When Great Food Looks like Crap

When Great Food Looks Like Sh*t

I have been told so many times that we eat with our eyes.  In philosophic terms, we do.  Our eyes ‘drink’ in a view or admire an attractive person.  We do the same with a plate of food.  As a cook, food stylist, and photographer, making all of the food look appetizing is usually a simple process of accentuating the colors, balancing a plate, and a judicious use of garnish.  But sometimes the best tasting recipes can be the worst looking.

I have been working on some of my most delicious and popular plates.  Standardizing the recipes, making them as easy as possible and with the least amount of work and fewest ingredients is a process.  One of the most difficult recipes to work with is a simple balsamic reduction and glaze.  It’s black.  Really black.  I like to use it on a beef, lamb and turkey, meatloaf, which is gray.  There are little pops of green and orange, but it’s pretty gray and boring.  With a topping and sauce that’s black.

I love reading about food and cooking, and have practiced many techniques of food styling.  For a few years, and trend has been to use fewer cheats and enhancements, and let the food look like it really looks.  Sometimes it’s not very appetizing.  Tweaks can be made in the recipe or when the photos are edited, but sometimes little can be fixed without losing the realness of the food and the photo.  My goal is always to make recipes as easy as possible.  If I’m using a garnish, it’s a reflection of something that is in the recipe.

The best example I have of food that looks less than appetizing Is a balsamic vinegar glazed meatloaf.  I made the meatloaf and the glaze.  The glaze is added for the last fifteen minutes of cooking.  I could have under-cooked the meatloaf, but it would not have been safe to eat, and it would be deceiving when a reader makes the recipe and ends up with gray meat with a black glaze.  This photo shows the final outcome.  On a large screen, it didn’t look awful.  And it doesn’t look great.

When I work on new recipes, I take test photos to plan plating and how to make it look good.  This one is going to challenge me.  It’s a straightforward recipe, and if another herbal element is added, it could be used as a garnish. However, the addition would be to justify the garnish.

Lately, this seems to be more of the norm for my process.  I’m revamping some family recipes, and others done for various projects and events.  Some are just not going the way I hoped they would.  But just like anything else, things either work or don’t and if they don’t work either make some changes or give up.  Food is my metaphor for my life.  If it doesn’t work, change it or get rid of it.