Monday, August 14, 2006

Traffic Light Meals

Last Tuesday I caught the train straight from work down to Farnborough for a Nepalese meal. I met up with Bob Carlsen, my old boss from CSC, in the Gurkha Palace together with four other ex-colleagues. The company was fine as was the food. Well, flavour wise it was fine but visually it was very monchrome, very beige: rice, naan and an assortment of curries all in shades of brown. Colour is important in food presentation.

Years ago, when I was single, I would veg out on a Sunday morning watching the OU. One time there was this Fine Arts lecturer explaining how Constable would always use a small dot of red somewhere in his pictures; in "Flatford Mill" it is on the headband of the horse. Even a small dash of contrasting colour can bring vivacity to a visual image. If you ever get your portrait drawn by a street artist notice how they often apply a dot of white in each eye to give the face more life.

Making the connection, like you do, I realised this is the purpose of the garnish on a plate. I had never been able to see the point of embellishing, say, a starter of toast and pate with two scraps of lettuce and a quarter tomato; not much in the way of nourishment there but of course it is meant as a feast for the eyes.

More specifically an easy way to give your meals visual appeal is to adopt a traffic light scheme: red, amber, green. Not always literally, the place of red might be taken by brown grilled meat and the amber might be a white slice of mozarella; adapt the basic schema to the meal in mind.

For example my meal last week at the Cork&Bottle was grilled giant prawns (red) on a bed of salad (green) and it needed the slice of lemon to give the dish the amber lift. Likewises Kylie's sausage (red) and chips (amber) needed the tomato to give it the red boost.

Two out of three just and something is missing. That is why red (bell) peppers and tomatoes are so useful; carrots also can play red or amber depending on the rest of the plate. Of course some meals are there already like "insalata tricolore" - tomato, mozzarella and basil or the panzanella Mary made at the weekend.

[Panzanella recipe from BBC Good Food]


Stuffy said...

Mark wrote - Likewises Kylie's sausage (red) and chips (amber) needed the tomato to give it the red boost.

Shurely shome mishtake, if your theory is true sausage and chips is crying out for mushy peas.

Mark McLellan said...

Stuffy is quite right of course. There was green leaf on Kylie's plate, it was *both* the sausage and chips that were amber hence the need for the red.