Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Advanced Platecraft

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One spin off from the current economic problems might just be that certain Michelin-starry-eyed restaurants start serving food that satisfies the appetites of their customers rather than the vanity of their chefs. I am not against food that is carefully sourced and exquisitely cooked; nor even do I condemn the absurdist kitchen that serves confit of scorpion and Swarfega flavoured icecream. What drives me to pick up a Sabatier knife and wave it at a telly programme like Masterchef is the fetishisation of what used to be known as ‘plating up’ but what I suppose we should now call ‘presentation’ with a French accent.

Nobody wants a bowl of bread and butter pudding drowning in custard to the rim as a certain London gentleman’s club served me up one lunchtime. I agree food should be appealingly presented but the more that chefs try to out-garnish each other, the more naff and preposterous it becomes. I laughed over the pancake twizzles that one Masterchef contestant wrestled with, wasting in my opinion valuable galley time spent cooking real food to fill real stomachs.

I guess my primary bete noir is plate painting. The art of Advanced Platecraft is surely overrated and even primary school kids could master the mechanics of it with a teaspoon, a cookie cutter and some poster paint. It was the final of Masterchef where the talented amateurs were thrown into selected continental Michelin starred restaurants and beasted with this form of twiddling. The programme producers focused on the jeopardy of one young hopeful stamping some labour-intensive gloop in circles all over the plates. (Ikea eat your heart out) Then more sleight of hand with half a teaspoonful of red stuff and sighs of relief that he hadn’t cocked it up. Nobody filmed the hapless diner who had to make the choice between being polite and licking his plate.

The point is that the fabled sauce is often advertised on the menu and one has a reasonable expectation of eating it. I once chose a hot chocolate pudding for its caramel sauce at a Conran restaurant. I did not expect the caramel to reside in a series of polka dots alongside. (On that same occasion the blini to partner my smoked salmon was 4 cm in diameter, except that it was boat shaped so I’ve over-estimated its size. The potatoes were three medallions that would fit in a slot machine, and the wilted leeks a half a mouthful. I wrote and complained that they had a 'cavalier attitude' towards vegetables but they didn't care.) Call me old fashioned.

Does anybody else want to call for this posturing to stop? I don’t wish redundancies on any restaurant, but too many chefs can wreck a square meal. Cut out the fiddling whilst the diners starve and I for one will feel satisfied.

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  1. Ha ha - you are so right - I love it!

  2. So well phrased, and so good to see this affectation trounced and denounced. Those absurd caramel polka dots on dessert plates or the requisite confetti of parsley round the edges of one's entree have always struck me as, well, rather messy...

  3. Thanks Toby, great to have an ally in this. I love that: trounce and renounce!

  4. I tend to be a "pretty food person" myself and have been prone to putting little dots of caramel (okay, make that BIG DOTS of caramel) on the side of the dish. I studied at Le Ritz Escoffier and Le Cordon Bleu while living in Paris and love French food and haute cuisine in general... however I must confess, living in Germany with the hearty portions of fried potatoes, mashed potatoes, buckets of grilled onions poured over schnitzel has made me a bit of a convert already and I suspect my personal style of cooking will change as a result of my time living here.

    Interesting post Rose! Thanks!

  5. PS. I do agree with you on the comment:

    "I laughed over the pancake twizzles that one Masterchef contestant wrestled with, wasting in my opinion valuable galley time spent cooking real food to fill real stomachs."

    While I might add a twizzle to my food, I tend to mix in ready0made gourmet accents or simple vegetable or fruit that packs a punch without the time commitment! I'm all about the "chef's shortcuts".

  6. My criticisms shouldn't be taken too seriously! I'm going after those who are simply pretentious. Some restaurants make a truly elegant presentation of food and we shouldn't forget the Japanese who are the masters of it. They say that we eat twice, with the mouth and with the eyes and the way they interpret the seasons is magnificent. Anyway, who am I to talk, who has a repertoire of no more than half a dozen clunky British dishes! Basically not a foodie, I confess.


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