Eating is a full sensory experience.
We savor the texture of each dish as it enters our mouth — the creaminess of pudding, the juiciness of fruit, the crunch of popcorn. We absorb the aromas generated by caramelized onions, baked apples, a well-cooked steak. Our taste buds delight at each flavor that lands on our tongue, from the sweetness of ice cream to the savory goodness of bacon.
But first, we eat with our eyes.
The visual appearance of food can either enhance or detract from the appeal of a culinary offering. An attractive presentation can transform even a casual snack into a gustatory delight. An unattractive plating can render the food undesirable.
We begin our pretty food experiment. It’s a quest to discover what it takes to create visually appealing cuisine.
July, 2010 — The adventure begins!
Last September, we spent a few days in Seattle after an Alaskan cruise. With no room in our suitcases or carry-ons, our visit to Pike Place Market was frustrating. The fruits, vegetables, seafood, herbs, flowers all begged to go home with us, but we didn’t have room for so much as a shrimp. A seafood merchant chatting with us at the market made an offhand comment that led to a grand adventure. You ought to rent a furnished condo with a kitchen near here for a week, and come to the market every day to get wonderful ingredients to take back to the condo to cook.
The plan was hatched. Michael and I and Ken and Michele would travel to Seattle for eight days, and while there, Michele and I would do magic in the kitchen. While it was important to us for everything to taste good, we also wanted to figure out how to make our meals and snacks look extraordinary. Of course, we weren’t food stylists or food photographers. Michele’s Ph.D. involves eye movements of goldfish. I’m a banking lawyer. What we didn’t know, we were willing to learn and we would have great fun trying to pull it off.
I packed two suitcases full of kitchen items I thought we might need. Yes, the condo’s kitchen was furnished, but it worried me when, in response to an email query, they told me there was no 8 x 8 baking pan and there was just one cookie sheet and it was in pretty bad shape. No food processor, no saucepan. Eek! I imagined it being like going camping (not that I have ever gone camping, mind you, but I have a vivid imagination).
So, there I was with the two suitcases filled with items such as microplanes, food prep gloves, cookie cutters, garnishing tools, mandoline, kitchen timer, and a wardrobe of aprons, and that’s on top of the suitcases with “normal” trip stuff. Well, heaven forbid I touch something like shrimp or cream cheese without protection. Ick!
Once we arrived, there was SHOPPING to do. (Every great endeavor starts with some kind of shopping! The plates in the condos were okay, but not great. We certainly didn’t want every picture of every meal to feature someone else’s idea of attractive dinnerware. Off we went to Ross. Our mission was to find inexpensive, but good-looking, plates, bowls, platters, serving pieces, and vases — lots of vases, since we were going to indulging ourselves with the incredible flowers at Pike Place Market. Trip one (of three) to Ross got us off to a good start. It wasn’t until after the first trip that I remembered I had brought four padded velcro handles with me — perfect for binding groups of plastic bags together in a way that made them more comfortable to hold. These HURT!