I would have been just as happy to miss it, but I just caught up with this New York Times piece about the emphasis that chefs are putting on plating, the culinary term that refers to the arrangement of food on a dish. One of the chefs who was cited in the article is Paul Liebrandt who, in his Brooklyn restaurant Elm, arranges the food he produces in elaborately engineered constructions. Says Chef Liebrandt, “If everyone could do this at home, we’d go out of business.” Marcella used to say that today’s modernist chefs have got it the wrong way around. The food in restaurants should evoke the taste of what a good cook can prepare at home. “I go to a restaurant – she would say – for the service, for the social ambiance, to eat with friends, and for the pleasure of getting up from the table without having had to prep anything, without thoughts of dirty pots and dishes cluttering my kitchen. I am not concerned about how intricately the food is arranged on a plate because I expect it to look like what I ordered, and I want it to taste no less fresh and good than what I could have eaten at home.”
At home, we never plated anything, save occasionally and rarely for a particular dessert. Marcella served everything from a platter, a bowl, or even from the cooking pot. We served our guests and ourselves exactly and no more than what, at that moment, we wanted, exercising our likes and capacities. In Italy we favored those restaurants that observed a similar practice, bringing to our table a cart with the food that we had ordered placed on a serving dish from which the waiter would transfer to our plate as much or as little as we’d request.
One chef in the article cited here differs from the plating obsessions of her colleagues. “Fussy plating is beside the point – she says – making food look appetizing depends on cooking it correctly.” She is Rita Sodi, and her restaurant is Italian. Of course. She’d get a hug from Marcella.
By: Victor Hazan