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StarChefs

On the Plate:
The Architecture of New York (Plating)

by Francoise Villeneuve with photos by Antoinette Bruno and Shannon Sturgis
vol. 27
August 2011

These six New York chefs and pastry chefs range in their plating styles from whimsical (Antonio Bachour) to naturalistic (Jason Lawless), but they all have an appreciation for architectural principles. Stability and form are fundamental tenets of plating and architecture, unless you want that ice cream quenelle (or tower) tumbling into your diner’s lap (or main city square). And just as modernist architecture unites various perspectives within an aesthetic theme, these chefs play with different forms and shapes, with results eerily reminiscent of modern architectural landmarks.

And since New York is known for her stunning architecture, it’s only natural that New York chefs and pastry chefs would come up with something monumental when it comes to dish presentation.

Ai Fiori

New York, NY
Ippoglosso: Line-caught Atlantic Halibut, Morel Mushrooms, Asparagus, Hollandaise, and Foie Gras

“I enjoy this dish from directly above,” says Chef Chris Jaeckle of Ai Fiori. We have to agree—the pea-green asparagus, and volcanic black morels constitute the only two colors of the dish, but it’s beautifully composed, allowing the peas and morels to speak for themselves, heralding the spring. The colors remind us of those white stone cottages in the English countryside that almost appears to have grown out of the earth, surrounded by lush green foliage and dark, damp earth, or Portugal’s Stone House—there’s an organic element to the structural aesthetic of the dish. Strips of asparagus punctuated by sprigs of chervil are draped over the alabaster-colored halibut like leafy vines clinging to the façade.

Plate from Rosenthal Epoque

Tocqueville

New York, NY
Wagyu Beef Tartare with Pickled Garden Vegetables, Soft Egg Yolk, Horseradish Vinaigrette, Truffle, and Parmigiano Reggiano

Chef Jason Lawless has an artistic hand when it comes to dish presentation—the tartare is cut into fairly large pieces, so, when molded, the meat almost lies like bricks (think MIT chapel). The pickled vegetables add a much-needed levity that plays nicely against the clean, crisp shapes of the rest of the tartare. The mounds of egg yolk are colorful and naturalistic, even within the confines of the linear plating. And the golden touches of egg yolk brighten the dish and draw the eye along the wall of vegetables.

Plate from Fortessa

wd~50

New York, NY
Fried Moroccan Spice Cake with Tamarind Ice Cream, Stripped Corn, Compressed Pineapple and Coconut, Coriander Sauce, and Micro Celery

Pastry Chef Malcolm Livingston’s dish is seemingly haphazard with a meandering quality, yet it still maintains visual balance through structure. A variety of levels on the plate—from the base to the milky froth that tops the fried spice cake—give the plating range and visual interest. The white of the corn powder and plate contrast with bright yellow stripped corn, counteracting the typical bland brown-ness that often plagues fried dishes. Micro celery and coriander sauce garnishes add diversity to the shapes and heights on the plate. The playful, rough and tumble structure is very Where the Wild Things Are.

Plate from Guy Degrenne

Quattro

New York, NY
Baked Passion Fruit Meringue Sandwich with Coconut Sorbet, Passion Fruit Gelee, Basil Syrup, and Passion Fruit Pearls

Antonio Bachour loves a classic, and this coconut and passion fruit combination is a favorite of his hometown, Miami. But when it comes to presentation, there’s a fabulous sense of fun and whimsy to his platings. The variety of heights and shapes on the plates— all arranged in an orderly fashion—define this plating, bringing to mind the style of Mexican architect Javier Senosiain. The meringue sandwiching a snail-shaped passion fruit curd reminds us of Senosiain’s Nautilus House; Bachour’s colorful aesthetic plays on the same balance of shape, texture, height, and light that the tiny rounds of colored glass do in Senosiain’s building. Dabs of basil syrup add naturalism to the plate, rooting the whites and brights with a dose of grassy green.

Plate from Crate & Barrel

Ciano

New York, NY
Dark Chocolate Tasting: Dark Chocolate Mint Crème Brûlée, Milk Chocolate Mousse Cake, Hazelnut Dacquoise, Cocoa Nib Tuile, Aerated Dark Chocolate with Olive Oil, Stracciatella Ice Cream, and Passion Fruit Sauce

Like the Spanish building L’Hemisferic in Valencia, Bjoern Boettcher’s dessert balances curves and lines with mathematical precision, but also with style and soul. There’s an angular sort of symmetry to the way the crème brûlée wedge, mousse cake, and ice cream balance the plate—each shape is different, but there’s harmony as they come together in a cohesive design. Many chocolate desserts resign themselves to a one- or two-toned flatness; and so many browns on a plate can hint at unpleasant images, as Cake Wrecks proves daily. But Boettcher brings contrasts in texture, color, and form to the plate, making for a lively presentation that leaves some of the other chocolate desserts we’ve seen in the dust.

Plate from Steelite

Veritas

New York, NY
Peaches and Cream: Peach Cobbler, Buttermilk Ice Cream, and Saffron Gelée

Pastry Chef Emily Wallendjack’s plating of a homey dish—cobbler—is a lesson in taking the quotidian and making it elegant. The height and crisp shape of the strudel ring offer contrast to the soft crumble of the cobbler topping and bright saffron jelly mounds. The ring creates an arch effect, with the grace of Detroit’s Circle of Labor (yes, we know, Detroit and elegance don’t always come in the same sentence, but seriously, how simple and elegant is that classic stone arch?). There is nothing haphazard here—everything from the clean quenelle of buttermilk ice cream to the crumble that anchors it has a purpose.

Plate from Bernardaud