A universal truth that continues to hold good is the appeal that good-looking food has. It proves the old saying: “We feast from our eyes and not from our mouth.”

The French have a long-standing love affair with food that can be traced to the 15th century. Have you ever wondered how the Parisians manage their slender frames despite this gourmet food and wine? Maybe they have succeeded in following my doctor’s advice: “The mantra to remain fit is to take a single helping during the meal.”

Gourmet cuisine reminds me of one of my food adventures in Paris, where food and fashion go hand in hand.

During my hotel management college days, while sweating it out in the kitchens trying to learn the finer nuances of French cuisine, the institute organised a week-long French food festival.

The participating students had the Herculean task of cooking a dish from the France of the 1540s. This was a period when dinner virtually became theatre. However, in the late 20th century, Frenchman Montagne turned the French cuisine from architectural presentations into simplified decorations and short menus.

It was only recently that new generation chefs in France developed Nouvelle Cuisine, which simplified cooking. Cooking now became about smaller portions, and visual artistry was restricted to the plate. What they did not change was the dramatisation of the dish being served. Again, it was about trying one’s best to feed the mind and eyes of the diner.

Sitting by a cobbled boulevard in an old village outside an old bakery, Escoffier, I was enjoying a warm cup of aromatic French caf. At the table by my side, I saw a beautiful young girl, fit to be a model, busy eating a flambed cherry pie. A few moments later she bought another one and gobbled up that too.

Amazed as I was on seeing this, I coughed up the courage to ask her the secret of her slim silhouette in spite of her diet. She laughed loudly and answered in heavily accented English that though she was full after the first pie, her eyes convinced her she needed the second one too. Later she paid for succumbing to temptation by hopping on the jogging machine.

During my term at the catering institute, working with some of the fine chefs, I realised that each one of them had some other passion. One wanted to be an artist, the other was a failed musician and the third a philosopher – they all brought a lot to their role as a master chef. Cooking is like performing arts: One has to be first an artiste and later a chef.

Mood food

Is it a surprise that men are more sensible about their comfort food than women? There exists a real mood-food connection. When we are sad, we want immediate euphoria, and what better way to do that than with hot buttered popcorn?

On the other hand, when people are relatively content and just want to retain their good mood, grapes may just be fine with them. Meanwhile, a distinct divide exists between the sexes when it comes to comfort food. Men crave for meal-related food while women crave for snack-related goodies.

The mind plays an important role in our eating habits. Thus a great chef creates his dishes likes an artist at a canvas – to entice the mind of the diner.

Today a deal of great importance is given to food presentation. In gourmet schools, many hours are spent on the presentation and food styling. Besides taste, it is the packaging that sells a particular product.

Globalization in the food industry: Different cuisines and attractive food styling have greatly influenced us here in India. And why not? Every one wants to see a beautifully crafted dish!

(23.08.2013 – Monish Gujral, owner of the Moti Mahal chain, is a restaurateur, chef and food writer. He can be contacted at monishgujral@motimahal.in)

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