wagamama

There’s a regular conversation in our house regarding how vegetables should be cut.

My partner will be perfectly honest and say she just doesn’t care. But me, I’m more picky and insist on chopping a courgette or carrot on the diagonal and, as I do most of the cooking, diagonal is the norm .

Sharon will occasionally ask why I do this; my stock answer is “Because it tastes better.” I have absolutely no proof that this is in any way true and I’ll keep you posted if Heston Blumenthal gets in touch to prove my conjecture (his kitchens are obviously working flat out on this very matter as we speak*).

If it helps my case, I once did have a lengthy Twitter conversation along these lines with (now deceased and sadly missed) Simon Johnson, who steadfastly agreed that all sandwiches taste better cut on the diagonal with the exception of the bacon and/or sausage butty – egg inclusion regardless – which must always be cut at 90 degrees or thereabouts.

wagamama tend to agree with me as well. The chain of Japanese and noodle restaurants are a brand that I am very fond of, as proven by the fact I’m going a stint of their word of mouth marketing right here. I like the open “canteen” feel, the communal tables, the bustle of the open kitchen and the lack of disapproving tuts when one picks up the near-empty bowl of ramen and slurps down the last fragrant mouthfuls before wiping your chin.

I am an advocate of the brand in that I have always had a very good experience in their restaurants; I have their app on my iPhone even though I live 80 miles from the nearest outlet and, perhaps as a result, own the wagamama cookbook so that I might try to re-create my favourite dishes in my own home (which I can’t).

“The desire to make each dish visually appealing ensures a lot of attention is paid to the way things are chopped” the book explains amongst the first handful of pages. “The wagamama manuals show exactly how a spring onion, sweet potato or piece of swordfish should be cut. Perfect presentation at home may not be quite so critical at home, yet to the eye a spring onion or carrot cut on the diagonal looks far more attractive than one cut on the square.”

What right-minded designer wouldn’t afford themselves a wry smile at those words? The deliberate craft involved in preparing a humble vegetable to make a dish so much more visually appealing. Granted, fine dining establishments have been doing this for centuries but here we are talking about something which is fast food or even street food brought indoors.

“As a general rule, we try to avoid right angles whether slicing meat or vegetables.” This is taking brand guidelines into the kitchen and I for one love it.

Don’t be confused, this isn’t just a Macdonald’s approach here – we know how good they are at serving the same food across the globe – but this is the preparation of fresh food, cooked to order from scratch, quickly and in relatively large volumes. Having nailed-down guidelines ensures consistency across all the restaurants and there are no doubt equally detailed portion control guidelines which has obvious wastage and economic benefits.

But there has to be more of a reason for wagamama’s chefs cutting their ingredients this way? Cutting on the diagonal is a more mindful exercise, it needs to be thought about as it feels more human nature to cut squarely. If it’s more mindful, more considered, then it takes more time which in the hospitality/service industry is critical. And back to the root of this, does it make the food taste any better? I’m pretty certain it doesn’t, but please don’t tell Sharon…

Has wagamama simply been hoodwinked by some flight of fancy by a creative minded chef or marketing team? Is the diagonal slice the unspoken tagline? Is it a design element that has been forced upon the wagamama kitchens to appease a brand manager and his agency?

Thankfully it would appear not. “Cutting on the diagonal means you expose a greater surface area of the ingredient to heat during stir frying, so it cooks very fast.”**

It would appear that the time honoured approach still holds true, form does indeed follow function even in something so humble as the carrot or spring onion.

So what has this got to do with the price of noodles?

Not a great deal, but it did get me thinking about how we, Plain Creative, like to tackle our projects which is often at odds with some of our peers. That business benefit (cooking the ingredients quicker) is what hooks us and gets us our grey matter working. We’re not saying that our approach is always right but we sleep well at night knowing that we’re tackling projects from a sound footing and offer solutions that might be simple – like cutting on the diagonal – but will have a long term benefit to the business and, ultimately, enhance the standing of the brand.

If the diagonal chopping didn’t help the food cook quicker, would it still be part of wagamama’s brand? If you have something which is part of your brand which doesn’t bring any business benefits, should it still be there? Maybe a question for another Blog posting to tackle.

Enough already, back to it – chop, chop!

* Possibly not.

** I very rarely cook stir fry, but I still cut on the diagonal and I’ll also insist it simply tastes better.