Food Porn Fatigue: Can Too Many Ingredients Ruin a Plate?

Categories: Rants
A noisy pizza
After eating at restaurants with too much happening on the plates, a friend of mine parallels Coco Chanel's suggestion to look in the mirror and take off one accessory before heading out the door. Of course, she's right. Less is more: even on the plate.

I was reminded of this over the weekend when I forked around paella that had been ruined by olives. A salty brine coated every shrimp, calamari, scallop, mussel, and clam in the pan. No one in the kitchen is tasting this, I realized, because if they did they'd notice that their brazen flavor fucks over the shellfish in this dish. 

The kitchen sink effect
-where too many ingredients compete on a plate- isn't just a flaw in one restaurant's paella. It's a trend in restaurants here and elsewhere. Delicate oysters are muted by cream, then clubbed by pancetta with a maple cure. A crab cake with potato as a binder is served on a bed of potatoes. A pizza is mucked up with bacon, and gouda, and truffle oil, and maple syrup, and quail egg. Sweetbreads are ossified by cornflakes in a clumsy tribute to fried chicken, then served on a waffle, which is, in turn, served on a dollop of potatoes. 

Perhaps this rococo plate trend is a stab at decadence in a downtrodden economy, where restaurants serve affordable luxury via large portions, lots of ingredients, or nods to coveted items such as truffles, foie gras,or Wagyu beef. 

Yet noisy plates rob diners of the opportunity to taste a harmony of flavors chosen to enhance the lead- the way white wine and fresh herbs complement mussels, for example. Too many ingredients dumb down a plate. It suggests a lack confidence in what's coming out of the kitchen by pandering to too many palates. It may indicate a poverty of skill.

The overdressed plate is based on a primary assumption: that diners prefer obscenity in any form. It exploits every protein as if it were a burger patty. But a mussel or a sweetbread or an oyster should not be treated as a burger. Not every protein is a vehicle for condiments nor should it glad hand with multiple starches that riff on comfort foods from childhood or from glorified redneck lands.

As decadent and fun as food porn may be, subtlety and restraint is more sustaining, more stylish, and likely more beautiful-not just in haute cuisine, but on any plate. Provided a dish is well seasoned, it likely tastes better to boot.

Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter. Follow me @melissamccart

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You do realize that just because something has a lot of ingredients doesn't mean it's bad, right?  Perhaps a skilled chef or cook could mix multiple items together that DO combine well.  Have you tasted every one of these dishes you complain about?


Yes. I wouldn't write about it if I did not. And yes, I realize that many ingredients can be lovely. But these were far from it, primarily because they lacked harmony or balance. I appreciate the comment.

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