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3 Most Important Elements of a Plate...


emhahn
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This is about whether an individual's standards of flavor are undermined by presentation.

I think my expectations are set by context. I've had great fish and chips out of newspaper, but I'd expect different sort of fish and chips at a fine dining establishment, unless it done for a joke (Bibas, in Boston, for example printed their own newspaper).

I'd hope the presentation and the accompanyments were intended to enhance the experience.

All too often, however they are just there for show, or a random selection: "Our chefs steak with pineapple and chocolate sauce, garnished with strawberries, dried apple slices, and potato wafers" No thanks, just send it palin.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Edit to add Plotnicki point:

How can you claim that well marbled with a good strip of fat is the only true steak? That slim young thing that has come to the restaurant disagrees. For her its no visible fat that makes the ideal staek. We can disagree about her taste, but she has that right.

but the wish for fat-free food is not driven by taste issues. it's about (misunderstood) health.

christianh@geol.ku.dk. just in case.

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Yes, but it does make you love your mom that much more  :wink:.

That's entry-level stuff for my mother, though. I mean, when Ellen published her first book, my mother recreated the entire cover in frosting on a seven-layer cake. With alarming realism.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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All too often, however they are just there for show, or a random selection: "Our chefs steak with pineapple, and chocolate sauce, garnished with strawberries, dried apple slices, and potato wafers" No thenks, just send it palin.

I totally agree. But I think there are people on this thread who are saying that we don't have the cognitive capacity to separate those issues. Whereas I think we do.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I remember my review of Comme Chez Soi in Brussels where I commented on my appetizer, a pigeon mousse, that when it arrived on the plate it looked dingy and unappealing, a dirty brown cylinder (and absolutely nothing else) on a large white plate. I honestly didn't want to eat it. But when I took the first taste, it was sheer magic. Presentation zero, taste a million.

I had the reverse experience at Le Gavroche in London with an apricot mousse dessert. Presentation 8 out of 10, taste 2 (maybe).

I have to admit that I'm struggling to understand how culinary professionals and apparently experienced amateurs, get this notion that presentation affects taste, or influences tasters to taste differently. I don't even want to enter the boringly repetitive semantic and lexicographical discussion about what taste is, or what people take it to mean. Under any of those definitions, food tastes to any one person how it tastes to that person. The very idea that if Blue Hill removed their chicken-endowed egg-cup from the meal they presented to Cabrales, then she would have altered her rating of its taste from 10 out of 10 to 9 out of 10 is either risible :laugh: or distinctly frightening :shock:

I would say that anyone who values presentation so highly that it influences their judgement of the taste of the food is someone whose opinion on food I would not value. Which is not to say that presentation is unimportant, but simply to say that it is an addendum to taste, not a substitute or a modifier.

So to return to Eric's original point, I think he has it badly wrong. My proportions would be :

Taste 85%

Presentation 10%

Temperature 4%

... leaving 1% for novelty factors like eggcups and exploding napkin holders :smile:

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I have a different view of Eric's original point. I do not think that food, or wine, is quantitative in that way. I think taste is based on a score of 100% and it's either presented well or not. Good presentation makes for a more pleasurable experience. Whenever I read a guide book like Gambero Rosso which publishes a cummulative score for a restaurant based on food, servicem, decor, etc., I find that information less useful then knowing which place scored the highest for their food.

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Maybe this should be another thread, but..what about wine?  Does a wine taste the same if it's served in a jelly glass as it does when it's served in the proper Riedel.  Is that also presentation?

It tastes the same whether the glass is clear, white, or blue (or painted with chicks). The shape and surface texture of the glass, however, has an actual physical effect on the aroma of the wine, which is an important component of its "taste."

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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If you transfer this argument to Japanese food, it seems to me that presentation is built into the food, at most levels. Food, beyond basic sustenance, is almost made to charm, to delight, to seduce. (I've been reading Michael Pollan's The Botany of Desire and he talks about how plants lure and seduce bees, people into propagating them.)

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"It tastes the same whether the glass is clear, white, or blue (or painted with chicks). The shape and surface texture of the glass, however, has an actual physical effect on the aroma of the wine, which is an important component of its "taste." "

That's having it both ways. :biggrin:

Edited by Sandra Levine (log)
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I would say that anyone who values presentation so highly that it influences their judgement of the taste of the food is someone whose opinion on food I would not value. Which is not to say that presentation is unimportant, but simply to say that it is an addendum to taste, not a substitute or a modifier.

I think presentation does influence your perception of food, whether you 'value' it or not. The question is the extent to which one can adjust for that distortion. Why does one taste wine blind? Precisely because extraneous factors such as knowing that a wine costs 100 bucks may influence your judgment.

I think some people are quite immune to these distractions -- I am not. I agree that diminishes the value of my opinions.

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I think some people are quite immune to these distractions -- I am not. I agree that diminishes the value of my opinions.

I don't think anybody is totally immune, though. And I don't think it makes your opinions less valuable. It just means they're opinions of a combined entity rather than just of the food. To plenty of people, that's just as valuable.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Steak is a somewhat tendentious example, by virtue of its simplicity - Japanese food is better.

Let me see if I can keep this short. That the "subjectivity"/"objectivity" debate keeps rearing its head suggests that there's an important issue there. I agree we won't resolve it. I would observe that it manifests itself in most threads because people struggle to see that there are many alternatives to the two extreme postions. When user A contends that there are demonstrable influences on gastronomic appreciation extraneous to the physical/chemical condition of the food on the plate, user B responds that if that were the case then there would be no basis for any standards of judging quality, and that we obviously do apply such standards all the time.

Since user A's contention is clearly correct, but it is also correct that we can and do apply standards of judgment to food, it follows that the extreme positions - it's about the flavor of the food and nothing else/flavor is nothing more than what an individual perceives with all the personal, cultural and other baggage - are both wrong.

Edited by Wilfrid (log)
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Fat Guy: I don't understand how presentation can affect the taste of food at all. The experience, the enjoyment, the perception, etc., sure -- there have been plenty of experiments where people were given blue food or whatever and didn't enjoy it, and I can see how someone would enjoy beautiful food more than ugly food. But actually taste better? No. All other things being equal, it tastes the same
.

I think your referring to the experiments about blue food supports the view that presentation does affect taste. I can't find a report on the original research but presumably the subjects said it didn't taste good irrespective of what it "objectively" was. Also, if presentation does not affect taste why does the food industry invest so much in it (to devleop food colorings and the like)?

Blue Heron: Taste can have more to do with just what goes on in the taste buds.

Fat Guy: Again, semantics. Yes, if taste includes perception of taste, all sorts of things other than actual taste can affect it. But surely you don't think the food is actually changed by these externalities?

I think a definition of taste that excludes the perception of taste is meaningless. I agree that there is food on the plate that can be analyzed "scientifically molecule for molecule", but that is not equivalent to tasting it.

The more I read eGullet the more postmodern I get. Taste is the interaction of the food and taker-inner. However, I'm not saying that people cannot agree about a good meal, but the transactional nature of personal preception and thing out there helps explain why people taste things differently.

Edited by yvonne johnson (log)
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I can't really understand how anybody could think it's not possible to distinguish between cosmetic issues and the actual taste of food.

In many rspects it is the cosmetic element that distinguishes 'haute' from 'regional' food. So if you're stuck on the superiority of 'haute' then you'll naturally believe that presentation makes a fundamental difference in taste -- otherwise, how do you justify the prices?

LML,

Superiority aside, I believe the difference has more to do with the amount of *processing*. The presentation being bound up in such a way that it is not easily separated from the end result of said process. The cosmetic element is merely the frontpiece or cover, not the meat of the matter (no pun intended).

In "haute" cuisine, I feel, the approach should be a holistic blending of ingredient, process and presentation. Correctly done, the separation of these three elements is difficult. Perfectly done, impossible.

Nick

(edited for punctuation)

Edited by ngatti (log)
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I agree that it's possible to tell, for example, great meat from poor meat. I disagree that this is a function solely of what's on the plate. What is on the plate can be factually characterized by an accurate scientific description of its chemical and physical properties. It's possible to try to correlate chemical profiles with sensory responses (and very difficult; companies spend a lot of money trying to do this). In principle, you might be able to identify the range of chemical and physical properties possessed by great steak. But you could stare at the scientific data from here to eternity without it telling you that it is great steak. That's a judgment the diner brings to the table.

Of course, given the commonality of our human hardwiring, there is much consensus on what tastes good. At a minimum, we can recognize rancid food. But the limiting cases are too big to be ignored. Millions of people will reject fine cheeses and excellent preserved fish products as being "off". Millions will express finer preferences which are at odds with the opinions of professional gourmets.

Does this mean it's a free for all? Absolutely not. I fully agree that some opinions are privileged, and the opinion of an experienced feeder, of eclectic tastes, in good health, will be an especially valuable opinion.

Why are some opinions privileged? It's worth thinking about, but you won't find the answer by looking at the food under a microscope.

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Let me see if I can keep this short. That the "subjectivity"/"objectivity" debate keeps rearing its head suggests that there's an important issue there. I agree we won't resolve it. I would observe that it manifests itself in most threads because people struggle to see that there are many alternatives to the two extreme postions. When user A contends that there are demonstrable influences on gastronomic appreciation extraneous to the physical/chemical condition of the food on the plate, user B responds that if that were the case then there would be no basis for any standards of judging quality, and that we obviously do apply such standards all the time.

The reason we keep vollying that one back and forth is because we keep weighing all opinions equally when we shouldn't. The truth is, saying you don't like your steak marbled is very much a minority opinion, possibly a fringe one. And it has no value at all to the vast, vast majority of steak eaters. Yet, because you can't absolutely prove that marbled steak is actually better, the person who speaks it demands legitimacy for their opinion, and we more often then not agree to that. That is where we always go wrong.

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I can't believe how much energy is being expended trying to defend the notion that presentation affects taste. I want all the people taking that position to practice what they preach: Go eat some crappy food that looks really nice, and enjoy it because presentation affects taste. Or be served the world's best food on an ugly plate and refuse to eat it. Go ahead. I'll still be your friend.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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A more interesting experiment would be to serve people essentially the same food presented in different ways, and have them score it - score it for taste, quality whatever, not for presentation. You'd probably need several dishes and a few "placebos" as it were to make it interesting. I don't think I'd bet my house that the same food would get the same score however it was presented.

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Let's assume the experiment gets expanded a bit, and goes like this:

Person is given 10 plates of food, 5 of which are decoys and 5 of which are the same thing but cosmetically altered in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The person gives a wide range of scores to the 5 plates that were really the same.

Same person is blindfolded and the experiment is repeated. The person gives a wide range of scores anyway.

Lots of people are tested, and the results are pretty much the same.

From this we would conclude (please choose one):

1) Presentation affects taste

2) Presentation does not affect taste

3) The experiment doesn't mean shit one way or the other

or

4) People are stupid

Next scenario:

Person is given 10 plates of food, 5 of which are decoys and 5 of which are the same thing but cosmetically altered in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The person gives a wide range of scores to the 5 plates that were really the same.

Same person is blindfolded and the experiment is repeated. The person gives the exact same score to each plate.

Lots of people are tested, and the results are pretty much the same.

From this we would conclude (please choose one):

1) Presentation affects taste

2) Presentation does not affect taste

3) The experiment doesn't mean shit one way or the other

or

4) People are stupid

Next scenario:

Person (this time a chef or someone trained to taste food dispassionately) is given 10 plates of food, 5 of which are decoys and 5 of which are the same thing but cosmetically altered in various subtle and not-so-subtle ways. The person gives the exact same score to each of the similar plates and says, "This experiment is dumb because 5 of those plates were the same. Do you think I'm stupid?"

Same person is blindfolded and the experiment is repeated. The person gives the exact same score to each plate and storms out, yelling, "Don't waste my fucking time."

Lots of trained tasters are tested, and the results are pretty much the same.

From this we would conclude (please choose one):

1) Presentation affects taste

2) Presentation does not affect taste

3) The experiment doesn't mean shit one way or the other

or

4) People are stupid

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Presentation is the most important part of a dish?  Like Fat Guy, I strongly disagree with that. Unless the taste of a dish is very good, presentation cannot salvage it, for me. In other words, presentation might be helpful if the dish is delicious-taking, but not before that point.

Cabby, with all love and respect, I believe that for some people, service of the meal in France as opposed to America may be the most important part of the dish. The experience, taste (subjective, though thought to be objective), review and memory will all be skewed by looking out over the Parisian skyline as opposed to Topeka. It's difficult to remove presentation, atmosphere, etc., from perceived taste.

Just a thought, having missed the first three pages of the discussion.

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It's difficult to remove presentation, atmosphere, etc., from perceived taste.

Fat Bloke can do it by blindfolding you.

I think the question is what the results of the experiment would be, and whether it would be different among different groups. If the latter, that would be interesting.

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4) People are stupid

I find that #4 is the answer to an overwhelming number of questions. Of course, there are various TYPES of stupidity and we can have a marvelous debate as to which is the truly objective type.

edit: Mistakenly left out a word. See #4 above for explanation.

Edited by 201 (log)
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