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Sep 23, 2010 02:43 PM

Enough with this "presentation" silliness

What is it with these misguided chefs who consider themselves to be 'fine artists' as well as culinary artists. They insist on piling an odd assortment of mostly unheard of foodstuffs on what appears to be an unwashed plate that is smeared with some sort of sauce, call it nouvelle / nouveaux / fusion cuisine, charge outrageous prices and foist it off on a young, trend-setting generation who walk away still hungry. Shakespeare would have taken one look at the plate and said "What foods these morsels be"?
Well prepared food does not need to be served in a big lump that has to be separated in order to savor the taste of each ingredient.

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  1. Make that an overSIZED unwashed plate dwarfing the amount of food that it actually contains, exclusive of the Jackson Pollock dribbles. David Sedaris has a hilarious story on this topic, in which he writes something to the tune of how bad it tasted, followed by the complaint that there was so little of it. After "dinner", they had a quick hot dog before curtain time. I think it's "Today's Special", which appears in "Me Talk Pretty One Day".

    10 Replies
    1. re: greygarious

      Absolutely love David Sedaris! Your reference is right on. Just plain sillyness in the name of avant garde.

      1. re: nvcook

        Thanks, folks. I thought I might be the only one who felt that way.

      2. re: greygarious

        "in which he writes something to the tune of how bad it tasted, followed by the complaint that there was so little of it"

        Oh, please. This was a standard joke of the Borscht Belt comedians fifty years ago. I think Woody Allen used the joke in one of his movies (long ago, when he used to be funny), but he at least had the grace not to pretend it was original.

        1. re: FrankD

          well do we scoff or be happy the old stale jokes are being maintained? (although acknowlegement at the end of the essay would have been nice) hey Milton Berle made a career out of stealing gags, but he was sort of honest about his strategy.

          Sedaris probably deserves a thread just because of having to order everything at the boucherie in plural due to his bad French.

          1. re: hill food

            I once posted to recommend his stories, and another time Garrison Keillor's. Mods removed both. My favorite Sedaris food story is "I'll Have What He's Wearing", about his father's food-hording habit.

            1. re: greygarious

              What book? Tee Hee - I get the best recommendations on CH.

              1. re: JerryMe

                I'm pretty sure it's in Me Talk Pretty One Day. IMO, Sedaris, like Keillor, is most entertaining via CD or audiocassette, rather than in print.

                1. re: greygarious

                  I think you are right. I love Sedaris on tape. On print I do not laugh nearly as much.

            2. re: hill food

              "please may one purchase a double of her fine poultries?" : d

            3. re: FrankD

              Never found him funny not even back in the day

          2. and on a similar note, deconstruction can be taken too far. sometimes the dish needs that simultaneous juxtaposition of flavor and texture, not a little over here and a little over there.

            3 Replies
            1. re: hill food

              When you say "deconstruction" you're implying that a big pile on the plate is the normal, correct way to serve food, and separating the meat, potato and vegetable on the plate is now considered unacceptable.

              1. re: mucho gordo

                what I'm getting at I guess is best represented by the sort of place that would serve a caesar salad as a few leaves of romaine on one side, a single anchovy draped over an enormous crouton on the other and a preserved whole garlic clove floating in an egg, lemon and olive oil 'custard/confit' type thing in an accompanying ramekin and a wedge of parmesan. pretty, yes, a salad, not really, yes all the flavors are represented, but only as distinct and separate objects. y'know, taking apart a complex mesh of flavor into its individual components. which sometimes works, but too often is just kind of unsatisfying.

                but I also understand what you're saying, enough of these stacked piles in a reduction puddle. it seems like I usually want more of that artfully splattered puddle and less of half the things on top.

                1. re: hill food

                  Yes, you do understand and you're right about the salad and it applies to any single dish made with multiple ingredients.

            2. Well, everything in moderation I suppose.

              I think plating is very very important. Ugly food makes a bad first impression, and a first impression can seriously put a dent in your enjoyment of the meal.

              That said, like you said mucho gordo, sometimes presentation can be taken too extremes.

              And I'm with graygarious on the big plate fad (at least I hope it's a fad). Big plates, to me, is a bigger faux pas than over-the-top presentation.

              Hey, didn't tall food go away the same time Members Only jackets became passé?

              3 Replies
              1. re: ipsedixit

                Big plates / little meals reminds me of the Dali museum - little paintings, big frames. Gimme smothered quail over mashed, hold the fru-fru.

                1. re: ipsedixit

                  I think Ipsedixit has it spot on.

                  I do remember a statrement of Julia Child's upon seeing one of the over-presented dishes. 'This has been touched too much. It doesn't look foody to me."

                  1. re: ipsedixit

                    Tall food was too much work--I don't want to deconstruct my food before I eat it. While I love the look of spun sugar, if it's going to be too hard to break it w/out it shattering all over the place, please leave it out, or shatter it first for me.

                  2. Hahah, Hill Food is bang on with the deconstruction. Especially puddings.

                    TBH though I do really appreciate the effort that goes into it sometimes, and I think it does look nice, even if it is basically the same formula. I just never have time, as I have to plate up and serve as quick as possible to keep it all hot :D

                    Can't find a picture, but Tom Kitchen's "Bramley Old Spot pork with crackling and rumbledethumps" was great. He found a way to make the crackling perfectly straight!

                    I pretty much agree with ipsedixit.

                    1. There is a wide range of presentations from the mess hall sh&t on a shingle to totally deconstructed. And in the right setting and time both ends are OK.

                      Jfood enjoys the creativity of many chefs in their presentations, but he does agree that the example of the caesar salad above crosses the line into silliness. Many years ago jfood created his signature deconstructed hot fudge sundae. One day he was sitting in Friendly's in Schenectady NY and asked for his ice cream in one bowl and the hot fudge in another. Why? It was a fairly hot day already and he saw that others were being served melted ice cream. If he asked for the hot fudge on top, well there would be no ice cream, just cream. Serendipity on this one, he had a full bowl of ice cream and he was able to take some hot fudge (which remained hot) and some ice cream (which remained cold) in each spoonful. He has never ordered or made it otherwise since. Functionally it was the correct move.

                      But in a mid- to high-end restaurant the visual on the plate is the first step in getting in the right mood. And in other places, even a bacon cheeseburger can be served with care or it could be thrown on a plate. If the chef does not care how it looks, does he truly care how it tastes? It is a leading indicator of the chef's and the restaurant's POV. Likewise if they are trying to pass off three peas in a little sauce and a 1 oz cube of braised beef with a little mound of mashed potatoes with a single mushroom on top and call it the Hawaiian Islands Beef Braise, jfood votes no thanks.

                      4 Replies
                      1. re: jfood

                        "Friendly's in Schenectady, NY"

                        I thought I was the only one here who could stake that claim! I hope you mean the one on Nott Terrace - brings me back to my younger days and times with my aunts and cousins.

                        1. re: Cachetes

                          Grew up in Schenectady and hit all the Friendly's around town! To this day there is no better ice cream memory than a Friendly's Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae.

                          1. re: mcap

                            Yes! I was partial to the Reese's Pieces Sundae myself, but the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Sundae was a great second.

                            1. re: mcap

                              Used to frequent the one in Troy, NY back in my college days (RPI). Right next to the Price Chopper. Always wondered why the logo was an axe being slung at Geo. Washington's head, until i figured out it was a quarter.

                              Loved the sundae's there! Nothing better than AC and some ice cream on a hot day