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On The Job: Flavor Maker

Marie Wright on flavoring everything from toothpaste to truffles.

How do you get perfume to smell like a virgin?

Armed with a chemistry degree and an impeccable sense of smell, Marie Wright is a top flavorist at International Flavors & Fragrances. Her job is to blend artificial and natural chemicals to create scents for perfumes and flavors for many of the items in your grocery store.

What does it take to be a flavorist?

You need to have a good understanding of science. But you also need endurance because this is a learning profession. And eccentricity--so much of my job is unexplained, and there are no set rules, so I have to think creatively.

There are fewer than 500 flavorists in the country. How did you get into the industry?

I studied chemistry at King's College in England. But I didn't want to end up in some lab bubbling up chemicals. I started out in food science, and then became a trainee flavorist in London. I was hooked.

Is this more social than other chemistry jobs?

I'm not stuck in the laboratory all the time. I have the opportunity to go out and meet with customers and sell my products.

What makes you good at what you do?

I can almost smell how things will smell when you mix them together. It's the same trait a successful chef has. Once you have knowledge of the raw materials, then you can create the formula.

Any quirky pleasures?

I love the smell of kitty pee because it reminds me of blackcurrant.

How is psychology connected to smell?

It's the first sense that is activated when we're born. Smell is provocative and deeply connected to our emotional state, and people who lose their sense of smell can even lose their will to live. It can take you back to places and situations.

What was the most unusual fragrance or flavor you've had to concoct?

I had to put the flavor of "virgin" into truffles. I created it from the analysis of the aroma of a virgin's belly button. It tasted like rose and vanilla. It was powdery and clean, yet seductive and sweet.

You're telling me virgins' belly buttons smell different?

I can't really answer that one, but I am sure there is the smell of purity.

Are there ever heated discussions with colleagues about what, say, "orgasm" tastes like?

Oh yes! Everyone has his or her idea of orgasm. Some like it sweet and pure and others animalic. I made sure that a good number of people were satisfied with the taste by combining those elements. It comprised notes of chocolate, honey, musk, vanilla, truffles, and sweaty body.

Any surprising sources of inspiration?

I listen to music, especially if I'm creating something from scratch. And when I need a break, I go for a run. That's when my head is free, and I can take in the smells of nature and the architecture around me. It's a spiritual thing for me.