That would go on a purple plate,” says Chef Man-dar Madav (Executive Chef, Conrad Centennial Singapore) to an awe-stuck team of chefs stand-ing behind him as he nonchalantly picks up a pastel-hued, oval chinaware for plating. With the final element – few microgreens – appearing on his table, the progressive cuisine expert begins his plating as he carefully uses the back of the spoon to create an oyster of the purple potato mash. On this, he adds, “will sit our steamed octopus and then the rest of the ingredients.
As Chef Mandar gets to work, a fascinating picture slowly emerges – one that takes many by surprise. The dish, which is an ode to the “purple potato and yam” is a monochrome masterpiece – or as culinary artist Ashwin Iyer would put it, “a hue foreplay.” The beauty of the dish is that it isn’t just picture perfect, it is taste and texture perfected too.
Fascinatingly, for Chef Mandar this is not the first time he has worked on a single colour themed table, it is a technique that the culinary specialist has been practicing since the past ten years – much like Iyer, who began using his designing background to give his legacy cuisine a fresh perspective. Recalls Chef Mandar, “the first time I played with monochrome was when I was in Pune and was doing a table on the state’s culinary legacy. That’s when I realized that monochrome is a fascinating way to showcase our dishes.” Like most of his peers, Chef Mandar’s initial affair with monochromatic plating was for the aesthetic appeal only, but gradually, “I realized that going single hue on dishes challenges you as a chef, especially when it comes to understanding of ingredients and techniques.”
An excellent example of chefs’ monochromatic approach is the Wild Mushroom and Truffle Kulcha where he says, “I have used the inherent nature of ‘shroom to darken on cooking to create a dish that is a play on the dark colours, especially black and its different versions.” Another interesting example is the Batata Vada Foam With Garlic Chutney, which again is the play on the different colours of the sun.
The interesting aspect of Monochrome, says Iyer, “is its deceptiveness. While it may seem easy for the artistic mind, when it comes to food, it challenges your skills – not only of plating but the understanding of a certain dish or produce you are working with.”
Iyer, who has spearheaded the trend among self-taught cooks, elucidates this with an example: “Like when I did my first dessert interpretation, I had to re-study all the sweet kheers made at a home and then break it down to its component before choosing Yellu Bella, which gave me enough elements to play around.”
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