We’re excited to welcome guest blogger Stephanie K. of the Restaurant.com Quality Assurance team to the Dish!  We hope you enjoy her insights on food as an art form below.

For most of my life, my relationship with food was a simple one.  Food meant nothing more to me than sustenance. It was simply fuel to feed my machine and keep me moving. A majority of my food growing up was in microwaveable form. Staples included macaroni and cheese and anything individually packaged. This may come as a shock to you, but my palette was less than refined. It is not surprising that I didn’t exactly get exited about food.

I am a lifelong artist. I have felt the urge to create from the moment I could hold a pencil, crayon, or paintbrush in my hands. It has always been easy for me to understand shape, color, line, and placement of these components to create a beautiful picture. While I have been able to identify and enjoy other art forms, such as music, advertising, photography, and the performing arts, for some reason food has, until recently, escaped my notice.

Two things changed two years ago that have allowed me to encounter and explore the culinary arts. To begin with, I met and became close to a trained chef. He quickly took great pleasure in throwing all kinds of food at me that I had never even heard of, and expanding my stifled palette.  Crème Brulee was an early favorite, followed by real sushi (as opposed to store bought versions), and on to more adventurous fare such as ceviche and even one small bite of foie gras.

Another major contributing factor to expanding my mind was the discovery of Restaurant.com. Growing up with a very limited budget, the idea of spending more for food made me very nervous. Restaurant.com made it extremely easy to try a new restaurant or a new kind of cuisine without going over budget. These two factors combined exponentially expanded my food horizons.

As I was enjoying new flavors and dining experiences I started to really notice some very familiar elements: shape, line color, and juxtaposition to name a few. One of the very first things I noticed that appealed to the artist brain was some of the amazing things restaurants do with sauces.  After this epiphany, I was getting more and more exited about the art of the food I was eating,

My chef friend explained it to me this way:

“A great dining experience will engage ALL of your senses.”

I found this difficult to imagine, as the only sense that is obvious to me is taste. Taste is of course incredibly important, being the foundation of all culinary arts. Smell is almost as important as taste (being unable to smell your food can greatly alter your perception of the taste of the food.)

I have also been introduced to the phrase, “eating with your eyes.”  The way the food looks, and is presented is a huge factor of fine dining. As a chef, you want to hear a gasp when the plate comes to the table.

Touch of course is the foods textures.  Is it smooth, crunchy, or chewy? Hearing was hard for me to imagine at first but when he brought to mind sizzling fajitas, the whoomph when someone lights up saganaki, or even the satisfying sound of your food as you crunch it, I really began to understand.

Included is a picture of a fantastic dish from one of my favorite restaurants that I have had the great pleasure to try thanks to Restaurant.com. Mago in Arlington Heights, Ill. is a contemporary Spanish restaurant with some of the best food I have ever tasted. They have such complex flavorings (which I would have never tried, let alone enjoyed two years ago) paired with some truly gorgeous presentations. Even someone who has not studied or participated in visual arts can appreciate the beauty of this dish. And, I can attest the taste was just as impressive, if not more so. I have learned so much in such a short time and look forward to trying more and more new dishes and really enjoying the complex artistry that is the culinary world.

In many ways food is a far more complex art form that my own, as I generally rely completely on visual impact. I am grateful to have been introduced to the world of food art. It’s a truly beautiful (and delicious) thing.