Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Food as Art vs It Tastes Really Good ... But

Last night I experimented with a chicken dish, chicken breasts cooked with shallots, garlic, peaches, and pinot noir. Yes, the autumn wine crush has me thinking of wine, and wanting to cook with it, too. However, this was one of those dishes that just didn't work. My husband summed it up nicely when he said, "Maybe it's best not to show readers purple chicken, but it tastes really good." So, it's back to the drawing board on that recipe, but it's also a good time to make a quick aside on how presentation really does count, even at home.

It's not that I'm new to presentation flops. No, this isn't the first time something like this has happened. Last St Patrick's Day, I had two young grandsons staying at my house. I thought green eggs would be a great way to start off the day! So, I scrambled up some eggs and added lots of green food coloring. They were really green! I was pretty sure they'd enjoy them. After all, they enjoyed the book "Green Eggs and Ham" when they were just a few years younger. Well, the green eggs didn't go over nearly as well as I imagined. The youngest took one look and asked if there was bacon and toast, and never took one bite of those green eggs. The older of the two boys said they looked "most unappetizing" but taste great ... just close your eyes when you eat.

He said a mouthful there. We eat with more than our mouths. We do more than eat to simply fill our belly and our dietary needs. There's the tastebuds, looking for sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and the 5th taste, umami or savory tastes. There's the nose, smelling and identifying different ingredients. There's the mouthfeel - the texture of food - crunchy, smooth, liquid, hard, chewy, soft. Finally, there's the eyes - seeing food and sending images of delightful tastes (or disgusting ones) to our minds.

Robert Indiana knows the importance of the visual. His "EAT" sculpture, shown here atop the Farnsworth Museum in Maine, blinks on and off and is fascinating with it's visual presentation. Some restaurants go to great lengths, or heights these days, with their presentation techniques. It's not something I often think about with home cooking, and rarely talk about here, but making foods look delicious, then plating them to enhance that delicious look, does have a place, even at home. Green eggs and purple chicken both would need considerable dressing up to make them palatable to most eaters. Picky eaters probably won't touch them.

So, I'll go back to the drawing table, make that a culinary cutting board, and will work up a recipe with chicken, shallots, garlic, peaches, and pinot noir soon. But, you can bet the chicken won't be cooked in the pinot noir, so it won't turn out purple!

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