Friday, August 12, 2011

Salad Worms and Melon Whales

Dear Lover of Fine Food:

This book is an experience in garnishing. At your next party, you can impress your friends with your new discoveries. Your guests will not only enjoy your fine cooking but also will appreciate your garnishing artistry.

Encouraged by the overwhelming success of your fine cooking and garnishing ideas, you will continue to create sumptuous garnishes that inspire your guests to ask you to share your expertise with them.

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What the authors of How To Garnish have failed to grasp is the fundamental raison d’être of their materials. A garnish is meant to accent the main event, to support the qualities that make the dish appealing. A touch of contrasting color, or a complementary flavor, or a visually interesting texture all provide the dish with a sense of charm and thoughtfulness. A few pea shoots that have dropped from heaven onto that dab of crème fraiche remind us of the delightfully moist and clingy nature of that pale dollop. Otherwise it lies there like a shiny blob.

One is not required to eat the garnish, however, especially if color and texture are the point. In Chinese restaurants one is often confronted with an elaborately carved accompaniment: a radish flower, say, or a spring onion froth. Children devour these with joy. For many years in Western cuisine the only garnish one ever saw was a sprig of parsley, often the only green on the plate. The thing is that  parsley looks like the dish has been accented with green pubic hair, or like a Chia Pet project, so it became the vogue to snip parsley all over the plate like green dandruff. Now parsley is all but banished from the kitchen for fear of being disconcertingly retro. It practically screams "I have a lack of imagination."

You can go a step too far in the other direction though. 

Judging by their seemingly coke-fuelled creations, this ought to be called “How NOT to Garnish.” Do not, for example, serve lettuce embellished with worms, even if they are made from carrot and radish. No-one likes caterpillars with their salad.

The watermelon creature filled with balls has lost all the dignity it may once have had, and that is not a birthday-scape; it is a crime scene that looks like the aftermath of a deranged speed binge whose perpetrator crashed before the children arrived.

The art of garni is no joke; ask Ferran Adrià, who made a career out of reinventing it. Actually if you get to speak to Ferran Adrià, don’t say anything: just get down on your knees and bow your head. Show some respect.

How To Garnish, Harvey Rosen, International Culinary Consultants, 1983

Also from this book: Sea Cucumber

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