A feast for the eyes

LIVING IN THE KITCHEN

A feast for the eyes

Chef Rahul Hajarnavis advises on how to bring ordinary food to a top-class star restaurant quality at home.

“You eat first with your eyes.” I couldn’t agree more with this saying. Through my career, I have observed that almost every customer makes his/her sudden expression the minute a dish is presented to them. It's true that even the most delicious recipes can fall flat if they lack a visual allure.

In an age when appearance is perceived to speak for potential, food styling is an integral part of fine dining. Like fashion, when it comes to food, the key to a great look is an artful bit of presentation and styling. Food presentation was very little known until recently, but it is now taking the market by storm. In fact, today, there are seven food presentation and styling courses available across India. The art is now being opted for as a serious career option.

Through my years of career as a chef, I have picked up a few tips and tricks with food that diners find very appealing.

Tips to chef up

* Select the right plates, cutlery, glasses, and linen to enhance the overall appearance of a dish upon the table. Plates and cutlery used add beauty to the dish served and makes the item appealing to the diners. Normally, chefs rely on plain colours especially white while selecting the utensils.

*Consider the use of separate sauce or sauce dishes (such as a curry, stew or casserole) as a form of decorative design. A soupy dish on a flat plate looks messy unless it is reined in with something such as rice, pasta or potato, or served in a suitable bowl or deep dish.

* Design vegetables in different styles. Yes, it does take some hard work to get the hang of this artistic dexterity, but once you do get the hang of it, it will be worthwhile. Carved or designed vegetables and fruits always add to the decor and appetising factor of a spread on the table. Formal vegetable cuts might add to the cook's workload, but it also adds a lot of appeal to the food served. 

* Consider presenting the main part of the meal in portion to the side dishes. Be it a slice of pie, meat, a flan or whatever, consider where it will look best on the plate with everything else. Also consider creating the best impact –– the appearance and symmetry is all affected by how the item is presented, whether it is sliced thinly, thickly, or left whole.

* Plan what you will serve on the plate according to the character of the diner. Some restaurants are known for serving just a meat and sauce portion with nothing else, allowing the guest to buy an additional serve of vegetables or side dishes. This can be fine in certain styles, especially formally served roasts, where the meat is served plain on the plate, allowing the diner to select from a range of side dishes.

* Food speaks for itself. Investigate simple garnishes. The garnish should complement the main food, be it a small salad, sprinkling of herbs, nuts or ground spices. Make the garnish relevant to the main dish. If the main dish is not all that fashionable, hide it with the garnish, opting for a simple and easy elegance.

* Choose garnish wisely. In many cultures, flowers or large inedible leaves underneath the food are an acceptable garnish. In broader Western culture, it's recommended that nothing inedible be served on the plate. Also bear in mind, that certain garnishes can affect the flavour. So choosing garnish very carefully is a basic rule.

* Consider colours and textures. White sauce is often paired with white meat, but sliced chicken with white sauce. Cauliflower and potato will be lacking in colour and looking bland and unappetising. Try to add different colours and textures to spice up the interest of the diners. Usually, this is fairly easy to do and it can add a lot of appeal just with that little extra effort.

But the most important tip of all is to consider what you would prefer to do within the range of your skills and availability of time. Whether you are a home cook looking forward to surprise your guests at a party, or a chef looking forward to specialize in food presentation and styling, you must know your capabilities and experiment as much as possible. It is an art that comes with much trial and error, and ritualistic practice!

 (The writer is an executive chef )

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