What role does visual appearance play in cooking and how did a cobia fish get caught in the net of food photography?
Since we post food pictures from the LSG Group calendar on a monthly basis, it intrigued us to find out more from a person who creates such dishes – literally – from scratch: Jörg Hofmann is a trained chef and has worked with some of the best in his trade. He is currently responsible for concepts, innovation and special projects at the Culinary Excellence team of LSG Group. He develops many of the dishes which end up as a piece of art in the annual LSG Group calendar, one of our most valued customer gifts.
You will probably be surprised to hear that the creation of our October photo, the steamed cobia fish with strips of red cabbage and sweet chestnut puffs did not begin in the kitchen, nor at the food market, but at the tip of a drawing pencil. But read for yourself…
LSG Group: Jörg, you are the creator of the Cobia dish, which is highlighted in the month of October of the LSG Group calendar 2017. How did the idea of this dish evolve?
Jörg Hofmann: The idea started with the idea of using fish as a main component. Then you go into the process of food pairing, that is, working out which components pair well with fish. That’s how I came up with red cabbage. For an experienced chef, the creation of the dish is an emotional matter. At the same time, you orient yourself along trends; you listen to what is going on in your network, and in hospitality in general.
LSG Group: At what point do you consider the looks of a dish?
JH: When the components are clear, I think about which forms to use them in. Liquid, creamy, or even crunchy? Then I sit down and visualize how the dish could look.
LSG Group: Visualizing means…
JH: …that I draw it. I need to draw the dish to understand how it will look, whether it is makes sense from an aesthetic perspective. But it is also a tool to convey my train of thought as a chef to others, such as a creative director, a photographer.
LSG: How important are the looks of a dish as compared to its taste?
JH: As a chef’s apprentice, you learn that taste is more important than looks. For me personally, there is little difference. If a dish does not look good, it becomes less attractive and loses in terms of quality. The visual appearance is usually the first appearance, just like in a job interview.
LSG: Do you draw every dish?
JH: Whenever I create something from scratch, I start by drawing it.
LSG: Where do you get your creativity from?
JH: That depends on my mood. I am most creative in the morning time. I don’t like it when somebody is watching me, especially when I am only half-done. And of course, there are instances in which I have more of an emotional bond to a dish, for example when it relates to a regional cuisine I am very fond of. In such cases, I unwillingly put a lot more emotions into the process, which also spurs my creativity.
LSG: Would you say that food is art?
JH: That is a very difficult question. First of all, cooking is a trade. It may be art, but I wouldn’t go so far to claim that for myself. A trade can be learned and obviously, a little talent doesn’t hurt. I am a respectable chef and for me cooking is first and foremost a trade. At the end of the day, art lies in the eye of the beholder.
LSG: Looking at the travel catering industry, how much art is possible
JH: Some customers tell us exactly what type of product they want at which price. That limits creativity, but does not mean that you cannot be creative at all. Other customers say, ‘you have the blank page, just do it!’ Creativity is crucial in developing the product or solutions that highlights our customers’ USPs most.
LSG: To close the circle: What is the story behind the cobia dish?
JH: The cobia dish is a classic. It is clean, straightened up and relatively timeless. However, having fish and red cabbage as basic components, which is not the most usual pairing, shows that we can be classy yet creative and innovative at the same time.
LSG: Thanks a lot for the interview!