I’ve never taken an art class in my life. Okay, not totally true, I’m sure we had some sort of art classes in kindergarten and first grade, but I mean a real art class. I signed up once for a drawing class at the local Y when I was in college – I turned in my first attempt at a pencil sketch of a tree or something like that. My recollection, which may be a bit warped by time, is that the teacher burst out laughing and suggested that maybe my talents lay elsewhere. I didn’t go back.
So it’s a bit of a sore point in my life – not something that I regret or rue or anything of the sort, but while I can look at something artistic and make a vaguely formed assessment that “it’s pretty” or not, my sense of composition tends to end about there – it’s part of why I make take a dozen or more photos of the same scene – I love digital – just hoping that one of them comes out giving me the sense that it’s a decent picture. All that leads up to, relevant to this post, “plating”. I’ve read the books, I’ve worked with chefs who have a strong artistic bent, and I try, but much of what works out in that regard is either happenstance, or repeatedly trying things out until something elicits a positive response.
When I get criticized, and it regularly happens, for the lack of finesse in my plating, it’s a bit of a downer. I cook. My sense of artistry is in flavor, not in the way the plate looks. On a personal level, I’m just as happy with the look of a TV dinner as I am with a fancy, aesthetically composed plate – I don’t really care as long as the food tastes great. That applies to whether it’s eating out, in, or my own creations. But I wouldn’t care to begin to count the number of critiques I’ve gotten by email or in online fora that begin with something like “if you paid as much attention to plating as you do to your ingredients/flavor combinations, you’d have a winning formula” or “we eat with our eyes first, so when it doesn’t look amazing, it makes it not taste good.” Really?
Sorry, but my brain just doesn’t work that way – I get it intellectually, but it simply doesn’t register, the ideas don’t occur, when I’m putting food on a plate. Nevertheless, I try. And let’s face it, we’ve all sat in front of a gorgeous plate of food at a trendy restaurant only to find ourselves wishing there were a subtle way to spit the food out into a napkin when we dig in. Which would you prefer? I know which one I do.
So – on to this last week’s dinners and some playing around with the way things look…
Leading off were two dishes we’ve served numerous times before – our salmon carpaccio, sort of a Mediterranean ceviche, for which I refer you here; and then our hummus soup, here. I’ve carefully selected versions that turned out, pretty.
I guess I just have to live with that there are going to be naysayers who feel that the aesthetics are as or more important than the taste. Or I’m going to have to go full on retro, buy a bunch of TV dinner trays and present the food that way – see how that goes over. Because I don’t think my right hemisphere is going to suddenly kick in with a burst of artiness.