Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Why that Food Looks Pretty Enough to Eat

Attractive. And tasty
I admit it. I’m one of those horrid people who take pictures of their food at restaurants. And sometimes at home too. I was doing this even before starting the blog, and mostly it was for the same reason that I take pictures of artwork at museums: to remember it better later. (When I went to the Orangerie in Paris, I did something different. I took pictures of Monet’s Water Lilies with my big lens. I wanted to see the brushstrokes, and there’s no way they would have let me get that close to the paintings.)

In the New York Times, Pete Wells makes the claim that chefs are reacting to that reality, even though a dimly-lit restaurant is often a really bad place to try to take a decent photo. (I do wonder, when they’re creating their dishes in a brightly-lit kitchen, do they think about what they’re going to look like the subtle lighting in the dining room? Let me be blunt; some places to increase the feeling of intimacy put you in the dark.) Wells makes the claim that chefs are making plates more photogenic at the expense of tasting good.

But I wondered if Wells was right about one claim he made:
Restaurants, which have always tried to make food look pretty, don’t just want pictures that pop. Because he also noted of a photo that he tweeted: My point was that the dish was a mess, as carefully presented as a basket of dirty laundry. Never mind that: Twitter reacted to the ugliness of the image, not the broken tail of the trout.
Clearly the place that served him the trout didn’t much care about the presentation (he included the photo; it’s pretty hideous).

He starts the article with something on the end of the spectrum:
Not long ago at a restaurant that regularly tweets photos of dishes as lush as one of Monet’s lily ponds, I found myself poking cautiously at perfect circles of glossy black sauce, discs of potato purée that looked like white roses and cylinders of gnocchi so tiny they seemed to have been pushed out of a drinking straw. Tiny, delicate flowers and tender sprigs of leaves gently rested here and there as if a woodland nymph had casually tossed them from a basket before running off to play hide-and-seek with a den of baby field mice. The dish was definitely ready for its close-up. It was also, by and large, very cold — no surprise given how long it must have taken to squeeze and tweeze everything into position.
I certainly wouldn’t want to sacrifice getting the food at the right temperature for some exquisite plating. It really is the kitchen’s job to make sure that food doesn’t take so long getting primped that it’s no longer nice to eat.

The little woodland elves make
superb line cooks.
I have had, and enjoyed the sort of food he's talking about. He even gets into the New Nordic food, which we were able to try when we were in Iceland. Yeah, it was heavy on the presentation, but it came out hot and delicious.

On the flip side, sometimes those ugly photos have dissuaded us from eating at a place. I don't want a mess of stuff thrown onto a plate. Ick. I'm paying good money here, and I want my food to be both tasty and attractive. Italian food can sometimes be a mess, and there's an old saying, "you don't eat with your eyes."

But you do.
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