June 5, 2013 – Here’s a humble attempt at the WordPress “A picture is worth 1,000 words” challenge, which asks bloggers to write a story about the image below. Flash fiction isn’t usually my thing; I like to mull it over, change the story, and edit it to the extreme before allowing anyone to read it, but sometimes you have to jump off the high dive.
Presentation is everything.
Those words, straight from the culinary bible, and driven into our heads by a commanding instructor with the demeanor of Joseph Stalin, became my credo while studying the fine art of food. I disputed the words at first, but came to agree with them in theory. You can’t always assume that the better food looks, the better it is. I’ve tasted too much bad sushi to believe that. However, if the dish is good from the start, it will taste better if it looks pleasing.
Yet, I watch these buffoons – a head chef and his sous chef — prepare a dish that resembles something a dog would turn away. Don’t they know the first rule of food preparation? This is not what I signed up for when I accepted the line cook position at a small bistro in a Maryland beach town. I’d rather work at a swanky downtown restaurant where people appreciate fine culinary skills, and not at a place that caters to families after a day at the beach.
I had an inkling this was a bad move yesterday, my first day, when I witnessed the pastry chef pour warm caramel sauce over a poached pear as if he were drowning a meatloaf in onion gravy. The first thing you learn in food basics is how to drizzle sauces with a delicate hand that frames the dessert and the plate, before topping it off with a sprig of fresh mint. I’m not sure how much more of these amateurs I can take.
“I quit,” I shout, but only in my head. I need this job. However, I am grateful it’s only 10 weeks before I head back to school for my last semester at the Culinary Institute.
“And there you have today’s special, Chesapeake Crab Cakes,” the head chef says, proud of his creation. It’s not as pretty as the crab soufflé I created a few years back, but it doesn’t look like dog food anymore. Somehow, like the artist on PBS who creates landscapes with a paintbrush you’d use on the walls of your home, the head chef worked it out in the end.
People around me applaud, and I join in but I do not smile. That would show too much approval for something I know I could do better.
“Wait,” the sous chef says, “let’s not forget the finishing touch.” He picks up a shoot of parsley and lays it on the plate, then lifts it high as if he’s presenting the host at Sunday mass.
“Presentation is everything,” I shout, but this time it’s out loud. Oh crap, that was unintentional. The corners of my mouth turn up in a smile to hide my embarrassment, and the head chef nods, acknowledging that I get it.
“You can help the sous chef prepare the crab mixture,” he says, a coveted job for sure. I smile, but realize he’s not looking at me. Instead, he’s talking to the guy next to me.
“And you,” he says looking at me, “go home! Return tomorrow with a clean and pressed uniform and a better attitude, and I may allow you to wash the dishes!”
With a crooked smile, the sous chef looks at me and says, “Presentation is everything.”