According to a very informal, unscientific study, when diners are asked what they think of when they see a smear of sauce on a plate, the answer is accompanied by a giggle.
Every time I see this style of saucing, what first comes to mind is the highly unappetizing stain left behind when a dog wipes his butt on a carpet.
During the last few months countless food photos arrived at the desks of NRN with more and more sauce skid marks. There’s been raspberry coulis, herb purée and chocolate sauce smears.
What could that chef using the chocolate be thinking? The ill-chosen color reinforces my point.
The skid marks look even more unappealing than foam sauces, which were all the rage 10 years ago and now look to be falling out of favor.
In fact, during a recent fundraiser a young, stylish chef asked an older mentor pastry chef, “Should I use the lemon-verbena foam with my shrimp noodles?”
“No,” she forcefully responded without skipping a beat. “I hate foams. They look like spit.”
What’s wrong with dots of sauce from the ’80s? And those lovely heart-shaped, two-sauce garnishes look far more appealing than today’s smears. Okay, that’s an old style, but isn’t it better to go with a dated look than a new but unappetizing one?
Moreover, truly new ideas aren’t inspired by copying the guy down the street with a four-star review who uses this current sauce style. Smears aren’t new anymore anyway. At this point they’re at least a few years old.
Here’s a solution: Think of your own idea.
You don’t have to be an artist. How about free-form flows of a colorful sauce, or better yet, put the sauce over the food where it belongs in the first place. This way guests don’t need to drag their food across the plate. As far as I can tell, the sauce is there for more than visual appeal.
The fact is diners often are distracted and talking with their tablemates during a meal. They concentrate on the people rather contemplate what a chef expects them to do, or not do, in order to eat the food properly. The same holds true for powders and everything else not actually placed on the food.
In the end, no one wants a dish that requires assembly, especially if the instructions come from a snotty waiter who makes diners feel ill equipped.
If a dish has crispy texture, serve the sauce on the side in a fun shaped plate like the easy-to-find modern Japanese square plates used for dipping sauces. They come in appetizing red and green colors with all kinds of interesting patterns.
Some truly innovative chefs make use of fun presentations that don’t involve the sauce at all—such as using a “bed of nails” to serve lobster. For this a flower-arranging gizmo holds lobster pieces vertically. Now that’s inventive. It comes from the kitchen of David Burke, who is based in New York.
The possibilities are endless.
Then there’s the garnish technique of not using a fancy garnish at all and letting ingredients speak for themselves. Local produce, now all the rage, offers the best flavor and keeps costs down.
Premium products in general have caught on big time just about everywhere, from chains to classic high-end eateries. These ingredients are now appreciated because diners recognize quality. Go to any fancy supermarket and the average Joe may now find some 10 kinds of prosciutto, a dozen goat cheeses and plenty of coffees that may even specify what side of the mountain they grew on.
Like the little black dress that always looks fabulous, quality ingredients without unnecessary adornment might be the most timeless style of all.