It's commonly understood that we shouldn't use scented candles at the dinner table. Much of taste is about smell and a heavily scented candle can interfere with the flavors of a dish. But what about perfume and aftershave? Or scented candles elsewhere in the house, or simmering pots of cinnamon and cloves, or a sick of incense? Do you entertain scent-free?
I love the way scent contributes to atmosphere, the way it is part of a personal signature. For me, scent is very evocative and can imprint experiences. There's a certain kind of incense that an old friend used to burn and every time I smell it, I'm transported back to the days when we had more time to spend together.
But scent is controversial, especially in the dining room. There's a famous story about a temperamental chef who used to kick people out of his restaurant if their perfume was too strong. And plenty of chefs I know would love to do the same if they felt they could get away with it.
When I have people over for dinner, I want to engage all of their senses and usually the smell of dinner in the oven is enough. For a cocktail party where there's not too much cooking going on, though, a few scented candles might be OK. Although truth be told, once more than a few people show up with splashed-on perfumes and colognes, it can get to be too much.
I love a beautifully scented candle and I despise a poorly scented one. Cheap, fake, overly sweet scents are a big turnoff. (Think anything with the word 'pie' in its name.) But beauty is in the eye of the beholder which means that what's lovely to me could be terrible to someone else and vice versa. So in the end, I tend to stick with unscented candles for my entertaining and save the scented ones for an evening alone.
How do you handle the scented dining experience?
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(Image: Dana Velden)