For several decades, before the Facebook and Instagram eras, Chefs have been ideating thousands of dishes in the dark gallows of restaurant kitchens and cramped up offices. Auguste Escoffier wrote one of the most famous cookbooks of the world (with no pictures) and it has close to 3000 dishes that he envisioned and brought to life. Chefs all over the world go through this process, sometimes even on a daily basis. It is an extreme process that requires immense attention, knowledge, confidence and boldness in thinking. There are several factors that go into the ideation of a composed plate and even more into turning that idea into reality.
This 4-part series will take you through the process of bringing a simple thought to life, something that happens at restaurants and cafes day in and day out. Let’s look at what these parts are and what roles they have to play in breathing life into the idea of a plate.
- Inspiration -This is the engine room of the idea train. Without inspiration, there is no dish and there is certainly no successful dish. Inspiration can come in many forms and where chefs draw their inspiration from is what sets them apart from the others. Some common inspirations that I draw from are seasonality of ingredients, specialty produce (for example truffles in their season, seafood from the Tsukiji Market etc.), nostalgia – recreating a dish from childhood or from the past.
- Flavor Pairing – One of the most important factors in executing the idea of a dish is flavor pairing. This is what drives the idea to be a success or a failure. Certain flavors work well with each other and not so well with others. It takes years of experience and a deep understanding of flavours to execute this step flawlessly.
- Components – Once the flavors have been chosen to be on the plate, the next step is to decide how they are going to be delivered to the customer and their palette. In this section, we delve into the various components that could be part of a dish such as purees, sauces, crunchy components, hot and cold components, intangible components like nostalgia and theater etc.
This is where the technical abilities of a chef are most displayed. Deciding that a certain flavor should be delivered in the form of an ice cream is one thing and having the ability to make a perfectly creamy and balanced ice cream is another.
- Plating and Presentation – All the parts discussed before are important, but they are immaterial if there isn’t expertise and finesse in this step. One of the oldest sayings in the restaurant industry is that “you eat first with your eyes” and it holds true today even after decades. Plating of the dish is one of the most exciting moments for a chef because it is a symbol of the idea coming to life. But this is what will make or break the dish. The plating will expose any cracks that might be present in the inception of the idea and of course in its execution.
A lot of processes that chefs go through in the culinary industry are somewhat masked. There isn’t enough appreciation for the effort that culinary professionals put into their work and into the craft that is Hospitality. Through this series, we aim to unmask some of the processes that have mostly been alien to the common man. We hope that you join us in this journey and help us spread knowledge about our passions, our sacrifices, and our beliefs.
Author: Nikhil Bendre