When I was a kid, my mother and grandmother cooked simple, but nutritious and delicious dishes. They would pile the rice on a steel plate and ladle the fish curry into a steel bowl before serving it to us. While they made sure that the kitchen and the utensils were sparkling clean, they were totally unaware of the concept of presenting the food in an artistic manner.
We kids did not care. We just ate. We never fussed. We were happy with simple conji (hot rice with rice water), a variety of rice dishes, boiled vegetables, pickles, and fish and meat preparations, simply placed before us. We had to eat it with our mouths shut, and we did not mind. In fact, we were too hungry to do anything else at meal times. Oh, we had our sweet treats too—a few varieties of chocolates and sweets, the occasional payasam, the rare homemade sweets, the kuswar at Christmas, and so on.
So, I just do not understand the modern kid.
When you saw this pile of chutney-and-cheese sandwiches I made today, you were quite jubilant. You thought it looked good.
But when I took one off the pile and placed it on your plate along with a bit of tomato sauce, your face fell. You did not want to eat it. You said it made you feel like puking. You said you did not like it. To make matters worse, you said that I always make things you don’t like. “Oh eat it,” I said wearily.”Just shut up and eat it. Stop eating my head.”
I do agree that it looks like a beastly pile of brown bread. In fact, someone who saw that picture even suggested I make sandwiches out of it. Unfortunately, that is a pile of sandwiches.
Parenting experts and chefs talk about the importance of food presentation. Food, they say, tastes better when arranged in an artistic way on a good-looking plate. Hell! Once upon a time, I too was a child. As far as I was concerned, food tasted good because I was hungry, and it tasted better when eaten in the company of loved ones.
So the concept of artistically arranging food in innovative designs and styles is a totally new one to me. I daresay food presentation enhances the value of a dish in restaurants and at parties. But who has the time to bother about it at home? Morning time is rush time. We have to get things done real fast. In my hurry to get things done fast, I hardly noticed that the sandwiches I had stacked one over the other in the good old fashioned style looked like a beastly pile of brown bread.
I guess I should have trimmed the edges, toasted them on a proper grill instead of using an overheated pan, and cut them into pretty little triangles or hearts or diamonds. I ought to have placed those beautiful shapes in the midst of artistically cut pieces of cucumber and tomato and small cups of tomato ketchup. That would have magically transformed them from “a beastly pile of brown bread” to delicious, mouth-watering “chutney-and-cheese sandwiches.”
Something like these sandwiches….So why is it important? Experts say that we see food first and then smell and taste it. If it doesn’t look good, we won’t feel like eating it. I am just particular about food being served on clean utensils, but don’t give much thought to arranging it artistically. I feel that it is a waste of time, especially when one doesn’t have enough of it. But what if it is important to the fussy kid of today?
In June 2014, an Oxford University team headed by Charles Michel, a talented Franco-Columbian chef showed that artistically presented food really tastes better. Michel designed a salad along the lines of an abstract work of art called “Painting Number 201” by Wassily Kandinsky to find out the effects of artistically presented food on people. He served three differently presented salads—one regular tossed, one designed like Kandinsky’s painting, and one neatly arranged—to 30 women and 30 men. The salad designed like Kandinsky’s painting got the highest rating, and participants were even willing to pay more for it.
The study has been peer-reviewed by a team of scientists and published in a journal called Flavour.
So I guess food presentation does make a difference, and I will have to seriously consider it.