It is said you eat with your eyes first. How a dish looks can play on the perception of taste, smell and flavor. Color is a strong visual cue, but there is also shape, height, shine (greasy versus glossy), what’s trending in food and, of course, seasonality.
Spring dining in New Orleans often means lighter, brighter, colorful dishes lushly decorated with flowers, berries, greens and herbs. Not to be left out, perfectly dressed po’boys piled with lettuce, mayo and tomatoes; deep golden, crackly crusted fried chicken and snoballs, dripping sticky syrups and condensed milk, become fodder for the camera. Plates are so astoundingly gorgeous, they’re practically begging to be photographed…and often are.
Social media has profoundly influenced the visual effect food has on the dining public, now that almost everyone photographs every morsel placed on a table, whether it’s their food or someone else’s. The effort to capture “pretty” food is fascinating and gives credence to the aphorism “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Local food photographer Gabrielle Geiselman-Milone shoots professional images for several beloved restaurants, and uses her mobile phone to capture stunning shots of the food she eats. Always looking for “God light”—a stream of pale, golden light that makes food look especially lovely—or some emotional element, angle or color to reflect. Her keen eye finds not only the beauty, but the drama of a dish.
Milone’s work is emotional, often expressing the flavor and feeling of a chef’s creation. For Barrel Proof, we get thirsty and nostalgic looking at a masculine, manicured hand, fingers delicately wrapped around a shot of bourbon, while in the background there is a peep of pink pocket-silk giving Rat Pack vibes. For Meril, roasted Louisiana oysters that induce stomach-grumbling. Even from a casual lunch at Couvant, fresh English peas with shallots and a duck egg are a wild visual array of texture and color.
Art is personal and subjective, like food. New Orleans’ esteemed chefs produce beautiful food garnering noteworthy national attention. Both the image and the actual dish strike to the core of our souls and beg the most important food-as-art question: Does it make you hungry?
Maypop chef Michael Gulotta brings the flavor of “Southeast Asia by way of Southeast Louisiana.” The bold flavors, deep hues and textures on each plate are amazing. Gulotta’s gumbo could be cheekily dubbed “pop” art: a royal blue, ceramic bowl filled with fermented black beans, lemongrass, split roasted okra, andouille sausage and sticky rice fritters.
At Toups’ Meatery, chef Isaac Toups relies on realism and close-ups to elicit mouth-watering. Evidence the tight shots and rich country colors of brown, rusts, blacks and gold in simple foods, such as his handmade sausages or a thick-cut pork chop with dirty rice.
Chef Mason Hereford shows his love for street art, color and nostalgic re-thinks of childhood favorites at Turkey and the Wolf. Deep-fried hand pies with buttermilk ranch for dipping; fried mac and cheese with crushed burnt-red “Flamin Hot Cheetos”; handfuls of fresh dill and mint tossed atop braised lamb—get the drift?
At Brennan’s, the kitchen team taps into portraiture and architecture in its platings. There is height, realness, ooze, and the food looks as beautiful as it tastes. Eggs Hussarde is a masterpiece of homemade English muffins, coffee-cured Canadian bacon, properly poached eggs and hollandaise and marchand de vin sauces over a tangle of thin-stemmed mushrooms. Stacked as a tower, there is the Hunter’s Corned Beef Hash of sunny side-up eggs, potato chips, dill hollandaise and herbs.
The art of the dish is sophisticated at Coquette. The chefs’ consideration of serving pieces, food placement and color create stunning works of still life. Dive into the beauty that is pimento cheese with shrimp crackers, aged Broadbent country ham and both raw and pickled vegetables. The chocolate mousse with green strawberry sherbet, Chartreuse jam and Chantilly cream is evocative and enticing, with a feel of the Old World wrapped around the new.
First feast with your eyes, but definitely follow by a bite…or five. Food is nourishment for the stomach and the soul. It can be messy, beautiful, colorful and a riot of flavor and consistencies. New Orleans paints a powerful food image with all her chefs and restaurants, understanding that cooking is called “culinary arts” with reason. What a pallet/palate.