Food presentation memories and milestones.
FOOD PRESENTATION MEMORIES AND MILESTONES.
(MISCHIEVOUSLY, HOWEVER, AND GOD WHAT HAVE I DONE DURING MY CAREER AS I HAVE BEEN INVOLVED AT SOME POINT WITH ALL OF THESE)
Obviously these eras did not apply to every establishment nor did the era happen at the same time however there was always a “fashion” that usually emanated in a “trendy “restaurant and spread like an inferno across the culinary scene. Like, do you remember the “Castillo” fashion. So popular one could not buy the cheese anywhere as stocks sold out before they arrived.
THE INFLEXIBLE ERA PRE HISTORY AND…
I remember In the 1950 – 1960 we used to be very rigid in the way food was presented, Even though I was an apprentice at a well-known international hotel in London with a brigade of 60, servicing an a la Carte menu prepared in a classical partie system with a genuine "a la carte menu" and customers chose their own accompaniments.
The vegetables and starch was always served apart. Dishes and recipes were derived from the classical bible of a "Le Repertoire de La Cuisine" or "Larousse Gastronomic”, glistening silver platters left the kitchen, and no chef dared to change either the way the dish was prepared,presented or served.
Even local restaurant tried to reproduce this rigid style as close as possible and there was consistency (be it boring) in menu descriptions and style of presentation.
THE AWAKENING ERA 1960 – 70
In Australia, the 56 Olympics had a huge effect on the commercial kitchen, especially with the returning and arrival of a number of experienced chefs with a more cosmopolitan view of food preparation and presentation. However the first real shift in food presentation came in Australia in the 60’s. I would argue this shift mainly derived from a combination of the need to reduce labour and material costs and amalgamate the food preparation functions. (This was also the great change of the parti system).
The change first appeared when vegetables, starch and accompaniments all appeared on the plate with the main item. I always remember the 9PM, 12PM, 3AM and 6AM clock face. The 6 am position was always the main item on the plate with the other three usually 3 AM the starch, the 12 PM the garnish and the 9 PM the vegetable.
Another significant aspect was the mandatory garnish on every course, be it often just a sprig of parsley. Very few chefs had discovered the everyday use of fresh dill, “basil” was the name of a hotel manager in a new program called "Faulty Towers" and chives, oregano, chervil were types of something dried?
This was still a very inflexible era with chefs generally conservative in nature. About this time (in the late 60’s) radicals began to put sauces under food and napping gradually became “old fashioned”. Generally gone but definitely in their last breath, were the days of salvers and silver platters with worn gray edges.
This was birth of a new age “radical” chef, who started the revolution in freedom of menu expression and preparation.
THE MINUSCULE ERA 1970 1975
Slowly boiling for about fifteen years was a cookery movement and philosophy that was not only about to establish a major change to menus, but also shake the very foundation in preparation and presentation
This next major chapter arrived in the early 70’s and “Nouvelle Cuisine” swept the world – Unfortunately mainly because the new era was not fully understood in Australia and Nouvelle evolved into “children’s portions put on a plate by an interior decorator”.
In that era the main item was centred in the plate surrounded by tiny, tiny Items that were so small you felt almost embarrassed to eat them and most clients went home after a function or dinner to have a meal.
THIS LED TO THE SEA CHANGE ERA 1975 – 1985.
Having been driven underground for a decade for fear of persecution by the diminishing classicalists and the apostles of Nouvelle Cuisine; the radicals began to reappear on the scene and in the name of artistic cooking licence they created all sorts of weird combinations that appeared on the menus such as strawberries with steak.
About this time a few tried to “surf and turf” with fish and chicken Kabobs, lobster quenelles on top of steaks and many more weird seafood and meat combinations.
About this time garnishing became a cult, roses from tomato skins, Animals and birds carved from carrots, serviettes folded into flowers swans and dogs, and even your author was responsible for really some strange combinations and presentations like baby cantaloupe cut into swans and used as an entrée.
Or serving “honey with blue cheese”. Presentation now also focused on the use of paper. With every plate requiring a doily and every plate requiring an under plate and guess what? The under plate also used a doily.
THE GIGANTIC ERA 1985 – 1990
Having found that no one was actually hung drawn and quartered, the radicals grew stronger and next change to appear was the extra large plate syndrome.
I have a theory that this was actually a response to Nouvelle Cuisine when chefs started feeling guilty about placing normal size portions of food on a plate and so reacted by enlarging the plate so that the meal had a pseudo “Nouvelle” look.
THE STACKING ERA 1990 – 1995
We then progressed into the stacking era where every item was a “Tian”. You would look at the meal towering high on the plate, knowing that layer upon layer of vegetables or greens were stacked on top of a hidden potato galette.
This whole new concept, I am sure was created to persecute and guarantee nervous breakdowns of waiters who required the skills of a Cirque de Soleil act to get the plate to the table.
THE SPRINKLING ERA 1990 – 1995
Not happy with every dish representing a phallic symbol or leaning tower of Pizza, chefs then decided the new presentation style was to sprinkle every plate with something.
This was a real opportune shift as one could also read their future in every plate “who needed tealeaves in a cup to see their future”. This was about the mid 1990
- Remember when main plates were liberally sprinkled with herbs and sweets dusted with sugar right off the edge of the plate
– I am sure that most people felt like getting a towel and wiping the edges. Though there was always that interesting definable finger mark from the waiter that had disturbed the disorderly pattern on the edge of the plate.
THE DRIZZLE ERA 1995 – 2000
Not to be outdone the new era radical young guns chef with their now entrenched artistic freedom (laced with marijuana) saw the potential to develop a new way of presenting food and we started to drizzle plates and once again we experienced a presentation revolution.
Colourful oils and sauces now were drizzled around the plate as the feature driven probably by the marijuana and the flower people. This era was to last quiet a long time and still is quiet strong.
THE DIMENSION ERA 1995 – 2000
Some smart chefs at the same time realized that plate sizes did not have to change with each course, subsequently, we had the same size plate era for entrée, main and sweet, however as the entrée looked small, the main appeared large and the sweet even smaller, the response was a combination of the stack for the entrée, removing any sight of vegetables or starch on the main item and just serving an unaccompanied main became the norm. (Forcing accompaniments to become an on-sell item)
and now appearing on the scene was the “modernist” who delighted in presenting sweet plates with Pablo Picasso influenced features and styles using tuile paste, almond paste, chocolate twirls and other decorations to absolutely ensure that whatever it is was being served was either totally hidden or disguised.
THE MARIJUANA LED ERA US TO THE “CLAYTON AND CONFUSION” ERA 2000 – 2005
A new realm, - where every function served finger food that was not finger friendly. Usually a larger portion that than any robust mouthful can consume in one piece, or canapés that needed a plate, or an item that was served with a dipping sauce and a subsequent dribble onto a white shirt and the obligatory serviette.
What ever happened to the concept that finger foods are a one handed “petit” item to be picked and enjoyed with a glass of dry sherry in the other. For that matter what happened to the dry sherry?
This was all put together in new “ 2005 Gastronomy Rules” where the “cold is served hot” and the “hot is served cold” with salads served on very hot plates with accompanying steaks, warm chicken skewers hidden inside mounds of ice cold salad.
2005 – 2010 THE INSANITY ERA IN COMBINATION WITH BACK TO THE FUTURE
The foolishly creative chef started to emerge and believed that it was more important to euphemistically describe dishes on a menu than be able to prepare them and quality control was measured by bizarre menu descriptions interspersed with inaccurate spelling and poor menu grammar. In another corner of the commercial kitchen striving for recognition and attempting to reinvent food preparation was a small insignificant group of twenty-first centaury chefs who espoused the novel idea that they had created food science as a new primary element in food preparation.
Notwithstanding that this movement has been in the commercial kitchen for over 50 years and prior to the middle of the last centenary many educated chefs knew what a colloidal system was and understood an emulsification. This small band of advocate s of molecular gastronomy who did terrible things to food in the name of innovation recklessly suggest that a new culinary stream had emerged however soon realized that chicken Parmigiana garnished in inexhaustible ways sold more than chocolate cooked in 'liquid nitrogen'
We currently have entrées and mains that consist of a innumerable ingredients with many bewildering flavours and not one really distinguishable, We have contradictory, confusing, shoddily spelt and poorly described menu descriptions that sound better written, then eaten.
And last but not least courses, (often mains) served on a pureed concoctions and usually in a plate more appropriate for soup.
Though a few TV presenters are excellent, we also have added the influence of just about every man and his dog who can put together a recipe appearing on television in food shows that are only second to the news in viewer popularity. We have loud mouth pseudo who have never managed a large brigade promoting themselves as a “chef" no matter their experience or qualification and many times innapropriately dressed while incorrectly preparing and presenting food.
NO WONDER RESTAURANT CUSTOMERS ARE CONFUSED.
THE FUTURISTIC ERA
So where are we going next. Obviously the past twenty years influence of an “Ausasian” menu will affect presentation styles, this however will be coupled with the maintenance of sensible past experiences.
The huge downturn in fine dining in the past decade and the subsequent upsurge in family dining are here to stay added are the entrenched nutritionally conscious public pressuring for change with more and more insist on recognizing and selecting what they eat.
We know that classical is over; we know that vitrified has permanently replaced silver. We know that Nouvelle has had its obituary some thirty years ago.
The continuing single item meal is doubtful, as people will demand a return to a complete meal, especially in the family environment with a real portion size served. Unwanted accessories and non-edible garnishing are taboo and I predict lots of fresh herbs being used as the garnish. The price of protein will drive the use of cheaper cuts and variety meat dishes, drizzling will stay as its economical tasty and imaginative. Plates will return be a variety of sizes and different shapes; however patterns and colours will be replaced by pure white. Menu descriptions will shorten and force simpler presentation.
Canapés (to the unintelligent now called Savouries) and entrees will pick up on Japanese presentation values, fresh, simple, small, colourful, clean lines, and simple.
We might even return to real finger foods, Main courses will retain the sensible sauce under philosophy. The cultural mix of Asian and Australian will shift even further as we join a global menu.
The healthy food conscious will drive presentation and clients will seek more information of food source and food will be presented in their natural state. Modernists and the radicals will lose ground. The contemporary young gun chef today is beginning to think and food will be presented as a simple recognizable item that people can trust.
AH! HOW I LONG FOR MY MEAT AND THREE VEG - OVER TO YOU.