Monday, September 24, 2007

The Trickle Down Effect ... Food Bars

Villa Rothschild.
by Lourdes Castro

I was recently in the South of France having attended the Ruben/Valk wedding in Monaco. A very chic wedding in every sense of the word. (But then again — what in the South of France isn’t chic this time of the year?) The champagne was flowing, the parties going, and the food ... well the food was definitely not an after thought.

The three-day weekend began with a dinner at the Villa Rothschild, followed the next evening with a party at Passable Beach in Saint Jean Cap Ferrat. With all this partying it was surprising there was any energy left for the big day.

The table settings at the Ruben/Valk wedding in Monaco.
But the wedding day came and everyone looked refreshed and glamorous. The wedding took place at the Monte Carlo Sporting Club. Cocktails by the pool. Dinner in the Sporting Club.

While I’m all about the partying, I of course, am also all about the food. Paying attention to what was served and how it was presented, I noticed lots of “food bars” throughout the weekend.

These are somewhat similar to a champagne bar — where flutes are set out and filled with the bubbly for anyone’s taking — but instead is focused on a cuisine or a particular food.

Now I’m sure we have all seen a caviar bar, ice sculpture and all, with the various accoutrements laid out and ready for us to assemble our own little plate. A very nice set up — but not a food bar.
Mediterranean food bar.
The menu.
Japanese food bar.
Food bars have small plates, which have been very carefully presented and assembled for one person. The impact a food bar gives is far more impressive than a hors d’oeuvres buffet (think caviar bar) or passed canapés. Individual petite servings have been deliberately presented for you – as if it a small gift was just assembled and packaged.

This reminds me of the Japanese who are not only obsessed with gift giving and impeccable arrangement but who’s chefs are very much in the forefront of the culinary world for their presentation techniques.

Champagne bar.
Just this month Vogue’s Jeffrey Steingarten wrote of the global effect Japanese chefs are having on the re-birth (and re-introduction) of Chinese food. They are modernizing the cuisine by introducing a fresh, and meticulous, approach to its presentation. Gone are the days of the lazy susan and family style service. In its place is a beautiful and deliberately presented dish.

Historically, the Japanese aesthetic has influenced culinary movements — the French Nouvelle cuisine is said to have looked east for inspiration and the current über-modern Spanish gastronomy has definitely been touched by the Japanese eye. And just like all movements, which take a while to trickle down to the mainstream, the Japanese influence on how we present our food may not have hit our dinner table yet, but it will get there.

Weddings, parties, and catered affairs are already seeing the effect. So will we soon be deliberately pre-plating our dinner parties as well? How trés chic!