Definition - Translation is a concept to quantify the creative process detailing the different ways a dish can be changed to correspond to a chef's vision.
In the world of fine art, form has been recognized as one of the major cornerstones. Along with color, line, proportion, balance and the other elements that define the visual world, form and color are synonymous with great cuisine. How food appears on the plate has been shown to enhance the perceived taste of a dish; a great chef makes his food look as good as it tastes. Many chefs start with a rough vision how they want their plate to look, while others make it up as they go, balancing the white space of the plate with the major elements of the dish, then adding garnishes to finish and balance the plate. I like to study different cookbooks detailing the plates of the world's great chefs to pick up ideas for my own dishes. Many modern chefs use edible flowers or micro-greens to add interesting visual interest along with organic forms. Using the form subset of translation empowers the chef to fit the major elements of the dish to his culinary vision. Sometimes, I want to go beyond the natural form of something to add visual interest. For example, a jelly roll is simply a thin cake topped with a filling but rolled up it is something special. It is the form that sets it apart. Next time you are eating out, look at your plate and ask yourself; how would this look if I ...?
Form can be divided into two parts, simple and complex. Simple shapes have long been an important element of cooking whether it be plating or making precise knife cuts to ensure even cooking times. Manipulation of the ingredients or components of a dish into desired shapes reinforce a desired look or vision of the dish. A precise dice or julienne gives a dish a professional look while imprecise knife cuts make a dish look rustic. Complex refer to more complex forms such as we see in Thai and Chinese cuisine, where vegetables and fruits are painstakingly carved into small works of art or building a form such as the jelly roll I mentioned before.
The form can simply look good or mimic something else. For example, one of the dishes I will present is a breakfast cannoli where I use bacon for the cannoli shell, filled with a egg and cheese mixture. This illustrates the concept of mimicking the form of something familiar and changing it to suit the dish. I'll add shaped accompaniments of bruschetta and polenta to add complementary forms to complete the picture. Cooking French toast in a waffle iron gives the toast a waffle shape for a surprising twist. French toast is not new nor waffles but putting them together is unfamiliar to many people. In modernist cuisine, an other example of changing form is spherification, which is a process of creating spheres from a liquid. One example is making faux caviar using a flavorful liquid that complements the dish. Using different methods such as the sodium alginate or the gelatin in oil method, drops of the liquid are encased in a skin that resemble caviar. These flavored spheres burst in your mouth when you bite into them surprising the diner. In another example of using form, I often bake shredded of hard cheese such as parmesan and shape it into a basket or another form while still pliable. This technique is a great way to help me when I am designing a great presentation because it gives me control over shape and scale.
Speaking of scale, the size of a dish can be scaled up or down to create a new form. One common example is scaling down the size of a standard hamburger and roll to create a slider. Many main dishes are scaled down to create an appetizer size suitable for hors d'oeuvres.