My first book was called The Surreal Gourmet. The title was inspired by the cold reality that I couldn’t afford a photographer to photograph my bachelor-style dishes. So I decided to illustrate the book with my own drawings and paintings inspired by my two favorite surrealists, Rene Magritte and Salvador Dali.
Generally speaking, the book was very well reviewed. But then an Australian food critic took the book title literally, and went out of his way to chastise me for not presenting food that lived up to its “Surreal” billing. My first reaction was to cry foul. After all, did the Galloping Gourmet really gallop? And did Jamie Oliver ever cook in the nude when he was known as the Naked Chef?
After my bruised ego recovered, something in the reviewer’s criticism lingered in my mind until i had an epiphany. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, I recognized that the reviewer was actually handing me the keys to a far more interesting world of food presentation—one that at that point 25 years ago, no chef had begun to explore. My first stab at surreal presentation was a very rudimentary dessert made from a sculpted slice of cheesecake and a canned apricot half that I presented to look like a sunny side-up egg.
Next I went to an art supply store and bought some wooden painter’s palettes. I pureed some vegetables and added a piece of steamed salmon to create a dinner on a painter’s palette.
Twenty five years later, this has become my signature style of presentation. Here are some of my faves: