Lately it seems there is hardly any culinary TV show that does not issue a trompe-l’oeil challenge, or a new trendy kitchen book talking about culinary mimicry.
While the term was coined during the Baroque period of the 16th century, the technical origins go back even further to the ancient Greeks and in the culinary world signify a dessert looking like a savory dish or vice versa.
Similar to their artistic contemporaries, the chefs who were catering to the royal courts of Europe spurred some competition between the hosts. Who would be the most “virtuoso” chef to surprise and fascinate the guests with his art? This was the time when the Italian Giuseppe Arcimboldo assembled painted real vegetables, fruits or fish to then draw his famous portraits.
Many talented Chefs today are paying tribute to this art. Paul Pairet at his restaurant Ultra-Violet in Shanghai proposes his own interpretation: a “Tomato Mozza and Again” specifically referring to the Milanese painter, while playing a remixed version of “Tu vuo fa l’Americano”!
The dish is presented as the perfect bridge between the main savory dishes and desserts. In my dinner #354 (each dinner is indeed numbered) it was between the Beggar’s Veal Shank and the Mont Blanc Snow-Bowl.
Another famous inspiration from the 1500s is the Meat Fruit served by Heston Blumenthal at Dinner in London: a mandarin made of chicken liver and foie gras parfait, served with grilled bread. It quickly became a signature dish of the restaurant.
The list is endless! Take the cheesecake served at The Adlon Hotel in Berlin, a dessert which — of course — looks like cheese!
Recently, I also tried the Sweet Burger by Chef Sudqi Naddaf at Kempinski Hotel Mall of the Emirates.
It looks just like any other burger but features a chocolate brownie in place of a steak.
In the hands of these talented chefs I don’t see any taboos in having fun, experimenting and playing with the tastes and presentations as long as the products are respected. It almost seems absurd that this trend is really something that started in the Middle Ages!