There’s life beyond the Blumenthal Tiramisu
Surely, attempts to revive associations with the organic earth could be less contrived. No, Sir Blumenthal, this Masterchef experiment makes for a ghastly visual mistake
Ratna Raman Delhi
Celebrity chef Blumenthal’s top-notch restaurants are vetted by the bold and the beautiful and by connoisseurs of good food blessed with the ability to foot hefty tabs without flinching. Prolific cook book writer and television showman Blumenthal distils the worlds of science, aesthetics, history and art into his effervescent cooking. Reviving meat fruit, a medieval English tradition wherein meat was crafted to look like fruit, Blumenthal’s creations easily outpace most practitioners in the genre of triomphe de l’oeil paintings (optical illusion created through realistic images).
Columns, food shows, restaurants and recipes notwithstanding, this propagator of multi-sensory cooking gave us an aha moment on Masterchef Australia, unveiling yet another dimension of his gourmet-esque personality. Contestants were asked to recreate Blumenthal’s spectacular burger, chips and milk shake combo, an urban convenience food, available in most places in the world.
Blumenthal’s seamless culinary moves: from the academic to the urbane, from elite chic to period history, and from couture to cart food, vouchsafes for his place among the cooking icons of our time. Which is why, his crafting of Tiramisu on a televised show hurtled me right into the dungeons of foodaholic hell.
Blumenthal’s generation in Europe, America and metropolitan India is now familiar with Tiramisu, which also features on the wishlists of the very young. This late 20th century dessert, Italian in origin, is complex and layered. Lined with sponge fingers soaked in coffee, mascarpone cheese, marsala liqueur, eggs and chocolate, this avant garde dessert usually beckons through transparent glass, proffering narcissistic pleasure in single servings.
Lined with sponge fingers soaked in coffee, mascarpone cheese, marsala liqueur, eggs, chocolate, this avant garde dessert usually beckons through transparent glass, proffering narcissistic pleasure in single servings
Blumenthal’s elaborate version involves the use of both black and white chocolate, crystallized and caramellized, respectively. Opaque planters hosting the Tiramisu have their bottoms sealed with chocolate discs. This is followed by layers of coffee-soaked sponge fingers, mascarpone and marsala cream, and chocolate discs, and topped with what looks like freshly turned soil and crushed grape nuts that, according to Blumenthal, will replicate the texture of stone and grit in soil. On screen, atop a garden table, several pots topped with chocolate mud can be seen with fresh green basil herbs stuck into them, rather like potted plants on display.
The visiting audience, intrigued by the green potted plants on the table, becomes incredulous on discovering Tiramisu instead! The disconnect between programmed joy and the frazzled viewer becomes evident. Nervous tics that manifested at the sight of the opaque planters begin to trigger shock waves. There is something seriously wrong with the principle of making Tiramisu look like wet earth and grass and then zeroing in on a host of older people joyously eating what looks like wet mud and green leaves. Thankfully, Tiramisu does not demand raisins, so we have been spared a possible simulation of juicy slugs!
The aesthetics of eating Tiramisu while they are disguised as potted greens, fake mud and all, was completely lost to the Third World viewer in me. In fact, despite the availability of chocolate mud pie and Missisippi mud cake in coffee bars, the eating of mud actually signals an acute malaise. So, visuals of a group of middleaged adults who looked like they enjoyed chomping through leaf and mud (which was actually Tiramisu) can only generate extreme anxiety about their state of mind.
This show left me wondering if there is a better way of stimulating jaded palates and whether connections between the food we eat and the bountiful earth it grows upon can be made in a less convoluted manner. Surely, attempts to revive associations with the organic earth could be less contrived.
My other pet peeve has to do with the fact that chocolate is already always an awe-inspiring luxurious indulgence, mostly in the nature of a white consumable good. So why must it be mauled and scalded and then sprinkled atop a pot so that I cannot see what has become of it?
No, Sir Blumenthal, this experiment makes for a ghastly visual mistake. On a Masterchef show this would perhaps receive low scores for plating and presentation.
In India, the good old suji (semolina) halwas of the north evoke memories of creamy or brown damp sand, while the yellow pineapple kesari of the south recall sun-kissed yellow and orange sands. But, these are random natural associations, never grotesquely calibrated.
Holding grainy, warm semolina halwa in the palm of one’s hand, moist with clarified butter and water and garnished with nuts and raisins, inhaling its aroma of crushed cardamom alone can explain why this is a comfort food, a votive offering and a festive dessert, all rolled into one. Transferring it in little collapsible bits to the mouth and recognising different textures and tastes as it crumbles between the roof of the palate and the tongue complete this incredible multi-sensory experience.