Monday, December 17, 2012

Delectable art - Engaging all the senses

Chefs Melissa Dukharan (left) and Ike Francis.
Chefs Melissa Dukharan (left) and Ike Francis.

'Tis the season for food so take some vegetables, meat, put them on the cutting board, sharpen the knives, and drop the ingredients in a Dutch pot and plate them … luscious fare, yes? Did someone say a work of art? Yes, you heard it right. Before the cuisine satisfies your appetite, it whips up the visual senses.
A bouquet of salad - blanched potato rose with organic lettuce.
"I believe that we eat with our eyes first," says Melissa Dukharan, culinary artist and chef as she ran a potato over a mandoline (an instrument used for slicing and cutting juliennes), sliced it paper thin and rolled them to make a rose, as a part of a salad presentation.
Inspired by nature, blooming lotus carved from onion, with pasta resting on the top.
The road to creation of culinary art involves traits that an artist would put in a painting or a sculpture. But the challenge is to complement the looks with the taste.
A thin slice of zucchini sits on salad dressing, exuding colours of the season.
Over the years, the tastes and trends are paying more attention to detail, into which the new age chefs are foraying. "A culinary artist is someone who adds a creative and/or innovative touch to the epicurean craft," Dukharan explained.

"A culinary artist is a chef," she added. "You must be able to understand the science behind food. However, as an artist, you go way beyond just the flavours."

The culinary artist would put the creativity - from choosing the ingredients, to the plate on which the final product is presented and the creativity in the use of colour, shape, and texture.

"I am inspired by my upbringing in Bull Savannah, St Elizabeth," declares Chef Ike Francis. "It starts from the idea and an ability to put together taste and textures in my head and how well they harmonise and interact with the pallet, before putting the dish together."

While nature, the colours, the shapes, the sounds, the smells and the textures stimulate Dukharan's creative juices.

To get their creative acumen from inception to the plate, the young chefs explained, there are several key steps to the process.

Trips to the market or butcher shop to pick the best quality ingredients is where the journey begins. Since nature has an abundance of colours, the ingredients fill the palette.

"Before I start cooking, I like to deconstruct the dish in my head first," Francis says. "I love to BBQ or grill so it's always my preferred method of cooking."

"The cooking technique of the food - baking, frying, and steaming - ignites the art of cooking," Dukharan says. "The smells of the different flavours marrying each other, the sounds of the sizzle of the seasonings sautéeing, watching the colours get more or less intense and the variety of new textures that emerge and, of course, the new taste created."

The tools, the chefs say, vary on the nature of the creation.

"You must have a vision of what you want to see," Dukharan informed. "The tools are simple things around you, such as a paring knife or a pair of scissors or even a toothpick, to more technical tools such as a mandoline or a hand-held blowtorch."

Finally, the presentation, which is putting together the right colours to enhance the appeal of the dish. "It starts with the food itself," states Dukharan, who holds a Bachelor of Science degree in food service management, with a major in culinary arts, from the University of Technology.

"Once the 'cooking' is done, comes the artistic presentation," she continued. "This is the fun-but-technical process of how the 'paint' (food) will reach the 'canvas' (plate)."

Francis, who studied mechanical engineering, was aroused by the creativity and aroma of the food when he started working at Christophers.

"While working, I was inspired to pursue the culinary field and did my training in food preparation at HEART Trust Boys Town," he said.

Both Dukharan and Francis, attribute their gastronomic creative process to thinking out of the box.
"I am a chef and I love to cook," he says. "Culinary artistry is my epicurean expression."

Though this art form has a short lifespan, the chefs say it is gratifying to see their masterpieces pleasing the eyes and palette as well as touching hearts.

"The food is delicately placed on the plate, while the colours and shapes take form, other colours and textures are added (as) the vision comes to life.

"The masterpiece should now be utilised by your five senses," Dukharan says.

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