I'm Kala Maxym, founder and chief event composer of Five Senses Tastings. Ask me anything about how to create an amazing event by pairing food, wine, and music!

Kala Maxym
May 23, 2018

I founded Five Senses Tastings because for years, I was the kind of hostess who spent hours in the cheese and wine department picking out the perfect combinations, then spent equal amounts of time on the playlist I'd put on for my guests. Now, this passion for creating experiential events is how I make my living. More than an event planner, I'm an experience composer, wine and food aficionado, and a professional operatic soprano.

My methodology – known as event harmony – meticulously pairs wine with cheese or chocolate, and then aligns these flavors with live music to tell a unique story that my clients and guests have called "breathtaking," "sensational," "unique," and "exquisite." As part of my job, I have the joy of working with world-class musicians, chefs, sommeliers, chocolatiers, and other flavor artists, as we come together to weave a diverse, global narrative guided by live music and enhanced by flavor.

Ask me anything about how I founded my business, how opera really isn't boring at all, and how to make your next special event your best one ever!

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Why do sweet wines pair well with spicy food?
May 27, 12:39AM EDT0

Great question! In general, you will want not a sweet wine but an off-dry wine. Anything too sweet might overpower the flavors in the spicy food. However, you don't want anything too acidic as it will just make the spicy food spicier so a sweet wine will help dampen the spiciness, while allowing the flavors to shine through. 

May 28, 2:25PM EDT0
What are some of the wines one can pair with greasy food?
May 27, 12:25AM EDT0

That's a great question! Depends what kind of grease! If you're talking burgers and BBQ, I'd go with a red wine but not one that's too full-bodied. I like a crisp white as it cuts through the grease really well but, in general, greasy foods tend to pair better with reds.

May 28, 2:24PM EDT0
What is the general rule of thumb to pick a wine at dinner?
May 26, 10:01PM EDT0

Hi - that's a huge and wide-ranging question but one I get asked a lot. There is no end to what wines to pair for dinner and so the rule of thumb I'd suggest without any other parameters is: the wine you like! Typically whites pair better with lighter foods and reds with heavier dishes but that is not a hard and fast rule. You can try whites with pork and red meat and lighter reds with fish and creamy pasta. I'd stay away from anything sweet to pair with dinner and stick with dry wines. Definitely if you're going with spicy food like Asian, Indian, etc, then go with a dry white with low acidity.

If you have any specific pairing questions, let me know!

May 28, 2:23PM EDT0
Chocolate and red wine is a classic pairing but what kind of red wine and chocolate pairing would you consider to be the best?
May 26, 7:37AM EDT0

Oooooh, to say the BEST would be hard! I always prefer dark chocolate over milk chocolate always for pairing as milk chocolate is often too sweet to pair with most wines; dark will pair well with dry wines especially well. I would recommend a more full-bodied red wine such as a Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Syrah, Petite Verdot, Bordeaux blend with a darker chocolate... Rhone blends whether from France, the US, or elsewhere will also pair nicely but you might look for something with a slightly lower percentage of cacao. For the fuller wines, you could even try a truffle with a ganache filling, perhaps infused with berries such as raspberry. The older the wine, the less fruity the chocolate pairing should be. Hope that helps and have fun with your pairings!

May 28, 2:20PM EDT0

What opera music would you recommend for complete newbies to opera?

May 25, 9:13PM EDT0

That's a great question and many apologies for the delay in responding! I would recommend starting with some of the classics: Carmen, The Marriage of Figaro, La Boheme. Those are all great stories with some really memorable melodies. 

May 28, 2:17PM EDT0
When you look back into this journey, how do you feel about all the struggles that you have gone through? Do you think it's all worth the effort?
May 23, 7:41PM EDT1

Absolutely! Each struggle has made me stronger. Might be a cliché but it's so true! There are always things we could have done better along any given journey but it has – and continues to be – worth it every day because I am doing what I love!

May 23, 7:48PM EDT0

How do you choose the music for the pairings? Is it usually straightforward or does it require a lot of research? 

May 23, 5:35PM EDT0

Great question, thanks Amy! I usually start with just an inkling: a piece, a composer, a time period, an instrument I want to use based on the story my client has told me. From there, it might seem rudimentary but I actually go to YouTube and – pretty much for hours on end – move from clip to clip, from piece to piece, song to song, then research the history of the song, the lyrics, the title, the artist, I think about the instruments I will have at my event and whether we can rerrange the song for those instruments. I start to get a picture of the pieces for each part of the story arc and then take the notes I have for the wines and/or the food and relate them back to the music. It's a multi-step process but I do that because each piece is meticulously chosen to support the theme of the event. Nothing is random and so... well, it takes a long time. I love that part of the process though. Tons of research and tons of listening - these are usually my favorite days of the entire planning process. Thanks for the great question!

May 23, 5:41PM EDT0

How do you plan for events where there are lots of dietary restrictions or considerations (ie. vegan, gluten-free, food allergies, etc.)?

May 23, 5:00PM EDT1

Hi Kimi - great question! Because we don't typically serve a full-dinner, we don't run into this quite as often as you might imagine. If we are serving a full dinner in collaboration with someone else, we'll always ask ahead of time, of course. We're very clear that our core offering is music, wine, cheese, and chocolate (everything indulgent!) so while we are happy to try and offer alternatives, we know that we're better suited to consumers who are comfortable eating dairy and sugar, and consuming alcohol!

May 23, 5:06PM EDT1
Anonymous

Hi Kala,

I'm planning a party to celebrate my niece's 25th birthday. She has very elegant and sophisticated taste, but she also loves Broadway music. I wonder if you can create an evening of music and wine and cheese that is traditional, but still appealing to an under 30 crowd.

thank you,

Amy Lloyd

May 23, 2:53PM EDT1

Absolutely - that's really the whole point of Five Senses Tastings' events is curating a diverse program where elements of it will appeal to anyone and everyone. My audiences are usually aged between about 26-65 and is divided between male and female so we really do reach a large swathe of different people and, therefore, different tastes. I think the key to creating an event is to meld the familiar with the unfamiliar. I always recommend having one or two selections of wine, food, and music that are known to everyone, especially at the beginning of the night. Then, you can dabble and experiment a bit in other sounds, flavors, moods, then come back and finish with the familiar again. Hope that helps and Happy Birthday to your niece! 

May 23, 3:09PM EDT1

How long did it take for you to grow your business? What would you do differently in the beginning stages of your business?

May 23, 2:44PM EDT0

Hi Paula! It's feast or famine a lot of the time (which I know is what a lot of small business owners go through, particularly if their service is a one-time thing or product, not a long-term service). I launched in NYC in 2012, then had a couple good years, then took a while to regroup and move west and relaunched here in LA in 2016, just two years ago. I'd say the growth has happened in spurts, I've found, though it's been steady ever since I've gotten to LA and realized this is really where we needed to be located.

What would I do differently? Gosh - everything and nothing ;) I think there are benefits to being a solopreneur and also disadvantages. If I could do it again, I might want to start with a co-founder. It's not easy having only yourself to bounce ideas off of! What I'd do the same? Hire the same musicians I have been lucky enough to work with. Great question - thank you!

May 23, 3:07PM EDT0

Hi Kala, back to you with my own question. How do you grow your social media following? Have you ever solicite or used social media influencers to grow your business?

May 23, 2:39PM EDT0

Hi Irina - thanks for your question! My growth is organic and steady though and not massive or quick. I have never solicited any support from companies or social media influencers. 

May 23, 3:03PM EDT1

Certain aromas and flavors can trigger intense emotional memories.  Have you found, or has anyone commented to you, that the addition of music to the other senses can heighten the experience of such memories?

May 23, 2:20PM EDT1

Ah - spot on question, Matthew, thank you! I've actually had people comment a ton on how it's helped them to recall certain things, often people in their lives, places they've been, or times they've spent with loved ones. I've also had guests remark that they have never thought so much or become so aware of their senses and that it's helped them to recall things that they had long since forgotten. Recently someone mentioned to me that the minute we began one of our pairings, they went straight back to France where they had been many years prior. It was clear to me that this was a very fond memory for them!

On another note, I've also had a lot of guests remark that they feel our events are creating memories at our events. One of my favorite stories is from a recent event where a woman told me that as she was holding a glass of chilled rosé in her hand, all of a sudden as the music started, she began to feel the coolness of the wine come through the glass and onto her cheek. She closed her eyes and the feeling became even more intense. She told me that without a doubt it was because the music had encouraged her to close her eyes and really pay attention to what else was around her. She even teared up - it was really moving, and I hope that she's carried this with her into her daily life.

Another guest once commented that he had actually been a bit worried when he saw a particular piece on the program because he didn't think he would like it (it was a bit of a risky piece, as well, I'll give him that!). However, at the end of the night, he came to me and said that it had been his favorite pairing of all because the experience of engaging all his senses and incorporating the wine, cheese, and chocolate had really allowed himself to engage completely in the piece and he could, in a sense, be more present not only in the moment but, together with the story we shared about the composer and when he wrote this piece, he felt like he was more connected to the reason the piece was composed in the first place. Long answer but great question and thank you again!

May 23, 2:29PM EDT1

How did you create this masterpiece of an experience and what was your inspiration? 

May 23, 2:14PM EDT1

Thanks for the question, Gwen! The inspirations were many and varied, actually! I had been a professional opera singer for many years and was a bit disillusioned with the business but never with the storytelling aspect of it. That's what I loved the most. I started wondering whether I could take idea off the stage and into real life. I was also learning a lot about wine tasting at that time and so I loved the idea of a "flight" of wine - you know, tasting four or five different wines together – and so I applied that to music. That's how the inspiration for Five Senses Tastings came to me, and we held our first event within two months!

May 23, 3:46PM EDT1

What are the most interesting events you like to host, and what is your favorite event to date?

May 23, 1:57PM EDT1

It's really hard to pick (luckily!) because every event is special in its own right. However, I love working with private clients because I find I get such amazing insight into the reasons for and circumstances surrounding the event. People are always very open when talking about people they love the most, and that makes it so much easier and more special for us to program an event for them. To date, wow - my favorite event? So hard to say! I LOVED working with Diane von Furstenberg and Jo Malone, two beautiful luxury brands because I really got to focus on a couple of the other senses that are often harder to bring into the mix: Touch (for DVF) and Smell (for Jo Malone). I also loved working with the League of Women Voters of LA because they were so engaged in the event-creation process, so energetic, and so supportive of bringing something new and creative to their user base. 

May 23, 2:00PM EDT1
Anonymous

What are some of the things you love most about running your own business, and some of the things you find scary/challenging? How do you handle the things that challenge you?

May 23, 12:51PM EDT1

What I love most is the freedom not only of schedule but of creativity. I also love the amazing talent and diversity of the people I get to meet and work with. I suppose one could say that of almost any job but having worked in an office environment (which I do miss sometimes), I love that every day is different. That can also be the challenge! When you're a one-woman show and running everything yourself, you are where the buck stops, right? If you make a mistake, it's all on you to acknowledge it and fix it. That can be a huge and wonderful learning curve but it can also be a lonely thing sometimes. When things challenge me, I seek out support from trusted friends and advisors, I exercise, I cook, and I allow myself the space to be disappointed, confused, angry, or whatever it is I'm feeling for a little bit. Then I sit down and try to figure out how to work the challenge to my best advantage and grow from it!

May 23, 1:24PM EDT2
Anonymous

What is the best way to bring in new clients - do you find that referrals from previous clients work well for you? 

May 23, 12:46PM EDT1

Most of my work has come from referrals, yes! There's definitely some outbound and some inbound, as there is with any business, but yes I find that most referrals from either from previous clients or from friends.

May 23, 12:48PM EDT1
Do you feel three of the things have some connection to each other the food, music and wine? If so, what is it that you see and want others to see too?
May 23, 12:02PM EDT1

Food, wine, and music have been fast friends for millenia so in some sense the elements of our events are just taking a tried-and-true combination. Our approach, though, is what's different. People are used to "tasting" with their mouths (food and drink) but they're not ever taught really how to "taste" with their ears. We'll all try a new dish or the beer our friend loves the most but we're less inclined to try going to a concert of music we think we don't like and for good reason: it's several hours of our day, it's money, it's time, it's parking and blablabla. However, I hope that people see that it's really all about experimentation and about ALLOWING our senses to become fully engaged in a moment, in an experience. Music has the singular ability to move us, to evoke emotion, in a way that food and drink and things that tantalize the other senses simply don't have so it's our mission to harness the power of music to amplify our guests' experience of the other elements, thereby creating more meaninful and solid memories for them to take away. Thanks for the great question, Steven!

May 23, 12:06PM EDT1
Who has been the best of all the world-class musicians, chefs, sommeliers, chocolatiers, and other flavour artists that you have worked so far? Whose your favourite and why?
May 23, 11:56AM EDT1

Oooooh, can't say I can call out THE best but I have to give some special kudos to our flamenco guitarist, Andrés Vadín, who's played on several of our events. He's got such flair and is so amazingly talented... people are still asking me about him almost two years after the first time he played with us! I love working with EOS Chocolates and their owner, Catherine. She is so humble and yet SO talented and always creates a special "Pot of Sin" for our events where she infuses a chocolate ganache with the flavors of the evening. My partner in crime in Song & Tonic, the founder of Bit by a Fox, is amazing at knowing just what flavors are in season and will go together to create the perfect cocktail not just for any night but for the very specific event we're hosting on a given day. We also recently had the opportunity to work with Chef Louis Pechan of Hundred Miles LA, which was really awesome, too!

May 23, 12:01PM EDT1

Hi Kala,

I'm wondering what size functions do you typically prefer for your Five Sense Tastings events?    Are you and 5ST team about large and comprehensive functions or are you more comfortable and in tune with small, intimate "soiree?"    Inquiring minds wanna know!

May 23, 11:50AM EDT1

Thanks so much for your question, Greg! Ideal size for us is about 25-40. Because, for us, music is such a focus and our music is always presented live, we find that with bigger crowds, the music will automatically move back into the background of the event, rather than staying in the foreground. We can definitely offer consulting services for the larger gala events and have done work with non-profits such as the Oakland Symphony in that vein, but our specialty is really with smaller and more intimate groups for things like team building or incentive travel, personal celebrations such as birthdays, anniversaries, housewarmings, rehearsal dinners, and the like. Thanks for your question ;)

May 23, 11:55AM EDT2

What do you think are the hottest trends in food and wine right now? Are there certain types of wine and food that you get asked about the most? 

May 23, 11:49AM EDT0

Thanks for your question! Right now we're seeing a big trend, or rather a continuing trend, in the organic movement and no longer is it just about food but also wine, beer, and other craft beverages. People want to know exactly what they're imbibing, and I don't blame them. I get asked a lot whether we work with beverages other than wine and as of not so long ago, we can say a definitive yes after we launched our cocktail branch, Song & Tonic where we work with craft cocktails, often using local liquors and fruit and making our own syrups and things like that. 

I get asked a lot also about the cheese we serve, and I can almost always tell people that I got them either at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or another non-specialty store. Folks are always so happy to know that what they loved at our events is easily accessible for them to buy and take home to present at their next house party. Hope that helps and thanks for the question!

May 23, 11:58AM EDT1
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