When I was a kid, playing with your food was forbidden. Absolutely, completely, unalterably forbidden. If one of our grandmothers were there, such nonsense would result in a whack with the dirty dishrag!
Of course that didn’t stop us from adorning the mashed potato mound with rows of peas and carrots, blowing bubbles in our milk or squishing jelly (jello) between our clenched teeth. (Or feeding our most-loathed liver to the dog…)
Fast forward a few decades and you go into almost any restaurant, any cuisine – and I’m not sure if they’re actually cooking back there in the kitchen – or just playing with my food. I think it started with drink adornments – moving from paper umbrellas to flashy fruit and then spears of celery in my bloody Mary. Then I noticed cute things – guacamole coming in tortilla bowls, bread sticks served vertically, colourful sauces sprinkled around the plate. Grandma did not approve of any of this.
But then the whole thing got weird. You’d order a meal and it would come stacked in the centre of the plate – discs of potatoes, meat, veg – possibly a volcano of sauce dribbling down the side. How does one eat that? Layer by layer – or knock it over? You order a salad – and it arrives with five bowls of bits and pieces – do you throw them in? Are you meant to eat them individually? Is the big bowl something to drink or (no – really, it could be a finger bowl…)
Actually – I love dazzling desserts – a towering spike of chocolate or a spun sugar cage is just fine with me. Even Grandma would love them as long they tasted as good as they looked.
Last week I met some friends for lunch at a ‘new Asian cuisine’ restaurant. (What became of nouvelle cuisine?) Just when I thought we’d got over the vertical silliness – our food arrived, in charming little twine-wrapped buckets, on rickshaws, perched precariously over a babbling pool… mine was a stunning take on hide-and-go-seek – nine little dishes tucked in and under the food in nine little cubicles. This guy was in the centre of it all!
Grandma would have pitched a fit! Yes, it was all delicious. But… I don’t know… what’s wrong with having your main attraction over here and the starch over there and the vegs in that corner???
Even more troubling… what will they think of next?