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Food that plays with Perception


LizD518
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I'm the exclusive in-house caterer for a small art museum and am preparing for our next opening, an exhibit that deals with perception and illusion. We've developed a good formulas for our members openings - an hors d'oeuvres station the retails for about $15 per person (+ staffing charges). I have a good chef who is willing to do a lot, but he isn't a guy who pushes boundaries on his own, I have to bring the ideas to him; so, I'm looking for assistance creating a menu that fits within the existing structure, but also marries with the concept of the exhibition. Popular offerings in the past have been a Mediterranean Station (hummus, baba, chopped Greek salad, lentil salad, roasted veggies), a seasonal salad station (all sorts of leafy and non-leafy salads along with soup-sips and bread), a taster of individual crudites, country pate and baked brie. We don't do much with protein since the budget doesn't really allow for it.

Other parameters are that we cannot do any action stations that involve actual cooking in front of the guest. We do have a finishing kitchen with convection and steam ovens and hot boxes to keep food warm. My chef is based at another facility and does all initial prep and cooking there and finishes it on-site. We use all electric sterno to present hot food - no open flame in the museum. We expect around 125-150 guests and the total time of the reception is two hours.

Any suggestions are welcome! Thanks!

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Red beets also came to mind for me, though in a more simplistic way. Using them to color anything white like a dip and using something like dried cranberries as a garnish tends to make the mind think sweet. So a simple looks sweet but tastes savory is an avenue to explore.

Similarly using something like avocado in the dessert section would tend to make one think.

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Are you more interested in dishes that look like one food but are actually others, or food that just looks like something you've never seen?

I remember once on top chef someone (probably richard!) made dessert that looked like a baked egg, but was a panna cotta with a mango puree.

Or you could do something along the lines of two things that look the same, but taste different. E.g. a chunky tomato sauce with parsley served with sliced baguette, and a chunky strawberry sauce with mint served with sliced brioche or something like that...

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I remember once on top chef someone (probably richard!) made dessert that looked like a baked egg, but was a panna cotta with a mango puree.

That sounds so cool! Mind you, faux-eggs are somewhat dear to my heart, due to the best April-fools breakfast ever: My brother and I (both rather young) were staying with my Gran and for breakfast, after the usual toast and cereal, she insisted we had a boiled egg each. I was still trawling through the cereal (have always hated the normal sweet cereal and toast breakfasts, and was longing for the savoury stuff from home! I was also putting off getting to the egg, as I hated egg as a child and now I don't eat them at all.) when my brother started his. After about 2 minutes of whacking the egg as hard as he could with his spoon, it was extremely clear that it wasn't a normal egg. Taking the initiative, I grabbed mine and bit into it as hard as I could. Ow! It was a solid and rather thick sugar shell incasing chocolate-y goodness! But from the outside, it looked just like a normal egg. Delicious, and much better than a normal egg, to me! We got my Gran back with a prank involving polos, ketchup and my "clumsy" brother "smashing" his face into a door....good times!

Edited by Jenni (log)
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Are you more interested in dishes that look like one food but are actually others, or food that just looks like something you've never seen?

I remember once on top chef someone (probably richard!) made dessert that looked like a baked egg, but was a panna cotta with a mango puree.

Or you could do something along the lines of two things that look the same, but taste different. E.g. a chunky tomato sauce with parsley served with sliced baguette, and a chunky strawberry sauce with mint served with sliced brioche or something like that...

I think I'm interested in both, but things that look like one thing and taste like another are probably more technically challenging to pull off. We don't have a lot of experience doing highly precise, fiddly individual dishes, so its probably an area to not delve into too deeply. I like the idea of the sweet and savory "bruschetta". That definitely fits with where I am going. I also like the idea of a faux egg and I think the pastry chef could certainly do something like that. Maybe that could be something composed on a small 2"x2" dish or Chinese soup spoon that they pick up and could look like a salad with a quail egg on it...

Edited by LizD518 (log)
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What a coincidence - I just created a dish that I think would work very well for your needs.

shrimp-cocktail.jpg

It is a shrimp cocktail, but it looks like proscuitto- or bacon-wrapped shrimp. It is made by simply dehydrating cocktail sauce until it turns into a "leather", then wrapping it around the shrimp. The flavor of the cocktail sauce is completely unaltered, and the leather "melts" in your mouth.

Simple preparation, cheap ingredients, served cold. It was born for a buffet that plays with perception :-)

SCOTT HEIMENDINGER
Co-Founder, CMO

Sansaire

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What a coincidence - I just created a dish that I think would work very well for your needs.

shrimp-cocktail.jpg

It is a shrimp cocktail, but it looks like proscuitto- or bacon-wrapped shrimp. It is made by simply dehydrating cocktail sauce until it turns into a "leather", then wrapping it around the shrimp. The flavor of the cocktail sauce is completely unaltered, and the leather "melts" in your mouth.

Simple preparation, cheap ingredients, served cold. It was born for a buffet that plays with perception :-)

Love this!

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I'm also thinking mini savory cheesecakes with tortilla crust, salsa layered on the bottom, and a sour cream topping like a regular cheesecake. Also meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato topping, sprinkled with bacon bits or chives.

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I eventually want to open up a dessert spot that does just this. One of things i developed was dessert sushi. make rice krispie treats and spread them thin on parchment paper. You can fill them with whatever you want. I did one roll filled with candy bars. The other with fresh fruit. Then roll them as you would sushi and cut them as you would sushi as well. can sprinkle crushed cookies to look like the crunchy stuff or chocolate sauce to appear as eel sauce.

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I make gran marnier sorbet with orange juice, gran marnier and a little sugar. The trick this is to add enough gran so that it won't set properly and it ends up looking like scrambled eggs. A little white chocolate shaving (parm), and a grind of black pepper.

"And for dessert madame, scrambled eggs."

People are horrified until they taste it.

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There are many versions of compressed watermelon 'tuna'.

We don't do sous vide so I'm not sue what we have access to in terms of equipment. Are there low-tech ways to do this? I have seen the concept before and it would be a cool thing to do.

There's this version which seems to rely more on freezing than compressing.

[ETA]I was just out and decided to pick up some watermelon and try it. I tried using my FoodSaver. I didn't seem to get any appreciable compression, but I'll see if the freezing does anything.

I'm going to test another idea which I'm going to find hilarious if successful. And potentially more hilarious if it fails.

Edited by IndyRob (log)
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There's always the option of using things of unusual size, like deviled eggs made from quail eggs or a salad of microgreens. Once, I found a tiny grained basmati rice that made great tiny appetizers. And, maybe your produce people can source those tiny pepquino watermelons -they taste like cucumbers.

In the fake egg category, there's always blown mozzarella with yellow tomato puree/salsa/sauce poured into the cavity.

And then, there are the foods that play with our sense of order like fried ice cream, fried mayonnaise, savory sorbets, etc.

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There's always the option of using things of unusual size, like deviled eggs made from quail eggs or a salad of microgreens.

Or maybe a salad of microgreens topped with a quail egg on a crouton. Kind of an Alice in Wonderland sort of thing.

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There's always the option of using things of unusual size, like deviled eggs made from quail eggs or a salad of microgreens.

Or maybe a salad of microgreens topped with a quail egg on a crouton. Kind of an Alice in Wonderland sort of thing.

I like this too - and more in our normal wheelhouse too.

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I'm also thinking mini savory cheesecakes with tortilla crust, salsa layered on the bottom, and a sour cream topping like a regular cheesecake. Also meatloaf cupcakes with mashed potato topping, sprinkled with bacon bits or chives.

It seems at this point that you just need to have a sweets table that looks savory and vice versa!

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There's this version which seems to rely more on freezing than compressing.

[ETA]I was just out and decided to pick up some watermelon and try it.

Well, after freezing overnight I took it out this morning and let it thaw. I'd say it's a partial success. It had a tuna-like appearance and sliced smoothly and cleanly, but there's still a bit of crunch when bitten into, but not so much as unalterated watermelon. I think it could still be quite interesting, especially with a flavor twist.

I think I need a new seal for my Food Saver, and could've gotten a better vacuum with a new one. But I think that might bode well for tying it with the $3 ziploc vacuum pumps.

I also wondered about good old fashioned mechanical compression. So I put a piece in a Food Saver bag and pressed down on it with a sheet pan. If anyone ever needs to do watermelon roadkill, this is a good method. :raz:

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