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Wine & Dine
October 15, 2012

Art on a Platter

Text by Sonal Ved.

When it comes to plating food, all rules are being broken and innovation reigns supreme. Verve speaks to nonconformist cooks who are serving us boldly balanced, audaciously plated and dramatically coloured foods

Chicagoan chef Kelvin Cheung is the reason why Mumbai is getting a taste of contemporary American chow. He is also the reason why we are pecking on foods that don’t come garnished with an odd sprig of herb or mundane sprinkling of cheese. Instead, what we are getting is a whiff of fare that resembles an abstract form of art.

Kelvin’s cooking and plating philosophy revolves around deceiving the mind with shocking textures and arrangements. It is food for the brain, since the mind laps up the plating arrangement minutes before the taste buds get hit by the flavour. To me, Kelvin’s work is that of an artist, his food is an objet d’art and his technique – epoch making.

Our ‘painting’ from his kitchen had three shades of red coming from plain, pickled and egg-whipped beetroot. There were quenelle-shaped clouds of lavender-infused goat cheese, circles of finely sliced, fiery chillies and all this resting tirelessly on a bed of roasted coffee and cardamom soil.

Though the elements were chaotically scattered on a stark piece of flattened charcoal stale, there was an underlying method to the madness. “I choose slate because black helps bring out the hues of the sauces and robust ingredients well. It is open from either side, so I can play around and experiment without boundaries,” says the 32-year-old chef.

This zeal to make a plate resemble an artwork and the diner feel almost criminal about spoiling the arrangement, is a hobby shared by Chef Kelvin Cheung and Chef Vineet Bhatia alike. The latter, who runs a modern Indian restaurant called Ziya The Oberoi, Mumbai and Rasoi on Lincoln Street, London, uses everything from a syringe, pipette, foam gun, smoke gun, silicon mats and rubber tubes, to put his plate together.

As a part of Ziya’s seven-course menu, conventional preparations such as beetroot galouti kebab and spice-marinated chicken tikka are served on black slates. The soup – a thick lentil broth with floating popcorn pieces, comes poured into shot glasses. The sorbet of fennel and orange holds longer in a wine glass, if you hold it correctly. And just when you are ready to surrender into the hazy bliss of warming Indian food, the dessert of cumin brownie and paan ice cream trots out encased in a capsule-shaped container.

Apart from playing with crockery and cutlery, daringly balancing food to create multi-layered towers, is also Ziya’s signature. According to Chef Renji Raju, who holds fort in Bhatia’s absence, “Adding height to the plate gives it a third dimension. It emphasises on various layers the chef has created and is visually stimulating at the same time.”

When it comes to plating, a cuisine that supersedes others is French. While two decades ago French food was served in a rustic, homely avatar, the pressure to earn accolades and awards, has pushed French chefs to create a presentation that touches the realm of art.

This can also be said for simpler cuisines such as Indian, Japanese and Cantonese, where flavour was initially considered to be the hero. At Bandra-based tea and dim sum joint, Yauatcha, cousin of Michelin starred Hakkasan, this can be proven.

Jeetesh Kaprani, vice president of operations from KA Hospitality (the group behind Yauatcha and Hakkasan) says, “Our restaurants maintain a certain level of finesse when it comes to presentation. It may not be the absolute French style where sauces are artistically thrown on a plate, but some dishes do take inspiration.”

Take for instance the Mongolian lamb chops served at this eatery. Here, three pieces of meat are gracefully balanced on top of one another and are served with a swirl of sauce. The dish uses a presentation technique employed in many French kitchens, but the flavour it imparts, is authentically Cantonese.

The rest of the menu at Yauatcha works with naturally beautiful ingredients to create fabulous platters. The crystal dumplings for instance uses fine sheets of potato starch to bring out a transparent appearance on the dim sums, so you can see through its skin. Another wrap uses a prettily punctured sheet of lotus root to roll up vegetables and one dim sum is made by whipping and frying flour in a way that it creates frail yellow films to resembles golden gossamer threads.

No matter how creative a chef gets with his garnishing, it is essential that the embellishments work towards enhancing the dish first, instead of taking away from its flavours. It remains to be seen how much further chefs go to notch up their presentation. We are only too happy to be holding our parmesan cup and eating it too

Parmesan cups
Ingredients: 300 gm parmesan cheese (grated); 3 gm chilli flakes; 2 gm parsley.

Method: In a non-stick pan, heat parmesan cheese and add parsley and chilli flakes. When the cheese begins to bubble, remove from the heat and transfer it on a flat plate. With the back of a spoon flatten the cheese. Since it will have a mouldable consistency, it will spread well and harden within 3-4 minutes. With a sharp knife cut it into squares and use it to garnish appetisers.

Brandy snaps
Ingredients: 275 gm unsalted butter; 275 gm castor sugar; 275 gm liquid glucose; 225 gm flour.

Method: Preheat the oven at 180 degrees Celsius. Line a baking tray with parchment paper and keep aside. In a bowl, cream butter, sugar and liquid glucose with the help of a beater. Fold in flour and let the mixture rest for a few minutes. Drop four teaspoons of this mixture on to the baking tray and make a neat circle with the back of a spoon (like small dosas). Bake for 10-15 minutes and remove from the oven. Once baked, remove the circles while they are slightly hot and mould them in a desired shape. Let it rest until the snaps harden and use it as a quick garnish for desserts.

(Recipes by Chef Robin Batra, Trident, Bandra Kurla.)

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