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Presentation is essential to Chinese cooking

By Mike Peters | China Daily | Updated: 2015-12-01 08:09

Presentation is essential to Chinese cooking

A great presentation of dishes is considered an essential part of cooking in Chinese tradition as well as contemporary Western cuisine. Photo provided to China Daily

Nouvelle cuisine has done much to promote food as art, but great presentation has been essential to Chinese food for centuries. Mike Peters writes.

As a dozen colleagues enjoy a wine-tasting lunch at a top Beijing hotel, the kitchen continues to buzz as finishing touches are put on the dessert.

Heavy cream and sugar had been heated in saucepans. The sweet spot of vanilla beans had been scraped for the seeds, now infused with the cream and sugar. The mixture had been combined with gelatin in cold water. Custard cups, already oiled, had received the setting panna-cotta like hungry chicks, before being toted to the refrigerator.

Four hours later, the delicate rounds of custard are removed from the molds, fruit is sliced prettily, perfect pansy blossoms are set in place.

As the plates were set before us, there is a chorus of oohs and ahs. Cellphones click to capture and share images of the picture-perfect sweet course.

I salute the server, exclaiming: "Beautiful! These are just too pretty to eat!"

Spoons freeze in mid-air, and the smiles disappear from the faces of several of my Chinese friends. A low murmur sweeps around the table.

Finally, someone says: "I'm sorry. You mean we can't eat this?"

I explain to my friends that it was just a saying-a statement of my appreciation for the beauty of the plate.

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