before serving.
Previous projects have included hot ice cream. "We wanted to make a traditional ice cream, but served hot instead of cold, so that it would melt when it started to cool," Cindy says.
It worked. So did a beverage that is both hot and cold in the same glass, "but separated. The bottom of the glass was either hot or cold, and the top would be the other," Dominique explains.
"You'd feel the hot on the bottom but when you tasted it, you'd taste the opposite."
This multi-layered series of recipes, Banana Dark Chocolate, Caramelized Banana and Banana Bread Crouton, is excerpted from Wild Sweets by Dominique and Cindy Duby (Whitecap, 2007, $40). It's not for the faint of heart. Make it on a day when you have plenty of time to make, bake, melt and assemble the various components.
BANANA BREAD CROUTON
1/3 cup (75 mL) plus 1 tbsp (15 mL) un salted butter, melted
3/4 cup (175 mL) plus 2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar
1 large egg, room temperature
1/2 tsp (2 mL) vanilla extract
2 ripe bananas, mashed
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
1 cup (250 mL) plus 2 tbsp (25 mL) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
1/2 tsp (2 mL) baking soda
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Pour the melted butter into a bowl, add the sugar and mix with a rubber spatula. Add the egg, vanilla, bananas and walnuts. Mix until well combined. Sift in the flour, salt and baking soda and fold until just combined. (Don't overmix.) Pour the mixture into a 15 by 20 cm mold lined with silicon paper (parchment paper).
Bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. As soon as you pull it out of the oven, flip the cake onto a wire rack to cool.
This recipe makes more than required and leftovers can be stored in the freezer for several weeks.
2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar
Place a non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Peel and slice the banana into 2.5-cm rounds. Sprinkle the banana with the sugar. Caramelize the pieces of banana in the preheated pan on one side. (This step should be just before serving.)
DARK CHOCOLATE BASE
1.9 oz (50 g) 70 per cent dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup (250 mL) whipping cream
Place the chocolate in a tall and narrow container. Bring the whipping cream to a boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour on top of chocolate.
Blend with an immersion blender until well combined. Let it cool, then store in the refrigerator for up to four days.
WHITE CHOCOLATE MILK
5.9 oz (165 g) white chocolate
4 cups (1 L) water
Place the chocolate in a tall and narrow container. Bring the water to boil in a saucepan. Remove from the heat and pour on top of chocolate. Blend with an immersion blender until well combined. Let it cool in the refrigerator. Skim and discard the cocoa butter that rises to the surface. Refrigerate for up to one week.
BANANA DARK CHOCOLATE
1 cup (250 mL) dark chocolate base
1 cup (250 mL) white chocolate milk
1 medium ripe banana
1/4 lb (125 g) ice cubes
4 tbsp (60 mL) dark rum (optional)
Place all of the ingredients in a high-speed blender and mix until well-combined.
8 to 16 fresh blueberries
2 tbsp (25 mL) butter, melted edible flowers (optional)
8 chilled glasses
Cut the banana bread crouton into three by 2.5 cm rectangles (one centimetre thick). Lightly brush both sides of the banana bread with the butter and toast on both sides in a frying pan. Top each Banana Bread Crouton with a slice of Caramelized Banana, one or two blueberries, edible flowers (if using) and serve immediately with a glass of Banana Dark Chocolate.