Thursday, December 10, 2009

Food presentation: 'art and theater'

Why such an emphasis on plating, that is, how food appears on the plate? my friend Catharine asked. She noted that not only do I mention it frequently in this blog, but she hears more about it now than in the past.

As Catharine poetically put it: " ... it seems to me that presentation has moved food from merely an art to art and theater."

My response was that in classic French cuisine, plate appearance has been an important element for a long time as part of the appeal to all five senses. "Professional Cooking," our main textbook in school, by Wayne Gisslen, includes a whole chapter on this topic, "Food Presentation and Garnish." Here are the first two paragraphs from that chapter:
   We eat for enjoyment as well as for nutrition and sustenance. Cooking is not just a trade but an art that appeals to our sense of taste, smell and sight.
   "The eye eats first" is a well-known saying. Our first impressions of a plate of food set our expectations. The sight of food stimulates our appetites, starts our digestive juices flowing, and makes us eager to dig in. Our meal becomes exciting and stimulating.
At the California Culinary Academy, plate appearance usually counts for 20 percent of the grade on any give project and overall in the cooking, pastry and baking classes. In cooking classes, that includes whether the plate is warm. If it is not warm, Chef will deduct one point.

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