They say that you eat with your eyes first. I’ve heard it before, most often from French chefs wearing tall hats. I really struggled with this in culinary school, because presentation is not my strong suit. Technical chops, sure. You could cut open my mousse cake and the layers would be of equal thickness, the gelée right in the middle, the sponge soaked all the way through.
But my presentation? Oh, it was passable, acceptable, competent. But I wasn’t about to win any awards for innovation or take-your-breath-away beauty. One of my classmates was a former architect, and everything that he made was a work of edible art. His stuff really was too beautiful to eat.
I was speaking with a chocolatier friend of mine the other day. Her temperament is not what you expect from a chocolatier. In the spectrum of the culinary world, you have cuisiniers at one end: hot-tempered, chasing the adrenaline of fast-paced service, and working on a sweaty line. Then, you have pastry chefs: working in their corner of the kitchen, measuring and weighing ingredients diligently, and making fancy decorations on teeny tiny desserts. And then you have chocolatiers: strange folks with cold hands, who eschew ovens, forever coaxing and taming the beta crystal in cocoa butter.
My chocolatier friend is lovely, but she—by her own admission—is not very patient. She doesn’t hand-dip her chocolates, because that’s just excruciatingly slow. She makes molded chocolates, which look fussy but which, if executed properly, will give you 24-36 identical chocolates in one fell swoop.
Her chocolates taste lovely. The flavours are clear and bright, with balanced profiles that develop as the ganache melts. However, hers are not the fanciest-looking chocolates. This summer, she went nuts and put a diagonal green stripe on a mint-flavoured confection. They’re far from ugly, but they have a certain understated look. They say, “hey, I may look simple, but I’m darn tasty inside. Just give me a try.”
It’s like all her energy goes into the taste, and whatever’s left goes into the presentation. I get that.
Compare that with some chocolatiers who use copious amounts of coloured cocoa butter to jazz up their chocolates. There are swirls and spatters galore. Sometimes—but not always—the insides are as delicious as the outsides promise. Sometimes, there’s too much decoration and all you can taste is the cocoa butter on the outside. Often, the chocolate is all talk and no walk: pretty, but tasteless (or worse, bad tasting).
So there’s the dilemma. In a perfect world, chocolates would look beautiful and taste amazing. In reality, there are few people who are up for that challenge.
Sure, I eat with my eyes first. But when all is said and done, I’m eating. And if it doesn’t taste good, then what’s the point?