2.19.2013

Lamb Pops.


This is another dish from our shoot at Garrido's Restaurant several weeks ago. Rear lit by LED panels through a diffusion scrim and filled in the front by large, pop up reflector panels. Three lamb chops served as an appetizer.

Camera: Sony a99. Lens: 70-200mm 2.8G.

Food presentation is really an art. I'm not thinking just in terms of how we photograph various dishes but also how the presentation of food in fine dining adds to the perception of value and the enjoyment of the moment.

Plating food is part of every restaurant kitchen's performance art. There seems to be an inverse relationship between the quality (and quantity) of food, how it's provisioned on a plate, and the price of the dish. At an inexpensive restaurant I often find that the emphasis is on quantity with little regard for the disposition of the food. I recently ate a #1 combination plate at a local, blue collar, Tex Mex restaurant and the least expensive ingredients, rice and refried beans, were piled high. The enchiladas threatened to come over the edge of the plate and a massive, crisp taco sat, gargoyle-like in the intersection of the ingredients, with yellow cheese spilling out and melting into the hot rojas sauce that drenched the enchiladas. Don't get me wrong, everything tasted great and there was way too much food to finish, but the plate was over-stocked chaos. A Jackson Pollock painting of food.

Last night I had dinner at the Four Seasons Hotel's Treo Restaurant and the contrast with the local Tex-Mex presentation was vivid. My Caesar salad was linear and compact, spare and elegant and fitted to a plate that seemed to have been created just for this heightened expression of.....long leaves of lettuce. Demure and perfectly sized long leaves of lettuce.

The two cheese and beef enchiladas from the Tex-Mex restaurant would have dwarfed the spare fillet of beef that came out on its own plate at the Four Seasons, topped with a designed sprinkling of savory herbs, elegant and lonely. One spotting drizzle of reduction making a counterpoint on the stark, white plate.

When I post processed the Lamb Pops, above, it struck me that the plate design was in the middle of "no man's land." Somewhere between the two extremes.  It wasn't spare and ephemeral like our new century redux of nouvelle cuisine but it wasn't forward and ample like our popular regional dishes. The salad said, "maybe." While the drizzle of sauce in front of the lamb looks disproportionally generous. No middle ground. Or resolutely only middle ground.

There's no right or wrong way but each plate sent me a different message. One said we'll totally feed you. One said we'll whet your appetite and massage your taste buds. And the most elegant presentation said, "you can afford to stop by someplace and grab a burger on the way home. We're not going to insult you by putting much on your plate. It might monkey around with our design integrity."

The fewest elements are easiest to shoot. The ample plates tend to be tougher. But when I'm really hungry I know where I'm pointing the car. Can we have more tortilla chips please?

Just a note: As Ian Fleming's character says about his fictional life in one of the famous books, "This life reads better than it lives." I would say the Lamb Pops taste even better than they shoot. Yes. I ate all three of them as soon as the art director approved the shot. Yum.