Flavor Balance/ The six elements are:
● Sweet Dates and Dried Fruits, Liquorice Root, Monk Fruit
● Salty Celtic Salt, Tamari, Miso, Sea Plants like Nori and Dulse
● Acid/Tart/Sour Lemon, lime, Apple Cider Vinegar, Balsamic
● Pungent/Spicy Garlic, Onion, Mustard, Horse Radish, Ginger
● Bitter Kale, Parsley, Cumin, Cinnamon, Chard
● Fats Coconut Oil, Avocado, Tahini, Olive Oil
The most important of these elements are Fat, Acid, Salt, and Sweet. A recipe usually requires each of these four elements to be truly balanced and have the best flavor. This may mean adding them where you might not think necessary—like adding salt to a juice or smoothie, or adding a sweetener to a savory dish. These elements are there to enhance the other flavors, not necessarily add a “salty” or a “sweet” quality to the dish. The other components, Bitter and Pungent/Spicy can of course be present, but they are not required to make a recipe balanced and/or successful. Try adding black pepper and micro greens to desserts, its playful, delicious and very trendy.
Depending on recipe development objectives, flavor profiles can be adjusted as follows:
Plating and Presentation
Presentation is one of the main ‘arts’ in the culinary world, and an aspect of all cuisine that can define the success of a recipe, or undermine it. While most elements of food preparation are technical and scientific, successful presentation is much more illusory, requiring a perfect combination of experience, instinct and skill. Given the vast number of recipes in the world, along with infinite possibilities to plate them, there is no single manifesto guiding food presentation. However, there are a number of components shared by all successful styles that are helpful to learn while developing your own influences. By working with raw food, you already have one tremendous advantage, due to the variety of colors and textures inherently available. Nonetheless, you will often be serving raw cuisine to those who have never tried it and, as is so often said, “first impressions are everything.” When determining how to present a recipe, the one thing that is most important is the experience of the diner. This goes well beyond taste – think of food presentation like a film, or a favorite song. It must start out on a note that captivates you, show a bit of flash, or boldness, sex appeal or something that will capture the diner’s attention. It must keep their interest the entire time they are enjoying it, and it should not go on too long. Most importantly, it needs to make them feel good. With those parameters in mind, it becomes a bit easier to identify the components of successful presentation:
There are so many wonderful examples of presentation across many cultures and yet, those that work best are balanced. This can be a tricky thing to define, but balance is intuitive, it feels and looks natural. Food that is manipulated when being plated will look forced and mechanical. Even intricately designed dishes, when well done, offer the sense that they were meant to be that way. With the popularity of Nouvelle Cuisine many years ago, symmetry often dominated presentation, and everything was at 3,6,9 and 12 o’clock, or perfectly aligned. Later on, there was a growing interesting piling everything as high as possible (we’ll get into the positive aspect of this when we discuss layering), although at that time, it was more about showmanship. That movement eventually was replaced by what is now a very freestyle, creative and artistic approach to plating in many of the world’s high-end restaurants. Food presentation, although very complex these days, has a natural feeling to it, nothing too high or too over the top, and yet, it is more beautiful than ever.
This is not your typical plating guideline and yet, proper knife skills define every successful plate, especially as you get into more meticulous recipes. Crisply crafted components will have a much greater sheen than those prepared with a dull knife, and anything cut with precision will be far less likely to stand out as a distraction. Sharp knives, carefully and consistently used, will be one of the greatest assets of good presentation.
The way you choose to plate your recipe defines so much more than how it looks to the guest. As we mentioned above, there was a benefit to the stacking method that many chefs employed a number of years ago. When food is vertical, you can often manage how flavors are perceived and the order in which they will hit the guest’s palate. The same can be accomplished with a non-vertical dish as well of course. You should always consider what the first taste and texture will be, and how the dish will ‘feel’ when someone is half finished with it. It is a great practice when developing recipes to occasionally eat the entire plate. You may come up with a most brilliant dish, at least when you first taste it, but perhaps that excellence doesn’t come through until the end. On the other hand, you’ll learn more about portion size and balance this way.
As in fashion and art, food of all colors may be stunning. With food, however, color should follow nature. Our cuisine is based on plants and therefore, the entire color palette is mirrored in our natural environment. A sunflower for example – bright yellow on a plate can be excellent, although may be over the top without the balance of an earth tone. Other dishes that are light hearted, specifically appetizers where a portion size is smaller, may benefit from monochromatic, one-dimensional styles that would be too much for an entrée. The final result should not be intrusive or bold to the point where the plant’s essence is completely lost, yet it is also fine to provoke the diner a bit, leave them guessing and surprise them. These are all good characteristics, as long as they are not over the top.
Much is said about texture and we often confuse the word, thinking it only refers to crunch and the bite. In reality, texture is about balance as well, ensuring that the palette is presented with a variety of stimulants, so that a dish remains exciting. This can be true even of a smoothie or a soup, by adding a touch of ground almond or spice, bits of cacao – some dishes are successful for having only one very soft and simple texture, such as a cream or a pudding. Again, this is typically true of an appetizer or a dessert. The larger the portion, the more you will need to entertain the diner. Texture should be considered as part of the full experience.
These may include decorative elements, sauces, oils, powders, foams, dust and any number of little surprises and additions you may add to a dish. The best practice is to always use only functional garnishes. If something doesn’t add to the flavor and experience of a dish, it ideally would not be included. Editing a dish to it’s core and still making it exciting is what refinement is all about.
Many of the most memorable dishes you’ll ever try will be special due to an element of surprise, a texture or flavor hiding below the surface, a component not mentioned in the description, a classic recipe that was reinterpreted or inverted in a unique way. Although surprise need not mean gimmicky, it is important to consider this when preparing any recipe – there should be more meeting the palate than meets the eye, and although we traditionally consider presentation to be a visual experience, that is only the beginning.
The concept of portion size is determined by so many factors: geography, cultural expectations, cost, price, tradition, the style of the chef. That said, portions should always be balanced, in the sense that they should be adequate to experience the spirit of recipe, enough to stimulate the palate, although never so much that one could become bored before completion. Portion is something that comes with experience, not just as a diner but as a chef. As with becoming a great writer, the writer needs to read, the same goes for a chef. To learn all aspects of presentation and taste as a chef, one must eat. Celebrate all meals you have, good or not so good, as each one contains a lesson or your own style.
This seems like an easy concept to grasp when speaking of raw food. In fact, it is more challenging, since cooking allows food to be controlled by heat much faster. Food, unless it is a frozen dessert or something intentionally chilled like a gazpacho on a hot summer day, should be temperature appropriate, never too hot or too cold, both of which mute flavor. We have a number of tools at our disposal in a raw kitchen that can quickly warm (blending, thermal immersion, dehydrators), and you’ll be amazed at what a difference a temperature adjustment can do to a dish. A raw corn ravioli for example – when eaten cold, it is a bit gummy and flat in flavor, and the sauce’s acidity is a bit too much. When warmed for a few moments in the dehydrator, the natural oils and fat combine with this sauce, soften the flavor, make the entire dish more palatable and the experience deepens.
The more you read and consider presentation, the more you realize it is an art, yet one that is fully attainable. Taste whatever you can, read and view as many blogs, food reviews and cookbooks as you can lay your eyes on, learn food history and always, without question, consider how the one dining while feel during their experience. It will give you more guidance than all other factors combined. Don’t be afraid to alter your style, as the process of food preparation is an ongoing journey. And do remember, that first bite (with the eyes and the mouth) is the most important one.