Guest blogger PIERRE BROUARD declares war on serving food on wooden boards
Please can I get my food served on a plate? If I go to one more restaurant with food perched precariously on a wooden board I am going to declare war. Or vote with my feet. I can’t tell you often the fries have fallen off, the salad’s toppled over or, in my worst experience, a half boiled egg’s rolled lazily away from me as I tried to pin it down with my fork.
I reckon plates were invented for a reason, that reason being to contain the food, allowing the eater to marshal the various bits into bite sized pieces. Perhaps they came about as a result of a ceramic accident, with an early potter making a mistake in some pre-historic kiln, leaving an odd lip around a flat base. But what a happy accident! Sauces cannot escape, peas are secure and there is a satisfying sense of accomplishment when the forkful of food is easily assembled.
It has common now to find the food board approach to plating, often accompanied by a piece of paper, with the texture of smooth parchment, over which the various ingredients are placed and drizzled. It’s the drizzling which can be the undoing of the paper though. When the food first arrives all seems well, and there is a refreshing crispness to the paper plate – let’s face it that’s what it is. But within a few minutes there’s an unhappy blending of paper and provisions into a displeasing mix; and soon it’s hard to distinguish what’s food and what’s not.
I’m not exactly sure where and why this trend started. I suspect it’s paralleled the rise of the “artisanal” movement. Both the word and the movement have become pretentious. Artisanal, depending on what definition you choose, means something like hand-crafted in small batches with great care and without resorting to processes and additives which you might find in more mass produced foods. I suppose it’s most obvious use is to describe breads and cheeses – and I think the word is meant to conjure up the idea of cool, hipster type baker rising early, with his dough, to craft uniquely shaped breads from a yeast handed down by his grandmother, out of a shed on his small holding. Or a passionate cheese maker with 5 goats (each with their own name) churning out a rare ricotta from a cottage in Shongweni.
Look, I’m all for fresh and handmade. And I don’t mind a lopsided loaf that’s got “character”. But if I make a loaf of bread in my own kitchen based on my ouma’s recipe – and she was a magnificent cook – can I claim it’s artisanal? And isn’t all food out of a small restaurant hand made in small batches, especially if it’s fresh and based on seasonal ingredients available that day, eligible for the same label? Throw in a wooden board and a piece of grease-proof paper and there you have it: you are an artisan!
Food is always reinventing itself, and food presentation is too. But this business of wood and paper is enough already. If I’m going to eat food out, I don’t want to have to queue for it, I don’t want to assemble it myself, and I don’t want to chase it down a board or scrape it off the table. Give me a plate, dammit!