From strawberry panna cotta to Thai mango sticky rice, Chef Oren of The Vape Kitchen creates e-liquid flavours based on actual foods.
Find out more about his process in this new series of articles about vape juice brewers from around the world – What’s Brewing?
Chef Oren’s secret weapon is his nose.
“Once I have an idea for a flavour or smell the original food or beverage I’m recreating, I just do it! It’s all done with my nose,” says the “owner and mad chemist” behind the flavours at The Vape Kitchen.
Based in Southern California, United States, The Vape Kitchen is a family-owned business that produces handcrafted epicurean e-liquids.
A classically-trained chef, Chef Oren says that it only takes him “a minute or two from start to finish”.
“Rarely will I have to revise or refine. I’m so connected to my ingredients. Sometimes I can literally write out my formula without tasting it and it’ll be spot on,” he says, adding that anyone that’s seen him in action at trade shows can vouch for this.
Growing up, Chef Oren didn’t always eat traditional American food.
“My father was of Mediterranean origins with family all over Europe and North Africa. Varied food and flavour was part of my life from birth,” he says.
Taste had always been important to him and when he was 16, he began culinary school.
“After a while, it occurred to me that any chef of merit or value would be working in the field and not teaching at a school,” he says.
That realisation led him to leave school and instead, pursue an apprenticeship at the best restaurant in Los Angeles.
“The era of the ‘celebrity chef’ was virtually non-existent when I was cooking. Kitchens were very much hard, disciplined and intense environments,” he says.
“I quickly rose up the ranks as my ability matured. The food was detailed and the California-inspired classical French flavours had to be spot on.
“It was during this time that my love and appreciation for wine developed. I discovered that my sense of smell was quite acute and detailed.
“I could pick apart vintages, varietals, fermentation processes and flavour profiles quite easily with my nose.
“Any food I tasted I could deconstruct and recreate with relative ease,” he says.
“I had no idea that this skill set would later allow me to create flavours for e-liquid in the unique way I do.”
The Vape Kitchen has close to 200 flavours in its repertoire and for Chef Oren, flavour inspiration comes from everywhere.
“I’m constantly tasting and deriving inspiration from life,” he says.
“We don’t sit in a room and try to think about what people will like. We do what we love and hope others will love it.”
However, creating vape juices has its own challenges.
“Part of the challenge with creating flavours for vaping lies in the limitations of vape itself,” says Chef Oren.
“I always explain it like this: Take your favourite food, put it in a blender and that’s what it’ll taste like when you vape it.
“Retaining separation of flavour layers is the greatest challenge as a flavourist in vape.
“You have to be cognisant of what hits the palate first, what holds the body as you chew and what lingers in the finish.”
The Vape Kitchen has a whole section of flavours dedicated to “Asian Delights”.
When asked about that section, Chef Oren said that “Asian desserts tend to have a flavour structure that translates quite nicely to e-liquid”.
“I also think they’re delicious and complex, yet complementary,” he says.
While he may tend to favour complex flavours, Chef Oren maintains that a good flavour should not be “muddy or ambiguous”.
“A good flavour has intention,” he says, drawing a comparison to good art, music, or even food.
“Your tools are there to execute your vision. Playing around and seeing what sticks usually yields average results.
“Having vision and a passionate creative charge that needs to be released always yields excellence.
“Caring about what you do doesn’t cost a penny but makes the greatest difference in your product,” he says.
He believes that “great flavours happen when creators are doing what they love and working within their best comfortably”.
“If someone’s trying too hard you can taste it. The same applies to food.
“If your abilities only permit you to mix two to three flavours together to create an e-liquid, that’s what you should do.
“Make the best two to three flavour combination you can. Make each flavour count.
“Don’t let the consumer taste your grand idea executed poorly,” he says.
While The Vape Kitchen typically uses US-produced GRAS flavourings – from about 10 different flavour labs! – they also create their own in-house flavours.
“I make it a point not to buy any complex compounded flavouring. I’ll purchase basic building blocks and create my complex flavours in-house,” he says.
“For example, if I want to make a doughnut flavour, I’ll actually create it from scratch the way you’d physically make a doughnut in real life.”
He would approach this by creating a wheat grain flavour, then combining it with cane sugar flavour, vanillas, malted grains, egg-like profiles and so on.
“The same goes for custard, cream, cereal base, cola, pie, etc. We do this to keep our products tasting unique,” he says.
The Vape Kitchen also extracts natural flavour base in-house!
Although the typical e-liquid contains propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), flavouring and nicotine, The Vape Kitchen doesn’t add any additional PG into their liquids.
“Our base is 100% VG. It’s my belief that this yields significantly better products assuming the VG one uses is of high quality,” says Chef Oren.
With so much importance placed on the quality of e-liquid, it’s not surprising that Chef Oren believes that a good vape juice should taste good on any device.
“When someone’s tasting a new flavour they shouldn’t have to do anything special. If they do, that indicates poor formulation on the creative side,” he says.
“You don’t get to hand out post-it notes with instructions in life.
“It’s a bit like music. When you mix and master a record you’re not going to specify to the end-listener what stereo and speakers they have to use.
“Your mix has to sound good on everything from a car stereo to a crappy speaker in the mall.
“The same applies to e-liquid. People have to enjoy it in whatever device they have,” he says.
While he admits that an e-liquid might taste betted on “a fused Clapton at 100 watts”, he says that the same e-liquid should taste “as good as anything can” in even a tank at 30 watts.