There's beauty in breakdown

Sep 13, 2011, 11:35 IST | Amrita Bose

The city's trendiest kitchens are painstakingly deconstructing classic dishes into individual constructed components proving right the adage that the sum of the parts is indeed much more than the whole

The city's trendiest kitchens are painstakingly deconstructing classic dishes into individual constructed components proving right the adage that the sum of the parts is indeed much more than the whole

Imagine the perfect slice of a Black Forest Cake. Layers of moist and soft chocolate cake stuffed with cherries and whipped cream and topped with some more cream, cherries and chocolate shavings. Now imagine another version of this classic dessert where the entire cake is broken down into individual components.

The chocolate and vanilla cake gets transformed into a frozen dessert called parfait, the cherries are transformed into a pureed cold soup and instead of the traditional chocolate shavings, oreo crisps accompany this deconstruction.

The typical Black Forest Cake is broken down into a vanilla and
chocolate parfait, chilled cherry soup and served with
Oreo crisps at Caperberry

At Caperberry, a fusion and tapas lounge in the city, you can spot this dessert along with other dishes that get deconstructed. 

Chefs in the city are bending traditions to present classic and wholesome dishes under the technique of deconstruction.

Having its origin in the world of molecular gastronomy and the theory of deconstruction introduced by French philosopher Jacques Derrida, breaking down a dish into its individual parts and ensuring that each and every mini dish created stands out on its own, yet blends in seamlessly with the entire plate, is a challenge unto itself.

So popular is this technique worldwide that it has made an appearance as a challenge to the contestants of  the reality show Top Chef, where master chef and judge Tom Colicchio has described it as perhaps 'the best way for a chef to personalise and call a dish his or her own.'
Chef Sandeep Biswas, Executive Sous Chef at Ista and also the man behind the quirky Modern Indian restaurant Pink Poppadam, uses the larger principles of deconstruction to present traditional Indian food under a contemporary garb.
His Kasundi Fish Paupiette is a deconstruction of the Bengali dish Shorshe Maach or fish served in mustard and poppy seed gravy spiked with mustard oil and green chillies.

"At Pink Poppadam we use deconstruction to re-plate Indian dishes in Western portions and present it by taking apart ingredients and displaying them in beautifully constructed small portions," he says. Since a diner eats with his or her eyes, the deconstructed dish looks visually much more appealing."
The fish used in this dish is not the traditional bhetki or hilsa used by Bengalis but a local hardy fish called Maral that can be cooked and folded (paupiette being a French technique of flattening meat or seafood by gently beating it, rolling and braising it).

The traditional Shorshe Mach is deconstructed into a
Kasundi Fish Paupiette at the Pink Poppadom

The mustard gravy is actually made of Kasundi, a homemade version of the mustard sauce with a hint of green mangoes. The poppy seeds that usually add texture to the traditional mustard gravy for Shorshe Mach is presented as Aloo Poshto, another Bengali dish where chopped potatoes are cooked in a poppy seed paste and demoulded into the plate.

The fish is served on a bed of ghee rice, another Bengali staple. Pink Poppadam also breaks down the regular Magai Paan into a Paan Shot where the pungent betelnut leaf is blended with vanilla ice cream and served in a shot glass. Instead of the gulkand, crisp rose petals are dipped in icing sugar and  eaten with the shot.

According to Biswas, deconstruction is a dream for chefs who want to present food as art on the plate. But whether the end result might or might not work depends on how experimental the diner wants to get.

"Since a deconstructed dish transpires into individual small portions, the psychology that the dish is not really complete and hence less value for money might just be playing on the client's mind. Instead of liquefying or powdering down components, we like to turn the ingredients into individual dishes," says Biswas.

Ramasamy Selvaraju, Executive Chef at Vivanta by Taj, MG Road agrees with Biswas on this.

At Graze, a European restaurant at Vivanta, Selvaraju gives a twist to the classic Salade Ni oise, a French mixed salad comprising greens, capers, tuna and anchovies  into individual tuna tarts, anchovies as a sauce and the greens as accompaniement. "Deconstruction also lets avoid what you don't like.

For some people the taste of anchovies is too fishy and hence they can choose not to have it while eating the rest of the dish," he says.
Introduced a year ago on the menu, deconstruction seems to have become a hit at Graze according to Selvaraju, with the restaurant doing versions of Guacamole Salad, Ceasar Salad and Insalata Caprese (an Italian salad made out of mozarella, tomatoes and basil and drizzled with olive oil).

He feels that this method gives chefs a chance to give a modern twist to a classic dish that would have originally come heaped together on a plate.  "It is definitely time consuming. You have to creatively apply your mind and concentrate on portion sizes," he says.

The good thing about applying the principles of deconstuction to classic dishes is that it doesn't require additional ingredients, rather, according to Chef Abhijit Saha, founder and director of Caperberry,  the process uses the same ingredients as the regular dish.

He says, "Basically you are eating the same dish but the experience is completely novel because it's being plated in a completely different format."

Though the response to the deconstructed dishes at the two-year-old Caperberry has been good, Saha feels that the trend hasn't really taken off too much in the city. He has deconstructed dishes like Salad Capraise, Greek and even Shepherd's Pie in his kitchen.  

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