As I've been likely to eat out more than ever in the past few months, and especially over the past weekend at Podcamp Toronto, I've taken to a small affectation of noting the presentation of food from apps to entrees to desserts. In that time, I've come to a conclusion about the old trusted axiom: "presentation is everything." Quite simply, my conclusion, axiom fail.
If someone brought a big steaming heap of goat testicles to the table, lovingly adorned with parsley and a tomato rosette, you could pin a blue ribbon on it in Good Housekeeping and I'd still be making a beeline for the nearest upchuck trough.
In this time though, I have tried to draw the fine lines that sometimes exist between the differing levels of food on a plate. While you think the differences may be evident and obvious, I'm finding that the relationships exist more in a venn diagram of foodstuffs than in Swanson-like compartments with an insubstantial brownie cup.
Step 1: Garnish
Strictly ornamental. That some people eat the big honking piece of fibrous lettuce underneath every piece of food on the plate is disgusting. The sprig of parsley or some other random sprig is perhaps the most useless effort on an entree or appetizer plate. As the continuum advances through step one the garnishes evolve to things that one coud, and sometimes will, eat if one is hungry enough. The garnish can exist in the app, entree and dessert phase of the meal. Ever had a piece of cake that had something sticking out of it looked like it could be a chocolate or could be a piece of plastic? After several apprehensive nibbles, and perhaps a chipped tooth, you can decode the decorative appendage. The garnish doesn't impact the taste of the main food item unless masticated simultaneously. Examples like the entree's aforementioned tomato rosette, the multifoliate radish tulip or the ever-inventive and decidely ubiquitous cucumber slice, the garnish, in copious enough amounts can verge on Step Three.
Step 2: The Non-Granulated Herbs and Spices
The oft-forgotten step that includes the visible herbs and spices that often tempt the diner by their bold colors or promise of intense taste. But how many of us really want to bite into that bayleaf or sliver-thin red pepper that looks suspiciously like the same pepper they used to model the "spicy" food indicator in the menu you just ordered from. In itself, such a pepper (or like foodstuff) did contribute to the overall taste of the entire dish (essentially the definition of the Step Two), but upon eating it as an independent food entity crosses into a very tenuous relationship with Step One and Step Three. The Red Sheep of the Step Two family is Paprika which often gets added only to provide a splash of color, but does, in enough quantity have and impact on taste as well.
Step 2.5: Sauces and Condiments
Often an essential part of the meal, the sauce or (as we say in the colonies) condiment is applied in startling amounts to apps, entrees and desserts alike. Whether in endless combinations on top of a pizza or hamburger, or in endless varieties of liquification on top of pastas and pancakes, condiments and sauces are a vital part of our enjoyment of a food item while not intrinsically being tied to the foodstuff itself other than in our subjectivity. One can eat a scoop of vanilla ice cream without chocolate sauce, but I live in a civilized society where chocolate sauce is plentiful and squeeze-bottle-friendly proving Step 2.5's value in the continuum.
Step 3: The Side
Some side dishes you choose, others are thrust upon you as part of the main entree. Step Three is perhaps the step most breached by the other levels of the continuum. Take for example the tomato: in rosette form - Step One, in wedge form - Step Three. The Side should essentially be a smaller portion of what may be considered the main entree. Admittedly such an entree may not be the most adventurous, but how many of us haven't scarfed down a plate of fries or salad and called it a meal. Essentially the side is based on nothing other than amount: 1 big ass plate lining lettuce leaf = garnish, small assembly of lettuce and spices = side, plateful of lettuce with spices and additional modifications = entree. I didn't invent the math folks, it's simple science.
Step 4: The Main Attraction
Quite simply the biggest single item on your plate. Oh, I know some of you are disagreeing with me here and saying "No the Main Attraction is the entire meal", or "What if there's a bigger potato on my plate than the steak I ordered." Here are your answers smartass: 1) the Main Attraction, by definition, cannot be the entire meal or appetizers and dessert menus would not exist and without their intrinsic data, this blog post would be pretty damn boring, and 2) if your potato is bigger than your steak, either eat at a better restaurant, lobby your government to stop genetic agriculture mutations, or resign yourself to the fact that the $25 Steak Dinner you just paid for is actually a $25 Potato Dinner with a side of steak. In the same way the sidekick has less screen time than the hero, the side dish has less plate real estate than the entree. If your potato is the BFOP (Big Foodstuff On Plate), enjoy your side of meat.
Step 5: Dessert
The Dessert basically holds all of the same qualities as the Main Attraction except that it must come after it. Perhaps you may once again argue that this is too simple a definition, but no matter what it's called on the menu, the dessert is anything that comes after the Entree's Main Attraction, Sides, etc.. If you want to have chicken fingers for dessert, go crazy. If you'd like a big heaping bowl of goat testicles, rock the casbah. I'm not one to preclude or insult anyone's dessert choices except to say that a fortune cookie is not dessert.
A fortune cookie is an insult to cookies everywhere. Those of you who say you like fortune cookies are just rationalizing the holiday child in you that gets to open something as vacuous as Pop-o-matic Trouble. Those of you who say you LOVE fortune cookies are liars. Fortune cookies lie in a small cluster on a plate in a resplendent puke beige that cries out "I'm as efficient in a shipping experience as styrofoam packing peanuts and I taste even worse!" Like I said, I didn't invert the math. Fortune cookies are an abomination to the Garnish Continuum as, by their non-existence anywhere on the continuum, must logically not exist at all. They are anti-food and if they ever come into contact with hyperfood, the food-time continuum itself could blink out of reality... but that's really for another blog post.
For now, be aware of the stuff they try to pass off on your plates. Don't eat the big fibrous lettuce plate liner. And, above all, help to protect the continued practice of dining out everywhere by waging war on the fortune cookie and you will meet a mysterious stranger.