Aesthetics and cuisine have always shared a rich and varied history. The etymology of the French word cuisine reveals the verb cuire, the act of cooking or transforming raw food into cooked food. There is little room for the concept of beauty here. This is still very much the case with home cooking today. Everyday meals such as shepherd’s pie, beef stew or Neapolitan pizza, spaghetti or risotto, may taste good without necessarily attempting to appease the eye. Everyday cooking does not focus on appearance. So much the better, as it concentrates entirely on taste and the pleasure we get from a well-cooked and well-seasoned dish.
Eat with your eyes!
Gourmet cuisine on the other hand, soon highlighted the visual impact of a dish as a measure of excellence. From the late eighteenth century, French pastry chef Antonin Carême conjured up decorative sculptures of sweetmeats. Closer to our times, French nouvelle cuisine opted for beauty in simplicity, whereby dishes remained true to the nature of their ingredients. The visual culture of today’s social media values presentation in contemporary cuisine. Photographs of dishes can spread around the world in mere seconds, thus stimulating their purely visual consumption. Foodies may be smitten with global trends in food and cooking, yet they often relish a photo far more than the dish itself.
Chefs focus on beauty
A group of Belgians proved so enthusiastic about this tendency that in early 2014 they devised a camera specifically for chefs to take quick pictures of their latest dishes. Only months later, a series of some photographs from the database of APIC (a Belgian company) provides a snapshot of trends in contemporary cuisine. An emphasis that then begs the question, is beauty the enemy of good and tasty?