A recent trip to Finland and Germany provided a renewed perspective on the culinary scene in both countries and proved to be quite an experience. Both countries boast a vibrant restaurant scene, and I had the opportunity to visit several outstanding restaurants in Southern Germany (Karlsruhe) and in Helsinki, Finland. Aside from the outstanding quality of the food, and the impeccable service, what was very impressive as well was the visual quality of the food. The artful presentation of all the various courses, with very reasonable portion sizes (not the heaping portions no human can possibly handle and hence require “doggy bags”, a notion that is not common in most of Europe). Quite often there is an impressive variety of china in the form of porcelain spoons, tiny little bowls, artfully shaped plates that provide the “picture” frame for the dish, much like the frames around paintings, where the right frame can bring out the features in the paintings or artwork even more.
Amuse bouches are not just a single little tidbit from the kitchen, but a showcase of the chef’s versatility and creativity.
Main courses are not a singular event, but end up being a succession of smaller dishes which showcase a seafood course, a meat course (lamb, riz de veau (sweetbreads), venison, or beef) and sometimes a poultry dish (pigeon, quail, pheasant are popular choices).
Desserts are not a singular slice of cake, or pastry or some mousse or ice cream, but a portfolio of little somethings from each of these types, like a painter’s palette showcasing the chef’s expertise. A tiny little slice of Sacher Torte, really just one bite, for example, but that bite was heaven on earth.
There’s a lot of truth to “people eat with their eyes, not just their mouths”….it’s an appeal to all the senses, and as such a very enjoyable experience.
As you might expect, great wines from all over Europe were selected to accompany the courses, so it provided a great opportunity to contrast the German Riesling (Schloss Reichartshausen), the German Pinot Noir (Salwey Grosses Gewaechs), the French Morey St Denis and several others with my taste memory of the various Stonehouse Vineyard Varietals. A Sticky would have perfectly joined the dessert selections, and Angela’s Wish would have been a perfect foil for the lamb dish I enjoyed at the “Oberlaender Weinstube” in Karlsruhe. The Semillon-Savignon would go great with the Salmon Tartare with its own caviar from the “Dudelsack”, also in Karlsruhe.
And then there was “Chez Dominique” in Helsinki, an amazing place, Michelin starred, and truly outstanding. Just to give you an impression of the “art” aspect of the dishes I captured two of them. The evening was a succession of highlights, they seemed to keep coming, and it was truly amazing. Certainly a place I hope to go back to.
So now my challenge is to incorporate some of what I saw into my next cooking projects….a dish at a time, and with the objective to further hone my skills…and share what I’ve learnt with friends.