DRESS LESS TO IMPRESS 1/2/22
I was assessing a few of the eye catching dishes on some of the quirkier food sites and it seems we are going to more and more extremes on food presentation. Now I was a hybrid chef trained in the twilight zone between the dusk of classical cooking and the dawn of nouvelle cuisine in the 1980’s and I have seen lots of the food fashions come and go. I have some difficulty with the current Nordic trends not to mention the boundary breaking molecular gastronomy.
I am guilty too of some of the wackier combinations of yesteryear and still cringe at flashbacks of my own culinary crimes. It was like a rite of passage putting a slice of the then so exotic kiwi on a main course black plate back then. I just had to recreate one here for the nostalgia. I won’t even go into the thrill of playing with avocados and mangoes for the first time in the 80s. My one line food presentation philosophy now though as a grumpy old foodie is the predicable tagline of, less is more, but still leaving enough of a portion to actually satisfy a hunger. There are only so many bread rolls one can eat.
I do prefer a three course meal than a dozen teeny starters. Tasting plates will send me running never mind boards, slates or shovels getting in on the act, plates will do very nicely thank you very much. Then there also needs to be a rational journey for the palate while tucking into a dish, like a little adventure, a few unexpected surprises, the textures, consistencies, colours and flavours all flowing together like a choreographed dance or a musical composition. Look is always second to taste.
So we say a dish must eat well. The fundamentals of a recipe have to be there too you see, all present and correct and this is where a lot of the modern cooking falls down. A young chef competition I judged one time had all their plates looking outstanding, the graphic impact was excellent but not one sauce had been made properly. I want my well made sauce in a little pool where it can be dipped in and out of and I do not want to be looking for it in splashes and squirts all around a plate.
These days when a tweezers is the main tool on the pass and there are swoosh’s and dots to beat the band and the culinary fourth wall breached with decoration going to the edge of a plate or even hanging off the side, then you have lost me. Any flowers belong in the vase or in the garden but not on a plate for me.
Chefs do not need to do a Picasso on every dish; some elements go cold by the time all the artistry is done with. Try real painting if you want to be that expressive. The basics must be right, the dish actually working and they have even eaten it to check that it does. The amount of times I found a chef had not sat down and tried a dish in its entirety that they had served up is shocking. My record count of the number of ingredients used is seventeen items that I was once served on the single dish, half of which did not belong there.
I also do not want a dish stacked so high that the server has to perform a balancing act just to get it to the table intact. Give me two layers, three at a push. My record count on that front, a dizzying ten, yes double figures as if it was playtime in the nursery.
So what for the future if the present is so disappointing? More of the same alas, the creative spirit cannot be stopped in us, we are programmed for innovation. Whether one agrees with it is a different matter. It’s all too subjective. The Romans summed it up best with their motto of “de gustibus non est disputandum” meaning never argue in matters of taste and so say all of us. Those kiwis still haunt me though and rightly so.