Today’s most talented chefs combine a fervour for produce in its prime with a flair for aesthetics—to visually stunning results. Don Mendoza mulls over a few outstanding creations
Combining a fervour for seasonal produce with a flair for aesthetics, these top chefs redefine what it means to serve art on a plate
It has long been affirmed that we eat with our eyes first, which is also precisely why chefs pay such close attention to every element that goes on the plate—from the size and texture of the star ingredient to the colour and consistency of the accompanying sides and sauces—with the aim of serving an aesthetically appealing dish or a plate that expresses the chef ’s personal ode to the season.
The “natural” or spontaneous style of plating, where ingredients are seemingly randomly arranged to look effortlessly stunning, has evolved over the decades, but continues to appeal to the masses. Plainly put, there isn’t a lot a chef needs to do with a beautifully succulent cut of beef done just right—or, for that matter, a nicely pink, tender piece of duck breast glistening in its own jus, and served with an equally gorgeous supporting cast of puréed liver and roasted root vegetables. Jaan’s Kirk Westaway, for instance, prefers a minimalist approach.
His seemingly random positioning of the accompanying herbs and vegetables around a perfectly cooked lobster tail, placed in the centre, forces the diner to pause and contemplate the ingredients’ form and unique relation to each other—giving the often-overlooked radish or dogfennel a moment in the spotlight.
Similarly, Emmanuel Stroobant’s bespoke salad is at a glance an unadorned staging of the season’s prized vegetables. A closer look (and taste), however, reveals a complex assortment of treatments. The wild mushrooms are sautéed with a little soy and smoked butter, while the white Hokkaido corn is first steamed in its husk then grilled on a hibachi and brushed with lime oil. Pickled pearl onions are filled with a Cevennes onion puree, to star alongside roasted pumpkin and zucchini, basmati rice tuile for crunch and a puree of carrot and celeriac for added body.
A creative eye is key, but with the advent of modern gastronomy came new constructs, formations and, naturally, new textures and
palate pleasers to play with. Foams and edible “sand” and “snow” quickly became the norm, alongside a host of imaginative tuiles, jellies and meringues, to name a few.
STYLES AND STORIES
Others like Christophe Lerouy of Lerouy still apply some basic “rules”—such as the use of odd numbers. He also uses moulds, which lend an architectural aesthetic that he then builds on. Opting for a more abstract articulation of his beetroot salad, Andrew Walsh of Cure combines wild strokes and splashes with spheres and ribbons of beetroot that are first marinated in a reduction of beetroot juice, balsamic vinegar, sugar, olive oil and salt. The savoury side of fresh burrata ice cream, in this case, takes on a more central role—visually, at the very least.
Over at Béni, executive pastry chef Makoto Arami adopts a more romantic approach to plating his deconstructed
Mont Blanc, featuring chestnuts and sweet potato from Japan in a pretty portrait alongside the seasonal dessert by way of a variety of tasty interpretations—from almond dacquoise and lemon meringue to chestnuts fried in honey and butter, as well as some chestnut ganache with macadamia, all paired with a milk-and-nikka 12 Year
Old whisky ice cream. It’s Arami’s way of celebrating the memories of his childhood in Shiga Prefecture, assembled on a ceramic plate he made himself.
Looks too good to eat, you say? Why, that’s part of the ephemeral pleasure of dining on such culinary works of art.
SALT DOUGH-BAKED BEETROOT TARTARE WITH BURRATA ICE CREAM AND HORSERADISH GELÉE (OPPOSITE); CHOCOLATE TUILE, NITRO-FROZEN CRÉMEUX AND MOUSSE WITH PANDAN CURD AND COCONUT ICE CREAM