Executive Chef Rudi Liebenberg from the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel in Cape Town said the trend of serving up food on anything but plates has changed over the last 10 years dramatically from a very clinical plate style to a more organic state.
“Wood has become acceptable in almost any form, from old wine barrels to reclaimed wood to bamboo. Tiles used to be popular but not anymore – the biggest challenge with flat surfaces without a rim is the mess it makes, this goes for wood as well as tiles. Many dinners despise this more than the chef who thinks he is creative.
“The use of anything that can hold a liquid has become a trend, from a copper bowl to a mortar and pestle. Coconut shells are used, wonky looking ceramics are huge at the moment. Not only has the white plate taken a back seat, chefs are opting to use organic colours when it comes to selecting plates; off whites, brown, greys ocean blue and greens are favourites. Food just looks so good on these organic palates.”
But Liebenberg believes that will go back to the basics: “We will see, as we did 20 years ago, plates were blue and brown, some had designs on the rim... they were replaced with white. The current trend will go back to basics, but it will be while. In the meantime chefs and designers will race in the search new shapes, bowls to consume the need of the new. Every time you search a new dish it comes with a new plate, it changes constantly and will become unsustainable to try and keep up. No one wants to be left behind. We will be each for his own.”
He added that food has become simpler in a lot of ways: “Chefs do not over handle items as they used to in the past so the emphasis has moved to the ingredient to shine, and to make this happen the simplest item can be placed in a wonky organic grey bowl and it shines. Put it in a plain white bowl and it looks like amateur hour has set in.
“This however can be done to a point as cost is simply too much to keep up with trends..."
Heinz Brunner is the Chief Judge for the Cape Legends and Artisan Spirits Inter Hotel Challenge. Having competed in the Culinary Olympics he has his ear to the ground when it comes to food trends. He said there more to consider when plating food.
“Wooden boards go against health regulations anyway. The health inspector does not encourage wooden boards because they are porous and bacteria can get into the wooden grain and it is therefore a health risk...Slate has become quite fashionable in South Africa and internationally, for example with serving canapés, but it also depends on the style of restaurants.
"If you look at Michelin Star Restaurants, they present in glass jars. For example Noma Restaurant in Denmark serves live ants and live prawns as a delicacy in glass jar, which is not everyone's cup of tea. But the high end restaurants put a lot of emphasis on presentation because we all know you eat with our eyes first. So they spend a lot of money on making works of art on the plate."
Locally however, Brunner said if you consider cost, you don't want to spend that amount of money “on props and the display”: “You also have to consider the cost of breakages”.
“For me a nice elegant white plate is all that is needed...White presents food well, it doesn't detract from the food...The food must jump at you. When it gets to the table it must have that wow effect and you must just want to eat it!”
Kieran Conway, Group Development Chef at Tsogo Sun, said putting food on tile, boards etc is very nice and trendy but there are two important things to remember:
“Number one, everybody is doing it! And number two everybody is doing it the same... Go back to basics and do it with a twist. Everything eventually ends up on a plate. Stick with that.”
“Here is my advice: a white plate will never go out of fashion as it's a blank canvas and it works. Whatever the chef puts on that canvas is his working art. Yes everybody is trying different ways of presenting food and in different ways and on different things,
I myself am as guilty as sin. But food trends are going to go back to great food served and presented simply. Flavour is what counts.”