by Ernest Reynoso Gala
In preparation, three factors are considered: the quality, the flavor and the texture of the ingredients. Using the best will always simplify your procedure, because you have to incorporate top quality to produce the best. Smell and visually observe the ingredients you are purchasing. Ask questions, don’t buy the most expensive, just the best quality for your budget. A recipe that uses more than 15 ingredients isn’t for you due to time constraints and having too many is overwhelming. Less is more, and by being aware of each ingredient’s purpose you can visualize the finished product in your mind. It is important to note that the person you are serving isn’t allergic to certain ingredients to avoid a visit to the hospital.
After choosing the ingredients comes the preparation, or mise en place. In cooking it is not speed but timing that counts, therefore allow yourself enough time to prep. A labor of love shouldn’t be rushed, and having the right measurements are key.
Finally, like a famous wrestler once said, “Excellence in execution.” Use moderate heat when cooking beef and seafood because of their delicate texture; hard vegetables should be uniform in size and blanched in boiling water to soften the texture and bring out the color. Use thick pans because it lessens the risk of food becoming tough and dry due to prolonged cooking. Tasting while cooking is just as important, to ensure you’re on track in flavor. I always remind my students that if you cannot smell the ingredients in your dish it lacks salt, as salt enhances scent as well as taste. If possible prepare a simple dessert to end the dinner on a sweet note, showcase your culinary talent and show that extra effort was made for this occasion.
Finally, plating is the preparation where your personal style and creativity come into play. A student once said she had no artistic talent in plating, so I advised her to look at cookbooks and magazines to get ideas. Simple dishes require simple plates, but if you have a colorful personality be playful. What is important is you are comfortable and confident about the dish you are serving. Besides, presentation is a reflection of who you are. Be attentive to details and wipe off smudges and spatter. Harriet Van Horne once said, “Cooking is like love; it should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”