Location of the Cannes Film Festival
Hey Family and Friends!
Down in Marshall, Texas working with a client for the week… ergo, no cooking. However, I did want to briefly mention a few ideas pertaining to the presentation of plating different foods.
The old adage, “You eat with your eyes first,” is a familiar phrase of truth. Individuals tend to gravitate towards things in life which are aesthetically pleasing, clean, unique and captivating.
|Cannes, France 2008|
When I was living in Paris, I visited Cannes (yes – famous for the Cannes Film Festival). While vacationing in the sister-city of Beverly Hills, I conversed with many of the natives – establishing friendly relationships and learning more about the French culture. I remember one retired couple asking about my work experience. As soon as I mentioned attending Le Cordon Bleu in order to learn how to cook, as well as working in the restaurants of Hotel de Crillon and Hotel Le Meurice in both cuisine and pastry, their eyebrows raised and they exchanged “knowing” glances.
|Cannes, France - sister city to Beverly Hills|
“Non, ma chérie,” the elegant, elderly French woman softly spoke in her thick Bourgeoisie French accent as she removed her sparkling Chanel glasses… “You did not just learn how to cook… you learned the art of cooking.”
|The Ritz in Cannes, France|
From time to time, I reflect on her words. Cooking truly is an art. Honestly, one can even make a cheeseburger look glamorous (believe me, I have accomplished that before). What is the secret? Time. Patience. Passion. And quite honestly, a certain, “Je ne sais quoi,” factor that is difficult to teach… yet one is able to master if given the opportunity.
Simple, yet composed. Sleek, yet orderly. Meticulous, yet elegant.
An orange, for example. By cutting the peel away with a knife and removing the segments piece by piece, one can transform a simple fruit into an impressive plate. By layering the segments into a circular flower pattern, dimension and height are created. Final touches? An edible flower provides a hint of color while a few pieces of gold leaf add the necessary “gold kisses” to elevate the presentation from “oh… an orange… thanks,” to, “Wow! Is that an orange?! I don’t even want to eat it because it is stunning!”
Know what I’m saying?
|Beet Coulis, Japanese Beech Mushrooms,|
Squash and Almond Puree, Quinoa and
Brown Rice with Veggies
Vegetables compose the majority of a vegetarians diet (wow, no surprise there!) But all too often, said group is forced to eat a mound of veggies – tossed together, neither rhyme nor reason. However, so many opportunities are presented when noticing the brilliant and vibrant colors of vegetables. I served a brilliant couple who own a vineyard in Napa Valley, California while I was working as the private chef in Dallas, TX. They were strict vegans which challenged me in creating unique and healthy recipes on a restricted menu. One of my favorite dishes that I composed included: grilled squash and almond puree, quinoa and brown rice and diced carrots, broccoli and cauliflower florets, beet puree and Japanese White Beech mushrooms. When plating, remember the “odd rule.” Three is better than four. Five is better than six. Etc. In terms of “balance” on a plate, odd number look better (e.g., three apple segments arranged into a circle look better than four on a plain plate.) Do not ask me why… it just… does.
While working as a private chef, I adored teaching the incredible, young daughter of the family how to “plate” her food. Having a sweet tooth, I tried to create recipes that balanced whole grains, lean proteins (hard-boiled eggs – I would simply remove the yolk and we would snack on the egg whites together), and fresh fruits/vegetables. Pancakes were always a favorite. Instead of consuming white-flour pancakes (empty calories with little nutrition), I would make pancakes from quinoa flour and add diced strawberries and blueberries. I will not lie… at first, she was not a fan. She wanted the familiar taste of her old pancakes – dripping in syrup and lathered in butter. However, in order for her to “warm up” to the healthier option, I knew I had to do something in order to create a “playful presentation.” Ergo… a garden atop the quinoa flour pancake. I crumbled ½ an Oreo in order to make “dirt,” then placed small edible flowers and chopped wheat-grass atop said dirt. Instant garden. Blue sprinkles replaced the syrup (and still provided a sweet factor). Blue sprinkles also acted as a river upon the pancake. Edible gold transformed into “goldfish” swimming in the river. Strawberry Shortcake figurine surrounded with diced strawberries? That is one way to encourage a young child to eat her fruit.
Trust me. It worked.
|Free-hand decorations while I worked as a chef|
in Phoenix, Arizona
Sauces of any kind can also provide instant color and character to any food. When plating desserts, my favorite aspect is free-drawn designs. I used to doodle designs on my notebooks during school when I was younger. I would be thrilled whenever my mother would cover my books for the year with fresh paper bags… a new opportunity to leave my artist flair (all the while covering up the intimidation factor of a middle-schooler carrying a Geometry book). My favorite sauces to use include: chocolate, crème anglaise and caramel. Recipes for the sauces will be provided in the future… for now, this is an overview on how they can “dress up” any type of dessert. I love to “customize” plates by melting chocolate and writing phrases (e.g., "Happy Birthday","Happy Anniversary", etc).
|Pistachio Ball with Caramel, Creme Anglaise, Mango and|
Chocolate Mousse, Edible Flowers,
Crushed Hazelnuts, Mint, Edible Glitter and Golf Leaf
I have also had the privilege of decorating dessert plates for engagements and including the rings on said plates. I love being able to present something of beauty to warm the hearts of others.
|Scrambled Eggs with Creme Fraiche,|
Caviar, Edible Glitter and Gold Leaf
Now this was an impressive presentation… difficult to execute, yet worth it. First, wash a raw egg and gently (gently!!) remove the top of the egg shell by either purchasing a machine to do the work for you, or by carefully cracking the top with your knife and removing the top of the shell. Remove the raw yolk and egg white. When hollow, boil the shell in hot water for 5 minutes, in order to sanitize the hollow shell. Store in refrigerator. Then cook your scrambled eggs in a manner which you prefer… when I am preparing a “rich” scrambled egg recipe, I use heavy cream, butter and a creamy cheese (Havarti, Camembert, Pont l'Évêque… may even use something more familiar… Cheddar, Mozzarella, etc.) Remove eggs from heat when scrambled. Using a demi-spoon (just a small spoon), carefully (operative word – “carefully,” as shells will be very fragile), spoon the eggs into the hollow egg shell. Top with Crème Fraiche, Caviar and gold leaf. I used a candle votive, which was the perfect size, as a “stand” to mount the eggs. Lasting touch was a sprinkle of edible glitter on the white plate. I wish the photo on my blog did this presentation justice… but alas, it did not. In person, the dish is stunning. A hint of sparkle to accompany the small amount of eggs, bursting forth with rich flavor.
As I have mentioned before… white plates allow the food to be the focus. Fine China with delicate patterns and dainty decorations can absolutely be appreciated in certain settings. However, when the focus is on impressive food presentations, allow the white plate to be your blank canvas and the food to be your medium.
Love from Dallas, y’all,
(actually, Marshall, TX!)