Five Senses

When I do a cooking class, one of the most important bits of wisdom I can give students is that food should engage all five of the senses. It can be the most intricately prepared dish in the world, it can be delicious. But if it has an off-putting smell, the experience is ruined. Food should be engage your mouthfeel — which is why silky food such as risotto often benefit from a bit of crunch. The sound of diners enjoying their food should be like a symphony. And perhaps most important, food should be beautiful to look at. No one wants to eat gray mush, no matter how good it may taste.

Follow a recipe, and you’ll often get a delicious result. But the look of your dish is more of an intuitive thing. It’s more of an art. And there are simple things you can do to make a dish look beautiful. Consider colors. If your dish looks dull, add a shaving of carrot, or some purple garlic chive flowers from the garden. A drizzle of brilliant green extra virgin olive oil is often the finishing touch on one of my dishes. Or a dark swath of complex Indonesian kecap manis.

Here are some photos of my annual New Year’s Eve dinner. Another important tip for students is to have your mise en place in place before you begin. More about that in another post. I’ve included a shot of my NYE mise en place. All the “beautification” of these dishes involved relatively simple steps — a few flower petals, a drizzle of sauce, etc.

Perhaps most importantly when you cook are some of those other senses we often forget — your sense of wonder, your sense of play, and your sense of adventure. Eat to live, but more to the point, live to eat!

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