“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is a commonly quoted part of a dialogue in William Shakespeare’s play “Romeo and Juliet” in which Juliet argues that the names of things do not matter, only what things “are.”
Well, my opinion on the subject of the ubiquitous tomato rose, which seems to have “bloomed” in every kitchen of every hotel I have worked in or managed, is that these oddly inedible creations stuck on to otherwise beautifully presented dishes do not matter, but only what things (on the plate for consumption) are, if that makes any sense at all.
Earlier today, I was called by my head Pakistani chef to taste a new Tandoor-style fresh river prawn dish being considered for inclusion in our new steak-and-seafood combo menu, and surprise, there on the plate was a cutesy little tomato rose, which did nothing at all to enhance the presentation and taste of the prawns, which were succulent and bursting with natural flavor.
In fact, I felt the gnarly little “flower” was a distraction from the overall result the chef was trying to achieve, so I removed it and showed both plates, with and without “le rose” to the tasting group, all of whom agreed less is best when it comes to presentation.
I then took the matter a little further and inquired as to how many tomato and apple roses were prepared each day, by whom and how long they take to prepare. What I discovered was that our young kitchen apprentices were preparing approximately 100 of the little darlings each day, each taking around a minute to prepare, which was approximately two working hours per day — or 14 hours each week, or 56 hours a month — wasted creating dainty tomato and apple carvings, all of which ended up as garbage.
Perhaps not a big deal in terms of actual financial loss, but the thought of fresh food being prepared when we know it’s going to end up as garbage in a country where millions of people exist on less than a dollar a day caused me to banish these little beauties to tomato and apple heaven, and to refocus my kitchen teams on what is really important to our guests, and that is the preparation and service of fresh, well-seasoned and simply presented great value food, packed with flavor and a joy to eat.
I should mention as a footnote that my home is in Bangkok, where fruit and vegetable carving is an exquisite cultural and culinary art, but the funny thing is, during all my years spent there, I have never seen a tomato rose on any of my plates, and thank goodness for that.
Do you have any food garnishing or presentation pet peeves? I would love to hear about them.