Colour. Flavour. Texture. Fragrance

By Catherine Lawson

Ever wondered how to take your cooking to the next level without expensive gadgets, rare ingredients or a masterclass? It’s easier than you might think.

Colour, flavour, texture and fragrance are what we like to call the four pillars of creative cooking. When you focus on these four elements your connection with food changes as you start to engage the senses and bring joy back to the table. And let’s be honest, eating, whether by yourself or with others, should be a joyous moment in your day. Reconnecting with your food, by focusing on the four pillars of creative cooking, is a form of mindfulness in action as you increase your awareness of the different components on your plate and start to more fully appreciate how they work together. Regardless of your confidence or your level of skill in the kitchen it is possible to elevate your meals from beige to beautiful, impressing family, friends and yourself, with just a few simple tips and tricks.

Colour: we all like the occasional beige meal made up from freezer leftovers (remember those school night dinners from your childhood which included a potato waffle, a fish finger and a couple of chicken nuggets if you were lucky?) but nothing quite hits the mark more than a plate of food which is fresh, vibrant and brimming with eye catching colour. It’s one of the many reasons why plant-based cooking is so rewarding: most of the flashes of colour which bring food to life originate in the plant world. Think bright pink pickled red onions, glossy red peppers, citrus wedges, grated carrots, edible flowers, fresh green herbs and deep purple berries. The list goes on… Adding any of these to a plate of food instantly splashes some sunshine on your plate and we react to colour in the most positive of ways when it comes to how we respond to food. Nature is bright, bold and beautiful and every fruit and vegetable, spanning all the colours of the rainbow, has its own unique nutritional profile so it’s not just about being a pretty face; these pops of colour are good for you too.

Flavour: once you get past the first glimpse of your food and move on to the first taste flavour is really what it’s all about. Have you ever been halfway through a meal and realised that it really isn’t very tasty and you’re not actually enjoying it but you’re ploughing on anyway? Bland, like beige, is not beautiful when it comes to food and it’s completely avoidable. This is where drizzles, dressings, dips and toppings come in and whether they’re store bought or home-made they’re a sure-fire way to pack a flavour punch into your food. Think of all the components you’ve enjoyed in different meals and start to work them into, or onto, your own cooking: hot sauces, dukkah, hummus dips, lemon and garlic mayo, pesto, chimichurri, zhoug, za’atar, toasted nuts, crunchy granola… Find simple recipes (all of these are straight forward to make) or seek them out in your local supermarket. None of them contain rare ingredients, even if the names might be unfamiliar, but all of them add a flavour bomb to fire up your food.

Texture: many of the flavour suggestions above help add texture too. Again, it can be very simple things you choose to add to your food to balance out those textures so that each bite delivers a more satisfying hit. Crunch is the most obvious texture to think about and sprinkling add-ons like dukkah, toasted nuts, granola, crispy fried onions or kale crisps can immediately transform a meal which might otherwise have been boring in its simplicity (let’s put boring in with bland and beige to be avoided) into something multi-dimensional and delicious.

Fragrance: too often this is the one we forget to include despite it being one of the first senses we engage when we’re eating and drinking. Who doesn’t love the smell of freshly ground coffee or freshly baked bread both of which can set our hunger signals on fire before we’ve taken a sip or a bite? A burst of citrus in a meal, the warm scent of fresh basil, a drizzle of sweet maple syrup, that glorious mixture of garlic roasted in olive oil – you get the picture. Our sense of smell is critical to our enjoyment of food.

So how does this all come together? Let me illustrate with a simple bowl of porridge.

In the bakery we serve’ loaded oats’, so named because we layer the base porridge with colour, flavour, texture and fragrance to elevate it from ordinary to extraordinary. How do we do this? We add cinnamon and salt to the oats (flavour) drizzle peanut butter on top (flavour and texture), sprinkle granola (texture), add blueberries and raspberries (colour) drizzle some maple syrup (texture and fragrance) and finish with a sprig of fresh mint (colour and fragrance). It’s all straight forward and it’s all easy to do but what a game changer it is when you start to include the four pillars of creative cooking in your day to day meals.

Are you ready to give it a go? Trust me: your food will never be the same again.

Catherine Lawson is the founder and operator of Barefaced Food, an award winning plant-based bakery and coffee house based in Ayr. Catherine’s lifelong passion for food and nutrition inspired her to make the shift from a teaching career to entrepreneurship in 2020. Her aim is to create food which showcases the joys and benefits of plant-based eating.