Contrary to popular belief, “refined” is not that far removed from “rustic” when it comes to cuisine.
People often assume that “rustic” food is prepared by throwing all of the ingredients together; but in fact, the same preparation and thought goes into rustic as into “refined,” and, on occasion, more!
Rustic typically connotes ingredients folded together or cut with rough edges, then carefully placed on a plate or platter to make it appear as though they naturally fell there. A great example is a mixed grain dish, such as this farro salad: the ingredients have been tossed together, but just before serving you’ll notice how I mound the mixture into the bowl, to bring height and structure to the presentation. The effect is “unintentional,” yet it always looks perfect.
Refined is the simple act of respecting each ingredient, keeping them separate until the very last minute – then pulling them all together. For some examples, look at the presentation of this Pancetta-wrapped Broken Arrow Ranch venison Loin, with Fondue Potatoes and French Beans in a 12-Bottle Cabernet Reduction Sauce; or this California Rock Cod with Cioppino Sauce, Manila Clams, Prawns and Bread Crumbs, which doesn’t look like a stew (rustic) but more like a bowl of seafood jewels, prized for their individual qualities (refined).
Even simple “Bacon and Eggs” achieves refinement in this beautiful composition of Cured and Smoked Heritage Pork Belly, Black Eyed Peas, Quail Egg and Natural Jus. Refined dining is just as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the palate.
My food often represents bits of rustic as well as refined. Why? Because it’s the most approachable. It should never feel like you tried too hard, but then again it should have substance – and show the love.