A long time ago, I happened across this book and felt inspired to try my hand at food garnishing. Like most of us, I was awed by the talents of chefs who created works of art with food and never thought I could achieve that level of mastery. But like all skills, food garnishing, or mukimono, is gained step-by-step. And even the smallest steps, however simple, can have a big impact on the enjoyment of a meal.
A husband and wife team, Yukiko and Bob Haydock published “Japanese Garnishes: The Ancient Art of Mukimono” thirty years ago and although it is no longer in print, fortunately copies still are floating around in cyberspace for you to buy. According to the book jacket, Yukiko is/was a Japanese culinary expert and Bob a graphic designer. I don’t know what they are doing today but I’m thankful to own their little book that introduces the absolute beginner to the art of mukimono.
Mukimono actually mean vegetable peeling which has been a popular practice throughout Asia. In Thailand especially, royal chefs specialize in vegetable carving that produces sculptures and painting-like spreads that are made entirely of fruit and vegetables. In Japan, street vendors all engage in fun competition to produce ingenious vegetable carvings. But it is best to begin at the beginning.
There are other books about food garnishing, but there are three strengths that make this title great for the beginner: 1. Clear color photographs; 2. Step-by-step line illustrations; and 3. Simple but impressive designs. It is surprising how only a few flicks of a sharp paring knife can turn a tomato slice into a butterfly, an apple slice into a bunny or radish slices into play jacks! Is it worth the extra second or two of your time? Absolutely! Once you learn, you’ll have a hard time resisting making a quick fan out of a melon slice or loops in an orange slice. Your plates will never again be presented without a little bit of beauty when you learn the simplest of garnishes. If you have children, you can dress up their lunches. For the bento-maker (Japanese lunch boxes), mukimono is essential.
The book outlines some necessary kitchen tools to have but in reality, the easiest only require a sharp paring knife. Once you learn all of these garnishes, you’ll yearn for more and you’ll seek out other more advanced books for that.
The Amazon.com page lacks a cover photo, but there are hard cover copies available for purchase for as little as .92 cents on that site.
Here is an example of one of their garnishes, orange loops:
Step One: Slice an orange in half. The cut should be made through the stem, not through the equator.
Step Two: Cut the orange halves into slices about 3/8” thick.
Step Three: Make a cut between the skin and the orange to separate the skin. Cut almost to the end, leaving only about 1 inch of skin connected.
Step Four: Curl the skin underneath.
Step Five: Orange Loops can be slit and arranged around the rim of a punch bowl or glass.