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The art of the plate

All chefs will say we first eat with our eyes. And most will tell you that while visualization is important, tastes and textures ultimately drive a dish.

With school in session, we asked Mark A. Mistriner, professor and chair of the Business and Hospitality division of Niagara County Community College Culinary Institute, if students actually learn how to design a plate. In fact, they do.

“Students are first instructed on proper ingredient identification, selection and correct cooking methods so that they understand the characteristics of each item on its own.”

From there, students move into appropriate pairings of the items together on a plate. They must take into consideration flavor, color, texture and portions.

“Nutritional balance, seasonality and responsible sourcing are highlighted, as well,” said Mistriner.

Students sketch out their ideas on paper beforehand for proper placements of components, color contrast and eye appeal. Finally, they select a plate shape and size to maximize the dish. The final test is to prepare the items and plate them according to their initial diagram.

“We critique it, then make adjustments. When the final adaption is reached we have them photograph the plate for their portfolios,” Mistriner noted.

So what are the professionals — long out of school — doing locally to create artful dishes? Buffalo Magazine asked six local chefs to select a dish and tell us how they arrived at the tastes and visual appeal. Here they are.

Savory Tart, Merge

439 Delaware Ave.
Mergebuffalo.com
Chef: Carl Derry

The savory tart is served as an appetizer or a small plate. Instead of filling the pastry with fruits, yogurts, or jams, Derry uses local chèvre from First Light Creamery and places it on top of a small spoonful of smoked apricot puree. The sweet smokiness of the puree breaks the richness of the cheese and adds character to the plate. On the side, asparagus frites complement the goat cheese and apricot flavors, and brings motion to the plate, Derry said. A Loganberry balsamic reduction adds a dark brown drizzle, which contrasts beautifully with the yellows and greens, and its acidity balances the flavors.

Garden Vegetable & House Made Cheese Salad, CraVing

1472 Hertel Ave.
Cravingbuffalo.com
Chef: Adam Goetz

Goetz loves this salad because everything on the dish is produced at the restaurant (except for the plate itself). This season CraVing began growing its own herbs and select vegetables. They also make a variety of cheeses, aging them in special cooler. For this dish, Goetz plates the ingredients flat, so the guest can see the fresh ingredients individually and come up with different flavor combinations; an “interactive” salad, so to speak. The concave rectangular plate allows juices from the tomatoes, along with the apple cider vinegar, to combine at the bottom of the plate to create a fresh vinaigrette.

Ginannone Chicken, The Lodge Bar & Grill

79 W. Chippewa St.
Thelodgebuffalo.com
Chef: Todd Lesakowski

The Lodge uses certified organic Giannone chicken from Quebec for this dish. The breast is pan roasted, while the leg is prepared confit style. Chef Lesakowski then artfully reconstructs the dish, adding braised mustard greens and a red cabbage choucroute of bright greens and purple, providing the plate with color. The Lodge uses a large square plate to allow the colors and height of the dish to be set against a white background with plenty of empty space to intensify the colors. Lesakowski said he likes white space on plates for visual appeal.

Warm Seasonal Vegetables with Fromage Blanc, Rue Franklin Restaurant

341 Franklin St.
Ruefranklin.com
Chef: Corey Kley

The Rue elevates what most think of as a side dish to a high point on the menu with this vegetable dish. Chef Kley uses a variety of vegetables, five herbs and three types of greens to produce a dish in which guests experience a different taste with every bite. Vegetables, which change based on availability from local farms, are cut in different shapes to maximize texture. Each is cooked differently; some are served raw. The house-made fromage blanc provides a creamy, rich element to contrast the vegetables. The last component — an Herbes de Provence crumble — adds crunch and an exotic element to the dish. It’s then topped with Lebanese extra virgin olive oil; light and fruity, it pairs beautifully with the rest of the dish. The dish is the purest expression of the Rue Franklin, showcasing the seasonality of the produce and respecting the vegetables and the work it took the local farmers to grow them.

Sato Ramen, SATO

739 Elmwood Ave.
Satobuffalo.com
Chef: Satomi Smith

Chef Smith’s bowls are similar to those used in Japan. The top fans out for practicality (guest can pick it up and drink, which is common in Japan) as well as creating a solid white boundary around the food. To create her thick umami soup base (the key to any ramen bowl) Smith simmers pork and chicken bones for hours. To serve, she uses a layering effect: the noodles go on the bottom, followed by slabs of chashu (marinated pork), bean sprouts, then beni-shoga ginger. The hanjuku tamago soft-boiled egg is placed on the side, and Negi leeks are cut at a sharp angle to give volume for height. The bright green leeks and bright red beni-shoga ginger add bold colors, while the egg brings in a nice yellow. Each ingredient is given its proper showcase and not buried, creating a well-composed dish.

Seasonal Vegetable Plate, Tabree Restaurant

4610 Main St., Williamsville
Tabreeonmain.com
Chef: Bruce Wieszala

Known for his “local meat centric” dishes (especially pork), Wieszala also appreciates the bounty of fresh local vegetables. He enjoys cooking for vegetarians, vegans, and people with dietary restrictions because the challenge is rewarding and guests are pleasantly surprised by his unique offerings. This dish is composed on slate, using a natural material that offers a striking contrast to the bright and colorful vegetables, allowing them to “pop.” All veggies, which come from local farms, are cooked using different techniques, and Wieszala then adds nuts and granola for texture. Ingredients can be omitted or replaced per a guest’s dietary restrictions or requests, and vegetable purées and different vinaigrette are used as “sauce.” Rather than stacking ingredients, Wieszala prefers guests to see what they are eating, so the food looks natural on the plate.

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