Tom Colicchio

Tom says: stop playing it safe.

on Nov 15, 2006

tomsblog_tom_320x240.jpg The other night I ate a great dish: Napoleon of Sourdough Brioche, Artisan Cheddar and minced, aged Hereford, garnished with a Preserve of Cucumber and Dill, and finished with Heirloom Tomato Coulis. A.k.a.: A Cheeseburger. I don't have patience for over-the-top food descriptions, mostly because they seem to say, "look at how fancy this dish is!" and I'm not a big fan of fancy food. I'm OK with food that requires a high level of skill to prepare. And I don't have a problem with fine dining -- provided I'm in the mood for it. But the word "fancy" speaks to me of pretension, embellishment, the need to impress.

About presentation over substance. A common early mistake in the development of a chef is the need to show how fancy you can be. The urge to drizzle and frizzle and flourish and then stack the food way up high is the hallmark of early work -- "Look, Ma! I'm cooking!" I myself wasn't immune to this, but eventually I learned that pursuit of great food -- memorable, truly satisfying, well-prepared food -- meant honoring ingredients and letting them lead the way. Inspired technique comes next as a means to coax out maximum flavor from each ingredient. Presentation follows both of these. It's important, but it should be intuitive and part of the overall conception of the dish -- not an end unto itself.