The New Bakers Dozen
Design and the pastry chef

The The Bakers Dozen: Design and the pastry chef
By Charmaine McFarlane on Monday, October 11, 1999 - 11:43 am: Edit

I'm writing an article and need some opinions.

As part of my school's revised baking and pastry program, students are
enrolled in a design course. The course provides an overview of design
theory including line, contrast, texture, color, etc.. Almost all of the
students that I've talked to failed to see the connection between design
theory and food presentation.
The question that I'm hoping to answer in my article is "How can you use
design theory in food presentation?" To help you think more about the
question, here's a scenario: when you are presenting food as a buffet or a
plate, do you account for color, shape and texture of food or do you put
things together until they look right? On a side note, do you think it's
necessary to have a class such as this in a culinary curriculum? Would it
help you in your current job?

I have a particular interest in pastry applications but would appreciate all


By neil sheldon CPC on Monday, October 11, 1999 - 10:30 pm: Edit

plated deserts and buffet presnetations need to flow, look appealing to the eye. I follow simplcity ideas,not crowed plates like in other areas of art. yes this class would open ones eyes to different ideas ,natural colors bring youreye from top to bottom and right to left.go for it!

By W.DeBord on Tuesday, October 12, 1999 - 10:42 am: Edit

I think the class would be very meaningful to all chefs.

As a pastry chef I am limited in my buffet presentations by the serving pieces, table cloth colors and patterns provided by my employer. For instance, my easter presentation I made colorful items such as, easter egg petite fours, carrot shaped cookies, a large bunny hut centerpiece and a large easterbasket cake centerpiece. Each item looked great on their own, each demanded attention. When they are all placed next to each other on a busy patterned table cloth the eye becomes overwhelmed with color and pattern. I have to understand and control the visual aspect my buffet table.

I am a good baker, but I'm sure there are other chefs who can bake better than I. My edge against them taking my job away from me is my strong ablitity to "wow" my customers with my presentations.They talk about my displays to each other (bringing new people in the door to impress them with their country club)and my boss making me a valued employee.

By W.DeBord on Wednesday, October 13, 1999 - 08:57 am: Edit

Charmaine you mention "do you put things together until they look right". What makes things look right? A pleasing design??? There is a saying about people eat with their eyes first.

When you look in modern baking books you can't miss how focused we've gotten on plate design. I think most pastry chefs believe it's gotten carried away to the extreme. Some chefs are adding garnish that isn't appropriate in taste for the sake of design. If you read thru other listings at this site you'll see we talk about this. No one would say presentation isn't important, but we value taste first then design.

If you want more of a response from other chefs here, you'll have to become involved in your discusion. They aren't going to let you sit back while they do your homework. Hint...Hint...

By Charmaine on Thursday, October 14, 1999 - 11:39 pm: Edit

To get more involved in my discussion of design and the pastry chef, I would consider the two aspects of designing a dessert:
design in appearance
design in flavor

Designing a dessert presentation would involve incorporating elements under one theme. They can contrast one another but they don't have to. A lot of chefs/instructors emphasize contrasting color to make the plate more interesting but I don't think that's always necessary. For example, if you have an autumn theme, you can incorporate different shades of red or brown. This may seem boring but I feel that it gives the customer the essence of what autumn is. It's a reductionist theory but a powerful one nonetheless.

By charmaine on Thursday, October 14, 1999 - 11:39 pm: Edit

If you use different shades of color, you are then free to use different textures...creamy, crunchy, chewy, without losing the theme or complicating your dessert. My point here is that contrasting all the elements of your plate doesn't have to be the can make a presentation look jumbled and disorganized...and doesn't enhance the unity of the plate (which I think should be the rule).
The most interesting thing I learned in my design class was connection. If a plate didn't look right to me, 9/10 of the time it was due to a lack of connection. By this I mean that the components of the plate seemed to have nothing to do with each other because they didn't touch each other or lead into each other. They looked like they were dropped out of the sky onto the plate and didn't belong there(This would be better illustrated with a picture...I will try to scan one later) This goes back to my theme of unity of the plate.

By Charmaine on Thursday, October 14, 1999 - 11:40 pm: Edit

Moving on to designing the flavor of your dessert...Contrast is good to a certain point. But if you have too many flavors on the plate, there is no balance. I would say, pick a dominant flavor and use flavors that enhance or contrast that flavor. For example, I made an orange souffle and accompanied it with a chocolate cigarette and almond shortbread. The accompaniments contrasted with the souffle's flavor but they didn't contrast with each other. I think that's where a lot of people run into trouble...they contrast a chocolate with a mint with a raspberry with a whip cream with a coffee, get the point. Pretty soon, you forget what you are tasting.

These are a few of the many thoughts I have on design and the pastry chef. And they are some of the thoughts I will have in my article. Thank you all for responding to my post. When I finish my article, I will post it here. Feel free to respond. I'm hoping this will be the beginning of a long thread!


By W.DeBord on Friday, October 15, 1999 - 08:31 am: Edit

Charmaine you've got it!! I couldn't agree more! I'd be shocked to hear anyone here disagree with your thoughts. Now answer your own question... did you learn these things on your own or in class?

There can be times when abstract is the goal also. Having a sense of connection in plate design is important to me. I like contrasting "textures" on my plate. For instance I make a phyllo purse filled with pastry cream and sauteed apple, it's baked till crisp then served on cream anglaise(cool), drizzled calvados sauce(cold) and sauteed and carmelized apple balls(Hot). The colors have unity, the temp.s and textures contrast.

By W.DeBord on Friday, October 15, 1999 - 08:32 am: Edit

As to what some instuctors teach....Please forgive me but, sometimes "I" think some(SOME) people are instructors because their not good enough to pursue what they teach.

But your not always free to choose what your serving and how it's to be served. This is the greater challenge. We can talk about the ideal, but it rarely is. We have time, space and equipment limitations to name a few realities. Not to mention customers who want rediculous things.

What happens when nothing is going your way is where your show your stuff! I think this is apart of why we laugh at school taught chefs.

By Charmaine on Friday, October 15, 1999 - 02:31 pm: Edit

"Please forgive me but, sometimes "I" think
some(SOME) people are instructors because their not good enough to pursue what
they teach...What happens when nothing is going your way is where your show your stuff! I
think this is apart of why we laugh at school taught chefs"

This is where the design class came in helpful for me. It taught me how to do something with nothing.
I could make a cake and some sauce look exciting on a plate. The old school chefs would tell me to do some funky garnish but that isn't always practical in a real world setting especially if you don't have the equipment.

I found the above comments interesting because it got me thinking about how much of the stuff I learn in school would be used in a real world setting. If I won't use it, why am I learning it?

I think that learning the ideal situation or learning the classical way to do something frees you and allows you to be more creative. Just a thought.


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