Food plating. Industrial Revolution. Culture. And how ceramic plates civilized the home.
Gosh, how do you eat food that is so exquisitely placed on your plate? And then again, you might think how can anyone wait to chomp into something so pretty? These reactions are precisely what chefs hope their food presentation would evoke.
This is food plating, which is “about the presentation of food to increase desire and impress your diners“. Once the preserve of professional chefs, food plating is now practiced by amateur chefs too. We even heard a story about a teenager who does not cook, but told her family it was time to “plate” the food when she was helping to set the dinner table!
Funny then that no one seems to talk about the plate. After all, where would plating be without it? Poor plate, because if you talked to it, it would tell you a most amazing story.
Before the Industrial Revolution, good quality plates were not affordable to the working classes. Whatever plates they had, they were likely to be either in medium or large sizes, suitable for serving large groups, but not so cool for having smaller and more intimate dinners (imagine going on a romantic dinner and your food was served on oversized plates!).
And then Josiah Wedgwood came along. According the book The Ascent of Man by Jacob Bronowski, Josiah Wedgwood was known for the ceramics creamware. He used it to make “marvellous tableware for aristocracy and royalty.. [f]or example, in 1774, he made a service of nearly a thousand highly decorated pieces for Catherine the Great of Russia, which cost over £2000 [about £224,000 in 2014]”.
He took the mass production technologies of the Industrial Revolution, and created inexpensive but good quality ceramic plates of different sizes that “the man in the street could buy, at about a shilling a piece [about £10 in 2014]”. Bronowski says this industrialization of ceramics “transformed the kitchen of the working class”.
In his book The Potter’s Hand, AN Wilson describes the immense cultural impact as follows:
“… within a decade of his production of creamware, there was hardware a respectable household… which did not eat its dinner off well-glazed, delicate plates…”
Since then, the unassuming plate has come a long way. And as it did, it changed our dining culture from the Industrial Revolution through to the beautiful food plating of today. It has arguably made the dining experience more and more civilized and enjoyable.
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