Visual Feast

By: | Updated: December 29, 2017 3:51 PM

There is scientific evidence that we eat with our eyes first. But is it science or social media that drives restaurants to create dishes that look stunning? Is it food, or is it food porn? We get some answers from the country's best-known chefs, and also a peep into what goes on in their kitchens.

A dish of rice-flaked halibut with watermelon curry at Paowalla is wholesome as well as pretty.

‘THEATRICS IS JUST SMOKE AND MIRRORS’

Floyd Cardoz, The Bombay Canteen, Paowalla Flavour vs presentation 70:30

Chef Floyd Cardoz is so amused at the theatrics employed by the restaurant industry to add appeal to its dishes that he uses the term ‘smoke and mirrors’ for it. Not one to hide his food behind any sort of smoke or effects, Cardoz is an advocate of fresh, local and seasonal produce, believing in championing the ingredient, a philosophy he advocates at his restaurants.

Yes, beautiful plating is important for him, and his restaurants—The Bombay Canteen and the newly-opened Paowalla in New York—duly invest in appropriate crockery, things are arranged in a pleasing manner, but Cardoz doesn’t believe in taking things further. You ask him about gizmos and he immediately says he wouldn’t go that far, in a direction where looks overpower, preferring instead to keep things natural and not deconstructing food.

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“No chef can say looks are not important, because tasting obviously comes second to looks. And though we do eat with our eyes first, and how a dish looks is very important, taste is the foremost requirement of food,” he insists.

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Which is why, he is rather dismissive of several restaurants covering up average food with theatrics. “Plating is many times used to cover up what might not be very good food,” he says, adding that guests might be impressed by embellishments the first time they visit a restaurant, but they will visit again only if what they had eaten tasted good.

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“Focusing on flavour and taste first makes sense. Then make it look good. Every element on the plate needs to be there for a reason. You can’t keep adding to a plate and expect it to make sense,” he says. He explains how he would plate a lobster tail or head as part of a lobster dish, because they belong there. “But I won’t put a lobster on a car or a phone directory. There’s no connection.”However, he does acknowledge that chefs are under pressure to beautify every plate that comes out of their kitchens. “That’s a given.”

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This focus on looks is something he thinks is more prevalent in India, saying that diners in the US won’t be so enticed by looks alone, and everything from the ingredients to the flavour would matter more to them. However, he adds that customers at Bombay Canteen are equally discerning as at Paowalla, “so I am happy to have them”.

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