Mention the word Garde Manger to a group of non-culinary people and prepare yourself for a blank stare or the question “What are you talking about?”. In this age of chef celebrities, Youtube how-to videos and TV food shows the world of Garde Manger is not well known. In its simplest form Garde Manger could be described as the art of cold food preparation and presentation.
Garde Manger is taught in most culinary schools in only one semester in a 3-credit hour class. However, since it is such a broad topic there are a number of textbooks that are written about it. Here is an outline of the categories used in Garde Manger and basically how I teach it in my 8-week class at Ozarks Technical Community College:
- Salads – tossed, composed and bound
- Cold hors d’oeuvres and appetizers (canapes and tea sandwiches)
- Chilled seafood – raw, cured, smoked, poached and grilled seafood (sushi, ceviche, smoked salmon, shrimp cocktail)
- Charcuterie (includes pates, terrines, mousses, rillettes, and sausages)
- Cold food trays and platters (crudite- vegetables, fruit displays, cheese trays and cold cut and deli trays, etc)
- Food Art – Vegetable carving, Fruit Carving
- Non-food Art – Ice Sculptor, dough sculptors, butter and tallow sculptors all used as centerpieces for cold buffets
Salads can be divided into three sub-categories: Tossed, Composed and Bound. The most common tossed salad is undoubtedly a green salad made up of a variety of greens and lightly tossed with an oil and vinegar based dressing. Composed Salads are salads that are laid out in a decorative manner and then served drizzled with dressing or dressing served on the side for the guest to use. Bound salads are salads that mixed with a dressing that binds all of the ingredients together – think chicken or tuna salad. Bound salads can be served as is on a bed of greens, in sandwiches or as an hors d’oeuvre such as a single bite serving presented on spoons, as shown in the image above. Two of the most important concepts for this category that I cover are the ratio of oil to vinegar, 3 to 1, to make a simple vinaigrette and the method for preparing mayonnaise to understand the emulsification process.
Canapes and tea sandwiches are very popular and used for butler-passed appetizers, on a buffet or served on platters as is done in a classic tea party. Canapes are normally made with three components with a standard ratio of a 1/3rd base such as a croustade, 1/3rd spread, 1/3rd main item or garnish. In my class, I offer alternative ideas for bases such as tartlettes, choux puffs, crisp wontons, puff pastry, phyllo pastry, and vegetables. When combined with all of the spreads such as compound butter or herb cream cheese mixtures along with delectable main items such as shrimp, smoked salmon, ham, beef tenderloin or caviar, to name but a few, the possibilities are endless.
Finger sandwiches and tea sandwiches are small dainty sandwiches which are larger than single bite canapes. They are normally two or three bites and usually built with fresh bread. Some examples are chicken salad, ham salad, egg salad or watercress cucumber, to name but a few.
Chilled, smoked and cured seafood covers a vast amount of specialties that include smoked salmon, poached seafood (shrimp and lobster), gravlox and the ever popular sushi. We cover these types of cold food in 2 class periods… not much time when you consider the vast amount of presentations and types of seafood that are served in this way.
Charcuterie is a time-honored traditional method for cooking, preserving, and utilizing all of the meat and organs from a pig after it is slaughtered. It includes pates, terrines, rillettes, and sausages of all types. Over time it has evolved into the practice of using other meats (such as game and poultry) and some seafood and vegetables as well. This topic is recently becoming popular again and is the sole subject of some books. A subcategory of Garde Manger, Charcuterie is a highly advanced skill that takes years to master. The methods that I cover in our class are forcemeats, of which there are four types, that are used for pates, terrines, and galantines. We also prepare a simple fresh sausage method so the students can learn the technique of how to stuff sausages into casings. We also discuss some of the other methods and ingredients used in the practice of Charcuterie.
Tray and platter design is like any other visual art form and it employs methods and techniques for laying out food in the most decorative eye appealing way. For this portion of the class, I discuss, draw out, show pictures and books that illustrate some of these basic concepts. These are the focal point, flow, slicing, serpentine, tin solder and the use of negative space.
Vegetable and fruit carving can be simple and yet quite effective if done correctly and used in the proper combination with various foods. By learning and practicing basic techniques one can start the journey to more complicated and elaborate presentations such as those used in Thai melon carving which has a history of being served to the royalty of Thailand hundreds of years ago. This food art form takes extreme skill and practice to become proficient.
Fruit and Cheese is a classic combination and is served in many different ways and presented in all types of banquets and receptions. We cover the steps of cheese production and some of the types of cheese that are produced arranged by texture. In the kitchen lab, the students learn some methods on how to display and serve it with fruit.
The last subcategory of Garde Manger is taught as an overview. This class focuses on centerpieces and sculpture or carvings and covers the methods used to produce ice carvings (the most popular of centerpieces) as well as dough sculpture and the history of tallow and butter sculpture which has fallen out of fashion and is rarely seen today.
In only sixteen class periods, the broad subject of Garde Manger can only be covered as an overview or in academic terms as an exploration class. Consider the fact that baking and pastry arts are taught in a two-year period due to the current interest of many of today’s students. The subject of Garde Manger takes just as much time to learn and master and can be every bit as artistic as those in the pastry arts field. Furthermore, it is a major sector of culinary arts. Hopefully, it will become more widely known again so as not to become the subject of another lost art form- that would be a shame!