By Jonathan Hatchman, Food Editor, @TLE_Food
For as long as there’s been fine dining restaurants, creativity in the kitchen has always been encouraged. Sure, sometimes the classics are very difficult to improve upon, yet without such focus it’s unlikely that chefs such as Heston Blumenthal, whose cooking is often reminiscent of a stereotypical mad scientist, or Pierre Gargnall – the artist behind London’s über trendy Sketch – would have risen to such prominence.
However, as far as extreme creativity is concerned, it’s necessary for a strict line to be drawn between what is, and what is not acceptable. Earlier in the year, a Twitter campaign – We Want Plates – set up by West Yorkshire-based digital content manager Ross McGinnes, rose to prominence having gained over 62,000 Twitter followers to date. ‘We Want Plates’ has become a platform to share outrageous serving solutions that have been adopted by restaurants across the globe. Ranging from the classic Slate or Chopping Board to the plain bizarre (Tennis Rackets, Old Shoes, Flat Caps, Dustbin Lids, etc.) Not only are the majority of these plate substitutes unbelievably pretentious, some are also remarkably unhygienic and slightly impractical. And having endured the dining hell of feasting from a number of these substitutes to the classic white plate, it’s not only Ross McGinnes who has a severe dislike for such nonsense. The classroom sound reminiscent of nails running down a chalkboard, which ensues as cutlery slips and slides across an overhyped roof tile, and of Ice Cream melting straight onto the table: these are never desirable dining experiences.
It’s easy to play the blame game for this preposterous fad, some blame celebrity chefs such as Jamie Oliver, while some blame Britain’s phony “gastropubs”. I, however, believe that social media is entirely responsible. Eating out used to be special, a time to socialize and a time to tantalise your taste buds with some incredible food that you’re unable to recreate at home. Nowadays, it’s unlikely that 95 per cent of diners are unable to endure a whole dining experience without the aid of a mobile phone. Mobile phones that we use to take pictures of our foods and share with our friends and followers on social media platforms such as Instagram (Instascran), Facebook and Twitter. Therefore, it’s a natural move for Chefs and Restaurateurs to strive to make offerings from the kitchen look as interesting as possible. Let’s be fair, sometimes the great plate substitute works on artistic grounds, yet it seems that so many chain restaurants and celebrity chefs are jumping on to the bandwagon that you’re highly unlikely to find a Steak or Burger within a sit down restaurant that isn’t served upon a wooden chopping board.
For as long as style over substance reigns within the UK’s restaurant scene, the search for a serving suggestion better than a white plate is sure to continue, and it looks like we’re going to have to adapt to eating from tiles, blocks of wood and even brick every now and again. Eating Chips from Wellington Boots and Sandwiches from Tennis Rackets, however? That’ll never be acceptable. Be sure to send it back to the kitchen before it even lands on the table.