You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

The new rules of plating food

LiveMint logoLiveMint 12-05-2017 Roshni BajaJ Sanghvi

Foams begone. The world’s best chefs are giving the side-eye to plating techniques that were considered revolutionary just five years ago. No more dry ice, no more smoke, no more swooshes of sauce. Spheres made with sodium alginate and calcium lactate have lost their novelty value. The new art of plating demands respect for ingredients, balance, and the diner’s senses. Few other everyday rituals involve all our five senses as deeply as the act of eating.

A Wired.co.uk story in March 2015 described how chefs at the Crossmodal Research Laboratory—a sensory research centre at Oxford University—studied how orientation in plating can change how much we enjoy a meal and how much we would be willing to pay for it. They found that when the same ingredients in a salad were arranged in three different ways—one arrangement was inspired by Wassily Kandinsky’s Painting Number 201—and served to 60 people, everyone agreed that the Kandinsky was the tastiest, and said they would pay twice as much for it.

“Plating depends on the style of restaurant, and the dish,” says Gresham Fernandes, culinary director at Impresario Entertainment and Hospitality, which runs the popular Smoke House Deli restaurants and the Social chain of bars and cafés. Fernandes serves up elaborately constructed dinners at The St Jude Project (TSJP) and simple old-school French-style plates at the Salt Water Café (SWC) in Mumbai. “At restaurants (like SWC), where people are likely to share, we think about how well the food travels to everybody. At TSJP, I spend three days planning a one-bite appetizer.” And, now, there are Instagram followers to impress. Here are five styles that forward-looking chefs are drawing from right now.

Deception

It started with chef Heston Blumenthal’s meat fruit at The Fat Duck. What looks exactly like a mandarin is in fact mandarin-shaped chicken liver and foie gras parfait double dipped in mandarin jelly, with a ruscus stem stuck to it. When diners cut it open, it reveals its true nature. “It’s about building a surprise element,” says Fernandes, who employs this style at TSJP. He ferments mushrooms over a week, cooks them down, blends with cream and fresh mushrooms and flutes the mousse into a cannoli made of toasted flour. Diners don’t know what to expect. Chocolate truffles are dusted with earthy porcini dust and served on leaves and twigs. Deception that turns into a happy surprise.

Project Nourished, “a gastronomical virtual-reality experience” put together by 30 tech geeks in Los Angeles, is the latest in hi-tech eating.

Virtual reality and projection mapping

A couple of years ago, a video called Le Petit Chef In The Footsteps Of Marco Polo (designed by the Belgian artistic collective Skullmapping) went viral. It showed, among other things, a little chef climbing out of a hole in a white tablecloth-covered dinner table and preparing a steak, swatting a fly, and setting his jacket on fire before scurrying back into the hole. As the video, projected on diner’s plates, ended, a real steak meal would show up.

New technology makes dinner a show. Project Nourished, “a gastronomical virtual-reality experience” put together by 30 tech geeks in Los Angeles, is the latest in hi-tech eating. Diners wear a virtual-reality headset to experience other worlds, a diffuser releases aromas, and a “bone conduction transducer” replicates chewing sounds.

Maximalism: This style is most commonly found in the US, where large portions, and the indulgence of excess, are simply normal.

Maximalism

Here at home, we have always had the epitome of maximalism: the thali, a fine example of plating which has action, drama, intrigue, excess. Maximalism finds multiple forms—it can be orderly and layered, as it is with chef Peter Gilmore’s Quay in Sydney, or wild, rustic and comforting, as it is with chef Kelvin Cheung’s loaded plates at Bastian in Bandra , Mumbai. “At Bastian, you get a pile of crab, a mountain of crab,” says Cheung. “That’s what you’re paying for. And at brunch, all the plates are homey comfort food loaded up with textures, temperatures, colours and fun. We try to keep it rustic, simple, honest. There is none of the frou-frou garnishes.”

Plates with 10-15 elements (two proteins, three carbs, three sauces, five garnishes, seared, roasted, fried, puréed, artfully scattered), this style is most commonly found in the US, where large portions, and the indulgence of excess, are simply normal.

Minimalism draws our focus to that one intense ephemeral bite.

A new minimalism

In January 2016, a New York Times article spoke about how Eleven Madison Park—which topped the Restaurant magazine’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants list in 2017—is moving “back to simplicity”, labelling the style “A New Minimalism”. Chef Daniel Humm has been presenting dishes that have one beautifully prepared ingredient. Minimalism draws our focus to that one intense ephemeral bite. “At One Street Over, we serve modern simple food with garnishes that make sense and are needed on the dish,” says Cheung. “You won’t see 15 components on a dish (so as) to make it pretty.” For the truest expression of contemporary minimalism, we only need to look at the work of chef Andoni Luis Aduriz at his restaurant Mugaritz in Renteria, Spain. As well as the plates at Geist in Denmark, and at Favaken in Sweden.

Copenhagen-inspired plating is also transportive.

Copenhagen

Noma has sparked off a global movement. Food is edible art, dishes look like paintings, like seascapes, like floral wreaths. On The Art of Plating, a website devoted to the exhibition of gastronomy, one gallery shows off how food at the Danish capital’s most feted restaurants—Noma, its casual cousin 108, Amass, AOC-Aarø & Co., STUD!O, Geranium—can be surreal, stunning, sensorial, and still spare and simple. It’s food inspired by nature, and it inspires chefs the world over. At Central Restaurante in Lima—rated the fourth-best restaurant in the world in 2016 by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants—chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz creates settings, scenes, even mini ecosystems on plates. A plate can be a garden, or a beach. Copenhagen-inspired plating is also transportive.

More From LiveMint

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon