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StarChefs

On the Plate:
Notable Presentations from Matthew Lightner of Castagna – Portland, OR

by Amanda McDougall with photos by Antoinette Bruno
vol. 24
May 2010

If the budding Portland culinary scene is known for anything, it's their farm-to-table ethos and rampant in-house charcuterie programs. This rustic, down-to-earth style typically doesn't lend itself to overly elegant and whimsical plating. But Chef Matt Lightner of Castagna makes natural-rustic extraordinary.

Castagna

Portland, OR
Bay Scallops with Fresh Almonds, Rhubarb Juice, Chicory, and Lovage

Lightner presented this dish to us in the midst of Spring, mid-April; its bright green, vivid pink, and shades of white captured the essence of the season all on their own. Beyond the beautiful hues, Lightner’s nimble touch and careful placement of chicory and tiny white blossoms made the ingredients come alive—like the scallops, almonds, and garnishes were washed into a pink tidal pool; softly jumbled together.

Castagna

Portland, OR
Seared Squid with Charcoaled Vegetable Purée, Wild Wood Sorrel, and Meyer Lemon Pulp

Charcoaled vegetable purée imitates black squid ink in this dish; a swish of black streaked across an oblong, smooth rock-plate give the whole composition a decidedly natural, beachy feel. Not afraid to show off the inherent beauty of the whole squid, Lightner sears the body and tentacles on a Jade plancha and serves them whole, garnished simply with bright green wild wood sorrel.

Castagna

Portland, OR
Morels with Foraged Vegetables, Malt Crumble, Slow Cooked Duck Egg Yolk, Pine Nuts, and Chicken Skin

‘Morels in their natural habitat’ is the idea behind this forest-like presentation; Lightner’s forager brings in wild nettles, miners lettuce, wild yaro, along with the morels. Beyond the marvel of the arrangement itself and the gorgeous wood platter, there’s a lot of planning and preparation behind this au natural dish. Between Chef Lightner, his team, and their forager, they pick anywhere from 30 to 40 varieties of herbs, and then carefully clean and sort them into tiny containers to be ready for service and quick plating.

Castagna

Portland, OR
Salsify Licorice Root with Crumbled Almond Streusel, Black Olive and Licorice Crumble, and Tahitian Vanilla Ice Cream

On a trip to Manhattan, Lightner was inspired by a piece of beautiful licorice root in a well-known chef’s treasure chest of a shop called SOS Chefs. Since licorice root is inedible, the chef replicates black licorice rope with grated salsify and cooked down into a gel with licorice root, spices, and cocoa replacer to give it the dark, almost black color—an unusual hue in food, particularly for pastry. The resulting gel is piped onto a white plate for stark, modern contrast; almond streusel and black olive-licorice crumbles nestle against the rope with a quenelle of vanilla ice cream.