Chef Jamie Simpson of the Culinary Vegetable Institute agrees with that philosophy, and also compares the empty plate to a blank page. “Is an empty plate a blank canvas or a blank page?” he asks. “Are chefs painters or storytellers? Do their culinary compositions flow from a palette or a pen?”
In either case, it’s the ingredients of the dish—how they’re chosen, prepared, and presented—that provide the artistic components needed for a delightfully satisfying and visually appealing—even stunning—dish.
Key Elements of a Dish
Flavor is what’s most important to the chefs we talk to (and we’re happy to report that our regeneratively farmed vegetables, microgreens, fresh herbs, and more are chock full of flavor and nutrition alike).
Other important elements, ones that help you to paint your own unique canvas, are the sizes, shapes, and colors of your ingredients. As Executive Chef Zane Holmquist from Stein Eriksen Lodge has shared in a post about our sorrel, “The varieties in size is fantastic, and the varieties in color are fun.” In other words, the sorrel palette is diversely beautiful.
Chef Jamie points out the importance in balance when creating a dish and plating it. This includes the culinary techniques used, but also the following: “Balance can also be in colors or flavors—flavors of high acidic notes, and deep, dark, charred, alkaline notes. It can be a balance of color—greens, blues, purples, pinks, yellows—whatever. And if there’s a certain amount of pastel to a color, then that level of pastel can be applied to other elements in the dish, which is really fun. Usually achievable by just adding milk or cream.”
Here’s insight into gorgeous plating from another chef—Bradley Kilgore—who participated on a panel at Roots 2017, titled “The Art of the Meal: Ingenious New Plating Ideas.” On that day, Chef Bradley told Jamie that he thinks of his dishes as edible mosaics, edible pieces of art, forward-thinking presentations that are sometimes interactive experiences for his guests. Food preparation, he explained, can also be like poetry, where you use ingredients to create your own ink to provide the flavor and presentation you want.
Here, Chef Jamie collaborates with Certified Master Chef Rich Rosendale to create artistically exquisite plates.
Creative Plating Techniques
Just like with a piece of art on a piece of canvas, culinary artistry can be minimalistic with plenty of white space, or more complex, perhaps based on shapes. Or, it can tell a story, such as when Jamie created a sea urchin ice cream dish that gave the appearance of the creature crawling along the floor of the ocean.
Why is so much time and attention being given to plating and presentation? Here’s Jamie’s explanation. “If an ingredient is precious, then I believe you should treat it that way. Don’t just consider it a garnish.”
Choosing Exactly the Right Ingredients
The ingredients needed to create a piece of culinary artistry will vary by the dish, of course—which in turn often vary by season. To help with your winter dishes, we’ve created the Winter Festival Blend. Why "Festival? The Winter Festival Blend is a celebration of time and place and what is in season as we walk through the garden now. This is a delicious mixture of seasonal leaves, ones that come in a variety of intriguing shapes, textures, and colors. More specifically, this versatile blend contains equal parts of:
mixed beet blush
loose baby spinach
loose ultra mixed kale
ultra exotic kale
Creation of the Winter Festival Blend
This blend of deliciously edible leaves was imagined by Chef Jamie, who started out by reminiscing about the marvelous flavor profiles of late fall and winter—from braised meats to game, preserved fruits, brown butter, spices, and much more. He then created a list of regeneratively farmed ingredients from The Chef’s Garden that would complement those seasonal items.
Naturally enough, that list was too long. So, he whittled down the list and ultimately decided to create a blend of leaves that offers up the flavors and visual beauty of the season.
“I would use this leaf sampler,” he said, “in a variety of ways. All of the ingredients, for example, can be lightly steamed, fried crispy, dried, dressed—or just served deliciously raw. In fact, other than desserts, I can’t think of a single seasonal dish that this mix doesn’t lend itself to. I can imagine pulling one of each kind of leaf from the package and gently dressing them. Or, bringing all of them together to contribute to a single dish.”
Restaurants can also use this blend in the kitchen in a different way. Chefs can taste test each leaf in it to find the perfect leaf to complement individual dishes in the winter menu.
The mixed beet blush, for example, adds sweet, rich, hearty, earthy flavors to dishes while also adding a pleasantly crisp layer of texture. Plus, these slender leaves provide you with intriguing opportunities to paint your canvas, coming in eye-catching colors, including bright yellow with hot pink veins, magenta, gold, and light pink and yellow.
Farm-fresh spinach, meanwhile, is one of our signature crops, and we offer numerous deliciously sweet varieties. Our kale is hearty, flavorful, and crunchy—ideal for winter dishes—with our exotic variety coming in multiple hues: deep purple, emerald green, and a milky lavender. Our hibiscus leaves? They have a striking red hue in the shape of a Japanese maple leaf, adding tart touches to creative dishes and visual contrast on the plate.
The Chef and Farmer Concept®
At The Chef’s Garden, we are here to be your personal farmer, and will grow virtually anything for you that your creativity inspires—including delicious and nutritious crops that also provide the paint for your canvas.
We are genuinely proud of the deep and authentic relationships we have developed with the chefs we have worked with over the years. We are relentlessly devoted to delivering to a chef exactly what he or she requires.
Innovation is a guiding principle at the farm and we are continuously developing new product sizes, colors, textures, and flavors for you to taste that we hope will galvanize your imagination, spark a fresh idea, and keep your guests marveling at the dishes you serve them in your restaurant. We are also always on the lookout for heirloom vegetables sourced the world over that are unique, extraordinary, and have an enticing story to tell.
We invite you to try our new Winter Festival Blend and to choose what other farm-fresh crops will serve as the foundation of your culinary artistry.