March is a big month for art in New York City, with the launch of the Whitney Biennial, the recent Armory Show, Artexpo, and so much more. All this art on the walls has us thinking about art on the plate, which happens in restaurants across New York City every night of the week.
While the frilly garnishes and over-the-top plating of a few decades ago are no longer en vogue, top chefs still pay a great deal of attention to the color, structure and composition of each dish they create. One chef we’ve always thought a master of plating is Matt Lambert at The Musket Room, whose intricate dishes you can see below (and on his Instagram). We talked with Matt about the thought behind his creations, and how his entire restaurant supports each plate.
Tell us about one dish on the menu you think is particularly elegant.
There’s a quail that I do with bread sauce, pickled blackberries and roasted onions. The quail is cooked in two parts — the leg poached and then deep-fried, the breast roasted — and it’s plated with the bread sauce, berry jus and garnished with red ribbon sorrel and arugula flowers. It’s such a delicate bird, the jus has a rich color, and the red ribbon sorrel has a sourish, almost bitter note, which cuts the fat really well. Arugula flowers also work well with the plate in terms of color.
So those beautiful garnishes — red ribbon sorrel, arugula flowers — aren’t just ornamental. They work with the dish.
Oh, absolutely. Everything on the plate has a purpose. It’s all there for a reason.
What other edible flowers do you use?
Garlic flowers, consistently; onion flowers when I can, and marigolds. It varies with the season. Garlic flowers in particular add so much flavor — they really do taste like garlic, with all its intensity, but don’t have that long, lingering aftertaste.
And are you growing some of these garnishes onsite? We have a huge garden out back, and it’s the time of year when we’re about to replant and get ready for spring. Last year, we were still getting our bearings, planting the night before we opened. We did a few delicious things — a black mint ice cream with our own mint, a gazpacho where almost everything was from the garden. But this year, we’ve got that knowledge behind us, and know where everything grows best — we’re expanding from four small boxes to nine, using the walls and putting in trellises; every year it’ll get better.
Are there other chefs you think are particularly impressive platers?
Well, in my own kitchen, I try not to copy anyone — my style is my own. But when I look at what others do, I’m always blown away by Wylie Dufresne [wd~50]. You’ll see something on the plate, and try it, and think How did he do that? His plating is out-of-the-box, and I really, really admire that — he dares to be different.