The Rant Pt.2 -Tall Food

rant    1 : to talk in a noisy, excited, or declamatory manner

                             2 : to scold vehemently


Tall Food. First of all I’d like to thank Chefs like David Burke and Alfred Portale for being the visionaries that they are and introducing us to center of the plate ideas that sometimes took on the appearance of the skyline of the city of which they reside. That being said, the 1990’s are passed and even these chefs have dishes that more resemble the skyline of let’s say Sacramento than NYC.


Tall food should now just go away for a number of reasons, the main one being that unless you are an anaconda and can approach a dish with mouth open wide from the top, thus consuming it in one fell swoop- tall food becomes virtually impossible to eat without deconstructing and putting pieces of it on the tablecloth, B & B, salad plate, etc…


When the craze was hot and heavy in the mid-1990’s I took my cuisine to new ‘heights’ with the inspiration of the aforementioned chefs and other visionaries until one day the general manager of the hotel I was a chef de cuisine at told me to think about the diner. This GM was a former chef in France and corporate chef for a large American hotel chain; when he spoke you listened, and others leaned in to hear. He said, ‘Get off your ‘high’ horse; how the heck is a diner supposed to eat a towering plate of food?’ He also said it in a German accent which had a calming effect. Not. Then he proceeded to expound upon the fact that if a business man in his hotel had a toppling food incident that splashed sauce on his business lunch and was unhappy, the GM would be unhappy, and guess who else would become unhappy? I got the point! I then realized that showmanship is nice and has its place but ultimately the diner needed to eat what was on the plate without the need of a wetsuit. The presentation had to make sense.


I dined one evening at the now defunct Cypress Club in SF (that’s why I’ll mention them). I ordered a beautiful crusted foie gras with a ver jus sauce that was exquisite; on the plate was a vase made of phyllo with a tied bouquet of undressed field greens that was adhered to the plate with a mashed potato mortar. “Oh how lovely, a vase!” I exclaimed as I promptly removed it and placed it in the center of the table. This was the gaudiest garnish I had ever seen and served no purpose whatsoever other than add to the stuff the busser had to take back to the dish room. Think of the diner. How is this to be eaten? Does it add to the meal? If in doubt, leave it out!


That being said, I just saw a new restaurant write up and a picture of tall food accompanied. The picture was a beautiful piece of seared fish on top of risotto with a pile of crispy Thai noodles towering a good six inches above and unless you were going to eat them all in one bite you would have no other choice but to pick them up and set them on the table or have the pile disintegrate upon the dish as you tried to cut through it. Pretty? Yes-pretty impractical. I think even David Burke would say at this point- it is 2008! Stop the tall food and come down to earth.


One response to this post.

  1. Yeah, tall food is a nightmare. Plating generally is tough – you know how it is – because you want the diner to get a sense of the correct bite if you have more than a couple components on the plate, and you want the food to stay warm, and you want it to look good, and it should be functional. The tall plate is a fail on the last count because the first time you cut into it the whole thing collapses and looks like a dump truck unloaded onto the plate.

    I do find a more uni-level plating style attractive – where the products are spread out and connected by the streak of sauce or something – but the sauce or puree gets cold really quickly without anything to insulate it, even if the plate is hot when you first plate. Also, diners are not always savvy enough to figure out that you should eat the components together. The cold sauce/puree is a much bigger problem, though. Never been sure how to address this.

    (ps – chef JP – this is Wendy Tien, by the way)

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