Colloquium paper on Culinary arts

Eating the Heart Out- The Culinary Art

Eating is a simple act. We prepare food, and we eat it. But the idea is to know why people have such strong feelings about food? Why does food cause people to experience a range of emotions from comfort to anger?

Eating is not just about nourishment. It’s a complicated activity that reflects who we are, and where we came from, an activity that defines our race, gender, class and religion.

In earlier times, the kings used to have food served in golden & silver plates. The disciples in a bronze plate or some in a coconut shell, a banyan leaf depending on the caste the hierarchy one holds in the society. The whole idea of what one eats to how, used to reflect the caste and living standard of the person.

It’s impossible to tell about food in a timeline format or tell about the evolution process of a recipe. Most foods we eat are not invented at a particular time, they EVOLVED; not by a planning but by experimentation.

The ‘Samavayasutra’, the ancient Indian Education defines the culinary art as “Anna vidhi”

Culinary art is the art of cooking. The word “culinary” is defined as something related to, or connected with, cooking or kitchens. A culinarian is a person working in the culinary arts commonly called as Chef. Culinary artists are responsible for skilfully preparing meals that are as pleasing to the palate as to the eye. Increasingly, they are required to have knowledge of the science of food and an understanding of diet and nutrition. They work primarily in restaurants, fast food Chain store franchises, delicatessens, hospitals and other institutions and corporations.

Cooking as an Art, Science, and also DESIGN.

As a science, the kitchen becomes a laboratory, the setting for discoveries that work so well they become classics, or fail so terribly that they are lessons in what to not do. As science, food becomes cuisine.

Just as ‘Painters’ learn to add a small amount of gray to a bright green apple to emphasize the shadowed areas. Cooks learn to add a ‘pinch’ of a favourite spice to enhance flavour. Scientists maintain the rigor of exactitude (accuracy, precision). Cooks weigh and measure to produce a finished result that is consistent.

India being a country of varied cultures and diversity amongst the people, their living standards, the food they eat, the dresses etc. has a wide variety and local flavour attached to the food we eat. Right from the cooking methodology to the presentation of food, there is a tinch of local flavour in it hence bringing it all the more closer to the people and their emotions. The food all over has aesthetics in the way it is presented/ served, cooked and eaten.

Aesthetics is the term which brings us in close association to DESIGN.

Cooking as a DESIGN

A design is a creative endeavour to solve a problem. A design is the end result – What you have when the problem is solved. It is the solution.

Composition is the way the components, parts or elements are used or arranged to reach the solution. A design has a composition.

These parts or components we call elements: LINE-SHAPE- TEXTURE-VALUE- COLOR- in a SPACE.

The ways these parts are used to compose the design are called principles. These principles are: SPACE DIVISION- BALANCE-UNITY-and EMPHASIS.

Indian food for instance has most of these elements of design in it; a LINE, a SHAPE, a TEXTURE, COLOR and GEOMETRY.

Indian food is quite geometric in its appearance. The basic shapes circle, square and a triangle play a very significant role in the food theory. A circle holds a very important shape in any Indian food right from the shape of the Roti-our staple food to the shape of ladoos, puris, & also the katoris.

E.g., Dosa, a typical south Indian serving has a triangular or conical shape, its unique texture, and a peculiar way of eating it. There is a type of Dosa called Family Masala dosa. It’s a long serving around 3 feet long.

With all these elements it also forms a nice composition in the way it is being served.

An Indian Thali is a perfect example to talk about the placement of various elements (the cuisines) in the space in the right orientation.

COLOR in food evokes a taste and smell sensation. On hearing ‘Lime’, immediately our taste & smell sensations gets activated and start craving for it. FOOD has some names which depict colours like ORANGE, LIME, etc.

Next time you have Dinner; think if it followed these aspects of DESIGN.

After all this comes the non- functional or specifically the decorative part of any design. Something, which makes it look good, something evokes the rest of the sensory organs other than your taste buds, something which provokes you to instantly say WOW!

AND THEN THE FUN BEGINS. We decorate around food, making our tables beautiful, and honouring community with flowers.

Culinary art is also about the decoration of food, making it all the more presentable than it’s on the fire or in the vessel. The art of making the person feel the aroma, the fragrance and the beauty of the food before it’s been consumed.

Food in ancient India

Early Indians ate food that was easily available from nature. Fruits, wild berries, meat, fish, etc. were the main food items of the nomadic dwellers. With the advent of civilization, people settled and started to do farming. This led to the discovery of food crops, pulses, etc. Food in ancient India was cultivated in the fertile river valleys. Their main food was products of wheat served with barley or rice along with fish or meat. Wheat was used to make flat breads known as “Chapatti”. The food habits of nearby countries also affected the food in ancient India. Milk and milk products came much into use during ancient times. Many spices were cultivated in India and were used in cooking for aroma and flavour. India flourished in the cultivation of spices and many of them were later exported to foreign lands.

Indian Cuisine & local flavours

Filled with fresh flavours, streamlined techniques and practical advice, Indian Home Cooking is a celebration of the food Indians cook in American kitchens today, using ingredients having cultural local flavours.

From slow-simmered curries with layered flavours to the irresistible snacks and appetizers, such as Puff Pastry Samosas with Green Peas, seductively spiced lentil dals, from the North Indian classic flavoured with whole cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves to a Southern Indian version with dried red chillies, mustard seeds, and curry leaves, & colourful chutneys and pickles are approachable Indian recipes which are being explored world wide.

Seasons

We sing about the turn of the seasons and we love the variety that the seasons bring us. We rush to pick apples on a crisp autumn day and go out to plant at the first hint of spring’s warmth.  The turn of the seasons is an inspiration to poets and also the Indian culinarian.

Indian cuisine is very much dependant on the seasons. Most of the cuisines are made of seasonal foods thus making the whole activity of cooking and serving all the more personal and home made.

With its exotic aromas and complex flavours, Indian cuisine is one of the world’s best. It’s no wonder that so many people adore it–and also no surprise that it could seem daunting to cook Indian food at home.

Evolution of food:

It is striking to see the change in the way Cooking evolved from Chulha to the modern 7 star restaurant setup. The techniques, the cooking recipes/ methods and serving techniques all have evolved over time.

On the contrary, are the servings given at the Bhandara or Langar setup in Sikhs? The difference somewhere lies in the way we accept food at different places.

The debatable question is “Is it the beauty of food being served or Good taste or the emotions behind the serving?” What makes us like the food we like?

In my viewpoint I feel that it’s important to understand that food is an art in the way it’s been served and cooked as it evokes our senses. But at the end we got to consume it. Thus, what is most important is ‘Good taste’. To conclude, be it an offering at a Langar or a 7 star restaurant, good food is not only about the right mix of everything but about the heart being let out to serve.

Before there were cook books, there were cooks

The great cuisines of the world began in the simplicity of a mother’s love and have developed over the centuries as the cooking techniques evolved. Though the cultural history of the world is written in the particulars of each ethnic cuisine, varying from region to region, the experience of home cooking, of assembling to eat is universal.

Your mouth begins to water. Some of the best recipes all over the world have been contributed by women who were raised in homely environments and ethnic tradition.

A meal in a restaurant opens the taste buds, but the mother’s cuisine widens all the senses. Culinary art is more essential with respect to the situations when it is to be served in an eating place. On the contrary, the finger licking mother’s cuisine do not essentially needs to adhere to the serving standards.The new age generation now is switching back to old time cooking recipes. Mother’s recipes have always been special. Meals from a mother’s kitchen are deceptively simple. A mother’s meals are intended to nourish, to build bones and muscles, to please the taste buds of an entire family. This is the food we really eat, the food we call comfort food. The recipes exhibit all varieties of ethnic cooking; run the spectrum of regional foods. They show our mothers’ creativity, and their subtle sense of art and science.In the mother’s food is the tap, tap, tap of the chamcha as she moved it around the kadhai, the aroma of the tadka, the sight of steam swirling as a vessel lid is lifted, and her selfless effort to cook the meals daily. Mama’s kitchen carries the memory of times see used to get up early to cook and while we are slept. The flavour of her affection, which seemed probably unimportant that time when we sat to eat.

This forms our inheritance, the living part of the genealogical tree, These heirloom recipes based on traditional cooking passed on through generations. These are the recipes we love, whether they adhere to the serving standards or not.

As a whole, it reflects a sense of love in the kitchen.

The Cookbook of TODAY

A cookbook of today will reflect our tastes, offering us gourmet home cooked meals one night, Asian or Middle Eastern, the next.

The new age Indian Celebrity Chefs like Tarla dalal, & Sanjeev Kapoor have given a new dimension to the whole act of eating. One can hear new terminologies like Gastro sexual and can see innovations like Cake art, Salad decoration, food festivals in culinary art.

A new UK research has revealed the emergence of a new class of male in society – the gastro sexual – who cooks for the sole purpose of making the girl of his dreams swoon in his apron.

The other innovations like Cake art, food festivals etc are reaching new heights and giving new magnitude for the culinary art to rise.

Food is not just restricted as the activity of survival but for fun, as a stress buster, as an expression of thoughts, as a palette of colours, health building, nutrition, nurturing, & affection.

Another very interesting term which comes along with food is Gastronomy

Gastronomy is the study of the relationship between culture and food. It is often thought erroneously that the term gastronomy refers exclusively to the art of cooking i.e. The culinary art but this is only a small part of this discipline: it cannot be always said that a cook is also a gourmet.

Gastronomy studies various cultural components with food as its central axis. Thus it is related to the Fine Arts and Social Sciences, and even to the Natural Sciences in terms of the digestive system of the human body.

Gourmet is a cultural ideal associated with the culinary arts of fine food and drink, or haute cuisine. The term and its associated practices may have negative connotations of elitism or snobbery, but is often used positively to describe people of refined taste and passion.

The whole idea of serving has changed with changing times and evolution of people in terms of their lifestyles, living standards and affordability. The likes and dislikes of people have changed; eating habits and serving both have changed with the evolution of time and culture.

In today’s Metropolitan world, eating habits have changed. People travelling across countries and places have brought in new art forms and innovations in culinary art too.

It’s the time of Junk food, packaged food. Most of the food items; be it at a fast food centre or a small dhaba, to a tapri, to the FOOD BAZAARS, packaging and parcelling of food has become an indispensable part of our food consumption habits.

Also the flourishing Coffee culture, the onset of Coffee houses all over the country has given a new dimension to the traditional ways of serving in culinary art. Eating is now not just a basic activity needed for survival but an activity which promotes conversations on table, sharing and interacting, diversifying thus breaking the shackles of language and thus bringing in cross cultural eating habits.

In my view, culinary art aims at respecting the complexities of regional foods, rituals, customs and practices, as well as sharing them across countries and cultures, releasing the diner from the manacles of language. It aims at rediscovering dining and guide the diner into an experience of a country’s cuisine.

Let’s consider an example of the Eggless sponge cake.

EGGLESS SPONGE CAKE

Cooking Time: 20 min.
Preparation Time: 10 min.

Ingredients
1/2 can (400 grams for full can) condensed milk
140 grams (5 oz.) self-raising flour
1 level teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon soda bi-carbonate
60 ml. (2 fl. oz.) melted butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
Method
1. Sieve the flour, baking powder and soda bi-carbonate together.
2. Mix the flour mixture, condensed milk, melted butter, essence and 75 ml. (2 1/2 fl.oz.) water and beat well.
3. Pour the mixture into a greased and dusted 150 mm. (6″) diameter tin.
4. Bake in a hot oven at 200 degree C (400 degree F) for 10 minutes. Then reduce the temperature to 150 degree C (300 degree F) and bake for a further 10 minutes.
5. The cake is ready when it leaves the sides of the tin and is springy to touch. When ready, take out from the oven and leave for 1 minute. Invert the tin over a rack and tap sharply to remove.
6. Cool the cake

Now let’s consider it as a great example of Design.

The design elements can be looked upon like those of a cake: flour, sugar, butter, eggs, flavouring, and so on.

The cake ingredients are not exciting by themselves. They have to be put together and it is HOW they are put together that result in a WOW of gratification…or an OHhhh… of disappointment.

The principles are how the elements or components of a design are used or composed. They are considered guidelines only because all these elements can be combined in millions of ways and still be a good design. There is no right or wrong- only designs that work well and those that do not. If the design is successful all the parts will work well together as one total form and will attract and affect the viewer as the designer intended.

If it is semi successful, the viewer may consider the design momentarily but not as the designer wished. And if it fails to attract the viewer at all, let alone hold the viewer’s attention, it can be considered a failure.

Similar is the case with our eggless Sponge Cake. All the ingredients as instructed in the recipe, when put together in the right proportion make a perfect delicious and finger licking sponge cake.  It may not be necessary to use exactly the same recipe every time to make a perfect cake. What if we add a few Nuts? Good…they go well together. And how about a Banana? Some raisins? Pineapple?

What is happening? The emphasis is no longer on a SPONGE cake. It has become another kind of cake, and although we may have created an excellent new cake with a different taste.

Hence, to conclude we can say that the art of cooking food is not just art and science but follows most of the principles of Design as well.

Just as in Design, each new design is a fresh experiment– and each new solution, a revelation. Similarly in Culinary arts each recipe is a fresh experiment with a new flavour. It is exciting that we can use the same ingredients, the same principles and even the same methods, yet the end result will always be different, the solutions endless, and the search for a rewarding experience.

So, hope I have given some “Food for thought” for people to think of FOOD not just as a commodity to consume but much more.

Comments
11 Responses to “Colloquium paper on Culinary arts”
  1. Nishant says:

    Though I am fond of food, i never thought such a detailed, knowledgeable article showing so many facets of cullinary skills could actually be written..
    great job 🙂

    • shrutigoyal says:

      Thanks Nishant :). I’m sure that these comments will definitely give me enough ‘food for thought’ & keep me motivated enough to write another blog really soon.

      Next time whenever we have Dinner together… It’ll have totally different feeling 🙂

  2. shrutigoyal says:

    From Pallav:i’m adding it here ..as u posted the comment in the other post 🙂

    PAllav: Hey very well written!
    Very intelligently you have presented the art behind cooking and artistic elements related to the foods we eat. Your whole article made my mouth water like anything:):)

  3. shrutigoyal says:

    Comment from R R DasGupta:

    Great Post Shruti. As a foodie and a cook myself I think there three more significant aspects to the Culinary Art – Devotion and Emotion. You did touch upon it on the Mother’s recipe bit. One Example I can think about is the “Bhog” cooked in our Durga Puja (main festival for Bengalis) Pandals. The Bhog which is usually a simple Khichri and Payasam cooked in a Community setting. Most Bengalis don’t cook any lunch on the 4 days and throng the pandals to get a plateful of their cherished bhog. The taste is uncannily awesome – I don’t remember a single occasion when it was not up to the mark. As youngsters we were told that that this is because Goddess Durga was watching over it. Now I think it is the uncompromising devotion that produces that kind of result, first time and every time!. On Emotions, I recently read in the Times about Late Sunil Dutt’s “Dum Chicken” now cooked by his daughter Priya. My late mother cooked a very special Pepper Mutton Fry and I do the same. Apart from the
    quality of the dish it is the emotion attached to it that is so special. As a Designer your self you will agree that Devotion & Emotion are an integral part of any Art – Culinary being one!

  4. Shruti says:

    Thanks RR for such an informative and engaging comment 🙂

    Yes…very rightly you put that ‘Emotion and Devotion’ form a very integral part of any art form…be it design or Culinary art as in this case. And the examples quoted above make it all the more apt.

    Bhog as you mentioned has very similar feelings as a Langar set up- a community based serving done amongst Sikhs and Punjabi’s and Bhandara- a similar setting amongst Vaishnavaas….

    I tried mentioning about it in the Langar or Bhandara context. Infact, the two aspects…Emotion and devotion give us the answer to the variations in ‘Our Acceptance of food at various places’.

    Thanks for being involved 🙂

  5. samirdatar says:

    Hey Shruti,

    Interesting take on food. Specially the design.. You know one never looks at food from design perspective but it is so true… in fact the whole thali imagery from Mayur or Rajdhani ran through my mind with all the katoris with colorful food in them and those perfectly round chapatis… I could go on but it will get me all drooly!… Good Post.

  6. Shruti says:

    Thanks! samir for the comment. Really glad that you loved reading the post and the interest you showed in. 🙂

  7. NitinGarg says:

    hy, nice post !

    Never thought or read about food with such broad outlook ! Enjoyed reading !

  8. dilipnaidu says:

    Awesome composition on ‘Food’! Food is at the core of national cultures and multinational corporations have with sustained efforts succeeded to change the peoples food habits. Standardized fast food menu such as McDonald, Pizza Hut and so on are now very popular with the young and the old. Thai, Italian, French, Lebanese and other country cuisines have traveled globally making their homes in different nations.

    Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing.

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