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This question was asked on English Language & Usage and deconstructed food is a term I'd never heard before.

One answer is that it is simply the constituent parts of a dish laid out separately on a plate allowing the consumer to reconstruct the dish manually as they eat it.

A second answer was put forward suggesting that deconstruction is taking an existing dish (or sauce), examining it's constituent parts and recombining them (or some of them) in a different way to get a similar (or better) complete dish.

Searching on the internet shows a lot of the former (simple deconstruct), even for complex dishes that are normally prepared as a unit, like beef Wellington and lasagne.

It's harder to find references for the latter (deconstruct, examine, improve, reconstruct) but this is one for deconstructed onion soup, which is most definitely a single bowl of soup.

Edit : After reading TFDs comment I think I might have misunderstood the 'deconstruction' of the onion soup above, I think it means step-by-step instructions rather than deconstructed soup so after another search I did find this wonton soup that uses the term deconstructed in the sense I meant.

So my question is...

Does the term deconstructed food really mean separated constituents or does it mean improved or simplified by inspecting the constituents and recombining them differently?

...or does it mean both ?

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A de-constructed onion soup should be a platter with a bowl of broth, a pile of slow roasted onions, some pieces of bread, and some melted sliced cheese :-) –  TFD Jul 7 at 6:02
    
@TFD I did find a deconstructed onion soup, just as you described. Please see my edit that has a link to a deconstructed wonton soup that better describes the second possible meaning. –  Frank Jul 7 at 6:53
    
@Frank The wonton link would be a pretty classic example of "separated constituents", it's kind of novel, but it's not some kind of brilliant improvement. 20 years ago the author of the recipe might have called it "Lazy Day Wonton Soup". –  Jolenealaska Jul 7 at 7:02
    
De-constructed wonton's with soup, awesome –  TFD Jul 7 at 7:04
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This deconstructed guacamole is another example of recombining. –  Peter Taylor Jul 7 at 9:03

3 Answers 3

up vote 5 down vote accepted

Does the term deconstructed food really mean separated constituents or does it mean improved or simplified by inspecting the constituents and recombining them differently?

Yes. (As in either can be correct)

It's about taking the various components of a dish and perhaps just separating them, or it may mean putting them back together in an unusual or novel way.

More than anything, "deconstructed" is a current, hip and trendy buzzword.

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+1 for calling it out as a buzzword. ;) –  FrustratedWithFormsDesigner Jul 7 at 17:39
    
I've accepted this one as it does seem from all the information that both meanings are in relatively common use. –  Frank Jul 8 at 5:45

Deconstruction is often seen being done by chefs, where lavish attention has been paid on each element, so when deconstructed food is seen it is often "improved" as you say. That doesn't mean it has to be though, deconstructed simply means that ingredients are cooked separately and then assembled when they would usually be cooked as a whole.

You could make a deconstructed dish with cheap ingredients and poor technique and have it come out just as awful as if you made it all together, deconstruction does not imply quality.

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I suspect "ingredients are cooked separately" is a big part of the de-construction benefits and presentation imporvements –  TFD Jul 7 at 7:02

In literature, "deconstruction" can mean "taking apart the pieces of a story and examining them in detail", or it can mean something more like "taking the usual building blocks of a story and twisting them in some way to draw attention to the assumptions we normally bring to a story". By analogy, deconstructing food can mean serving the pieces separately so you can savor the flavors independently or mixed to your pleasure, or it can mean taking the usual classic recipe and altering it to bring attention to some minor flavor note or make us re-examine how we view the dish.

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This is the actual origin of culinary term. Back in the 80s, "deconstructionism" was all the rage in the liberal arts. It was part of that whole post-modernism, textualism fad. IMHO, a rather creepy movement in which a vast array of intellectuals asserted they infer the real thinking of authors, artist and even scientist based on disassembling a work into its constituent symbolic components. The culinary manifestation arose when some Nouveau Cuisine dishes were represented as being a symbolically disassembled traditional dish. Much more successful concept in cooking than elsewhere, I think. –  TechZen Jul 7 at 22:05

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