Working the plate
October 14th, 2006

German postal service and I not necessarily see eye to eye, up until recently anyway. But it’s changing, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Since I’m primarily an online book shopper, most of my new cookbook fixes I get via mail. Despite my tendency to hold grudges against bad service, somehow my appetite to hit the “Order” button still exceeds my frustration with our post office’s poor performance (and I’m not the only one having issues with postal service). Here’s my thought process: If you can’t beat your enemy, embrace him! The original phrase may continue a long the lines of “…with two hands behind your back he can’t hurt you“, but I thought of a more literal meaning. We live on the third floor and the postman usually had a good work-out once he climbed all the stairs – how about a little bribe to sweeten his efforts?

The thought of a little bag of homemade cookies -a quite logical thought for a foodie- I quickly dismissed. Found it to be a little over the top and in fact, he doesn’t actually look like a sweet guy, if you know what I mean. Besides, what if he is paranoid and thinks I want to poison him for bad service? To be on the safe side, I decided in favor of a more than reasonable good ‘ol fashioned tip. Hey was that a hint of a smile, flashing over his face?

That was when things started to change and I didn’t have to go to the post office to fetch my undelivered packages ever since. Not sure what I triggered, but this guy has become a bit too keen to do well. Now we have the honor of being the first party in the house who he delivers to AND rings the doorbell, typically at 7AM. I’m an early bird, yet, I had to get accustomed to signing delivery papers still wearing my pj’s in front of a smiling postman – not a big deal though. On second thought, maybe it wasn’t just the tip after all?

Of course I keep smiling back (on top of the occasional tip) – what can I say, he is my main cookbook purveyor and one has to treat them good, right? His latest delivery? A book I had pre-ordered over a month a ago and one I had almost forgotten about: Working the plate by Christopher Styler (Amazon US / Amazon Germany)

Working the PlateThis is a good example of a book that leaves me a bit puzzled. The publishing house Wiley introduces this books with the words “Long awaited by professional chefs, this groundbreaking guide to food presentation will also delight and inspire culinary students and sophisticated home cooks. Acclaimed food writer and culinary producer Christopher Styler describes seven distinctive plating styles, from Minimalist to Naturalist to Dramatic, with several striking examples of every genre. Each plating suggestion is accompanied by clear instructions along with color photos of step-by-step techniques and finished plates. Complete with essays on plating from ten leading chefs and recipes for the dishes featured, this book is a work of art in itself—a must for the kitchen shelf.”

To me, its main focus is not to show the reader how to plate with step-by-step techniques – it would have otherwise required more then the average four pictures shown for each dish. In fact it is more about the philosophy of plating, which is a much wider and complex field than an amateur like me would have ever imagined. Christopher Styler’s attempt to categorize plating styles is not an easy one and he himself claims that he doesn’t expect any chef to agree with these categories. Yet the seven different styles depicted give more structure to the whole subject and his definition about approaches like “The Artist” or “Dramatic Flair” are both welcome guidelines and inspirational thoughts at the same time. The definite highlights of the book are the featured chefs’ thoughts and their very own take on the art of plating. Renowned chefs including Suzanne Goin (Lucques, Los Angeles), Marcus Samuelsson (Aquavit, Riingo, New York) or Emily Luchetti (Farallon Restaurant, San Francisco) talk about how they developed their very own style, what works for them and why. The opportunity to peek inside their creative mindsets as well as their self-reflexive analysis over their last years in the culinary business makes me almost forget the disappointing fact, that not all recipes showcased are actually included in the book.

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2006

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