There comes a point in every series of Masterchef—right after the ridiculously difficult pastry tower challenge and shortly before the family montage vids—that contestants are overcome by some sort of internal culinary guru that tells them it is time to Get Serious. This newfound desire to Get Serious manifests itself not in y'know, maybe getting some practise in before the risotto round, but positioning their food on distressed wooden boards and carefully chipped bits of slate: basically anything that isn't your standard white plate. Because who wants to serve food on plates? That's so square. Unless the plates actually are square…
"It's my take on a classic French dessert," they say, presenting the judges with a deconstructed (read: dropped) Crème Brûlée, placed on what looks like an offcut from an IKEA bedside table.
And like the most infuriating of TV competition show quirks (you didn't think you started workin' it before watching RuPaul, did you?), the penchant for serving food on wooden boards has penetrated everyday life. Builders' yards must be crawling with gastropub owners searching for the perfect shard of MDF on which to place their special "rustic" burger. We're betting that last time you went for lunch with your parents, your dad looked to you with pleading eyes as his steak and kidney pie arrived on piece of crazy paving.
It's not that our dinnerware choices should be controlled by some sort of plate police. Who are we to begrudge a chef their chance to smear—sorry, delicately drizzle—raspberry coulis over a chopping board? The problem is that consciously quirky presentation methods so often mask bad cooking. If you're taking the time to arrange breadsticks in a miniature shopping trolley, chances are, they're not going to taste great.
Plategate's long-unspoken grip on the country reached critical point last week with the emergence of the We Want Plates Twitter account, a crusade against "food being served on bits of wood and roof tiles." Jam jar drinks can "do one too," apparently.
Suddenly, Twitter's legions of pro-plate diners had an outlet for years of suppressed fury. We Want Plates gained thousands of followers, many sharing their own plate-related woes. There were slices of toast balanced on logs, fry ups on shovels and a brownie seeping out over its wholly inadequate slate plinth. Marina O'Loughlin tweeted a photo of bread she'd been served in a flat cap (because, Yorkshire?).
Ross Mcginnes, a 40-year-old online content editor living in West Yorkshire, is the man behind We Want Plates. I spoke to him via email to find out more about the fight against food served on things which aren't plates.
MUNCHIES: Hi Ross, so what made you start We Want Plates? Ross McGinnes: I set the account up last week after a friend posted a picture of an average-sized steak on Facebook, which had been served to him on a large chopping board. It was captioned, unironically, "That is a big meal!" It wasn't a big meal. He'd fallen for all this style-over-content nonsense. I searched Twitter for an account which would allow me to vent my spleen with like-minded people, but found nothing. We Want Plates was born.
When did you first notice the trend of serving food on things that aren't plates? I was served a piece of cake on a table tennis bat in Barcelona around 2008, which still gives me sleepless nights. Ridiculous.
What do you do when you're not collating photos of food presented on household objects? I'm being made redundant in two weeks, so if anyone in that field has a vacancy feel free to DM me. I also tweet about my photography, which is where I go for a nice quiet half an hour away from the madness of We Want Plates.
What are some of the most ridiculous plate substitutes you've come across? The bread in the flat cap is my favourite. Sausage and mash in a wine glass, food in dog bowls, the Swiss practice of serving of bread in slippers, and the restaurant in America which just chucks all your spaghetti on the table—THE ACTUAL TABLE—and gives you a fork.
And it's not just plates that are being substituted for unsuitable objects. The drinks-in-jam-jars trend is still going strong… Jam jars inspire a lot of hatred. I'm actually surprised by how vexed some people are. Drinks in paint tins takes the biscuit, though. If I've forked out ten quid for a G&T, I don't want it served in a tin of Dulux Fast-Drying Wood Primer.
Don't you think that serving chips in plant pots and salad on trowels can give chefs a way to express their creativity? Ah, but what does the food taste like? It's style over content. Too much time is spent faffing around balancing six chips in a mini wheelbarrow, the flavour becomes secondary. Ask people what their extravagantly-presented meal tasted like: "It was OK".
Is there an end in sight to our obsession with serving food on roof tiles and bits of wood? It's all cyclical. In ten years, there'll be a We Want Boards group on whatever Twitter's been replaced by, posting pictures of white china plates.
And what a day that will be. Thanks for talking with me, Ross!
This post originally appeared on MUNCHIES in March 2015.