Week Seventy One – A World of Food Perfectionists?

Kiki's Graduation 1995

Kiki’s Graduation 1995

When I was at university, a lecturer told us we were on the exciting brink of the coming of age for the hospitality industry in Australia. At the time I remember thinking…this chick doesn’t know what she’s talking about! But then she went on to say (amongst other things) that in just five years the sale of cookbooks had risen by almost 300%. With that she had my attention.

Today, the sale of cookbooks is almost 3000% over what my lecturer was talking about. In the last twenty years much has changed.

I remember watching TV as a young girl and you had either Bernard King or Margaret Fulton and later Gabrielle Gaté. Now, you have the choice of many – too many in fact, to mention. Just turn on the TV and flick around. You’ll find a cooking show! And not just in English. In French. In German. In Italian, Japanese and Swiss!

Food fads have come and gone. Restaurants and cafes have come and gone. Chefs have come and gone. But one thing in twenty years remains the same…the pure and utter preoccupation we have of wanting our food to look perfect.

Where did it start? Who started it? And why, oh why does our food need to look perfect? Isn’t it enough that it tastes divine?

Personally, I blame the marketing people. Not only does your hair have to be salon fresh, but also your teeth must be unrealistically white and your children absolutely 99% germ free. And so too – your food must look perfect.

My train of thought about this came about because of the humble tomato. Always inspired by my Nan – every year I plant tomatoes as she did, from seed. I tend to and nurture them. Water and feed them and this year! A bumper crop! Romas’, cherry, ox heart – I had them all and I ate them all. And they tasted amazing. They tasted like tomatoes should.

My favourite dish in Naples - bruscetta

My favourite dish in Naples – bruscetta

Did they look pretty? Not on your life. Some were as ugly as sin. But the taste! The taste was Naples.

Then I had a lady tell me she was a bit disappointed with something she had bought at Luscious because it didn’t look like the picture on Facebook. Never the less, I offered a substitute product and she still returns almost every week.

But this too got me to thinking.

With the rapid increase in cookbook sales and cooking shows, competitions and bake-offs – are we so used to perceiving food that has been styled within an inch of its life, that we have forsaken taste?

If you ever go to McDonald’s or Hungry Jacks – does what you get in the box ever look like the pictures they have on the menu? Nope. If you buy the most beautifully photographed cookbook and get inspired to try one of the dishes, does the end product look like it does in the picture? Nope.

I don’t make excuses for the fact that my products may differ from the pictures I post on Facebook and Twitter. I am not perfect and neither are my yum-yums. Wherever human beings are involved, there will always be error. All we can do is strive to learn from our mistakes and do better next time. All we can do is to keep on experimenting and being creative.

But have the marketers taken it too far? In our frenzy for perfect food have we genetically modified taste out, just so the tomato is more red? Have we genetically modified the nutrients out, just so the tomato can last longer between the farm and the plate?

Where do we draw the line? Will we soon be genetically modifying ourselves so there is no disease and no death? What about the population boom? Where will everyone live?

Coffee CupsAt Luscious for the coffee I like to use Riverina milk and skim milk. It comes from Wagga, where my family on Dad’s side comes from and it tastes like milk. The full fat milk even comes with a little cream. But when frothed for a latte or cappuccino – the flavours together are delicious. Moreish, addictive.

I know it is not realistic, but I have it in my head that the Riverina cows are all milked by hand and the farmers catch the milk in wooden buckets and whistle as they pour it into a big oak barrel.

But that’s what the taste does for me. It conjures. That’s what the tomatoes I grew did for me, took me back to Sorrento and Naples and even to my Nan’s table!

One of my wholesale customers paid me an enormous compliment last week. He said I was lifting the standard of their cakes! I looked at the other non-Luscious cakes they had on offer and they looked beautiful. But he told me they rarely sold.

Needless to say, I blushed but then went on to explain that my cakes and yum-yums aren’t froufrou pretty and never will be. They don’t look like they’ve just been unloaded off a massive truck doing deliveries all over Sydney. What I am more concerned about is taste, texture, flavour and a little conjuring!PhotoGrid_1362220323290

I want to you have the Lemon Sherbet and immediately think of your Great Uncle Wal. I want you to have the Wagon Wheel and be 12 years old again, with purple corduroy jeans and pigtails. I want you to have a Gingernut, Shortbread or Raspberry Swirl and think of rainy Sunday afternoons spent playing card games with your Grandma, Nona, Nan, Ma – sitting in front of the electric bar heater drinking tea.

The sense of taste and the sense of smell are so closely related. Almost conjoined twins you could say. And when it comes to memory, so overwhelmingly powerful.

I urge you – let that power be your guide!

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4 comments

  1. Peter · March 5, 2013

    Brings a tear to the eye but a happy one at that.

  2. fortyoneteen · March 5, 2013

    Huh. What next? Plastic surgery for food? Botox? Humph, I snub my nose at the madness. As my Mum used to say, it’s going to look a whole lot worse when you get it in your mouth! Great post 😉

  3. Having spent a weekend at a food styling workshop, where most of the food was inedible, to the point of being poisonous, I hear what you’re saying! While there is a place for food styling (e.g. I saw some gorgeous photos of cheesecake for the packaging), and for cookbooks, to get an idea of what you’re cooking, when it comes to the food itself I’d much rather real and quality and taste and healthy than that artificial stuff. Over the years I’ve seen patisseries, too, go from selling individual, unique, quality products to things that now look like those did, but don’t have any of the taste or quality of how they once were, straight from a production line or machine. I guess that’s the challenge with growth, to maintain the hand-crafted, the quality ingredients and special flavours and textures, and enough variety to maintain interest. There’s something interesting about slight imperfections, which seems much more real. Great article, Kiki.

  4. Joy Tipping · March 6, 2013

    Yes, I agree, only yesterday they were talking about genetically modifying humans in near future!

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