My big problem with beautifully plated food is that first, it’s usually so beautiful that I feel guilty cutting into it; secondly, the portions are usually so small; and lastly, these dishes often look better than they taste. It’s similar to those big, pink birthday cakes loaded with sugar flowers that I had when I was a kid ”“ yeah, the ones that looked like a dream but tasted like sawdust.
When I went to culinary school, I realized exactly what kind of work went into producing those plated creations: hands – lots and lots of hands. After my classmates and I had toiled in the kitchen for the day, we were required to plate our dishes for the final presentation to our chef-instructor. I was always lousy at it, and I was insanely jealous of some of my friends who would make these edible towering creations. (This was back in 1999, and the plating trend then was height).
Since I wasn’t the only one who sucked at plating, our chef-instructor once gave us all a crash course on Plating 101. He said that we should use the meat as our centerpiece and then move on out towards the edges of the plate, using garnishes and starches (potatoes, rice, noodles, etc.).
After culinary school and the great opportunity to peek into some professional kitchens, I won’t even begin to tell you how tedious plating is. What really gets to me is that the beauty involved is directly proportional to how many hands have touched the food on your plate. If you knew what really went on inside a kitchen… but then again, that’s another column. Hint: read Kitchen Confidential by Chef Anthony Bourdain. And I warn you, you better have a strong stomach.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a big believer in the adage that a person “eats” with his eyes before he eats with his mouth. Why else are the choicest cuts of steak or the moistest slices of cake scooped up first before anything else? Of course when I go to eat in a restaurant, I don’t expect my food to be served to me like it had been plopped thoughtlessly onto a plate. Of course some finesse will be much appreciated, but like I say, let’s not overdo it. Taste always wins over all.