We’re thrilled to bring you our series, The Art of Plating, where we take you into the imaginations of chefs as they design and present their dishes. We show you how they do it, step-by-step, and let them explain their creative process in their own words—what’s going on in their heads as they put their food on the plate. This week: Wylie Dufresne, of wd-50, for over a decade one of the world’s true leaders in creative, boundary-pushing cuisine. Check back in through the week for more dish design from Chef Dufresne. – Ed
The Dish: Veal brisket, za’atar, plum, mustard
We’ve had a fondness over the years for pushing deli meats in a direction you don’t normally see them. We started with a corned duck, we had a dish of beef tongue with tomato molasses and fried mayonnaise. So when it was time to flip the menu, we thought along these lines again. I think our restaurant reflects New York City, and the deli is an important part of that.
The brisket on veal is pretty meager; it’s really thin. So we glue two of them together, cure them in maple, molasses, salt, sugar, and za’atar, cook, press, and chill them, and that gives us this nice, thick, uniform piece we can slice it like a proper cold cut.
The meat is so beautifully marbled, you want to serve it as a ham plate. So we slice it very thinly, like you would a cured ham, and that gives us an opportunity to play up “the tissue paper thing.” I think tissue paper is really beautiful when you crinkle it up and you see all these folds and layers. It’s also a handy way to plate sliced meat, since seeing it laid out flat makes you go, “Eh…”
Green and yellow beans
These beans are simply blanched. Looking at the plate from the diner’s angle, you can really see the peaks and valleys, the nooks and crannies in the folds of brisket, and we just tuck the beans into those.
We’re building off the idea of a deli sandwich, so onions are a natural partner. And since we have something very rich, well marbled, the dish can take some acidity. So we have these onions dressed in a lemon vinaigrette to give them a little punch. There’s a subtle semi-circle shape that’s starting to happen on this plate, with the beans at the bottom, so tucking two little tangles of onion at the top and bottom of the brisket kind of help that along.
I think it’s always nice, particularly in a restaurant that has a lot of manipulated food, to show things in their raw, natural state, so it doesn’t look and feel like “test tube food.”
In this instance, there’s a plum-based sauce on the plate, so we wanted to put fresh plums on the dish—they bring a cool, watery, fresh brightness. I like to give each chef some leeway in how they arrange and present the food, and here, I like that Chef Jon has one open fan of plum slices and two arrangements where he twisted the slices together to form cornets. That odd number and variation in shape makes it nice and striking.
Since we’re thinking about a sandwich, the next element you could certainly think of is mustard. Chef Sam made these, and they’re really fun—they have this beautiful, airy crunch, and then they dissolve right away in your mouth, but the flavor is pure mustard.
This is the component that kind of identifies that you’re at wd-50. It’s the surprising element, the one that seems out of the ordinary, the one that makes you think, “Ah, I’m eating a sandwich, but a very sophisticated one.” Or you could just eat the dish, enjoy it, and not think about it. I like that when you interact with food here, it can happen in layers.
This sauce is made by taking fresh and dried plums, honey, mustard, za’atar, beef stock and vegetable stock and just blending them together. It’s a very complex sauce—every element on the dish is reborn in the sauce—but it’s not screaming, “Check me out!” The layers are there if you care to find them, or otherwise, it can be just be the moisture on the plate.
Again, we formed asymmetrical dots by using a spoon. There’s a linear nature to the dots, and there’s some very defined geometry on the plate—the beans that look like jagged shards, for instance. But against the sharp corners and geometric shapes, I like that the randomness of the dots show a certain amount of “naturalism,” like a tree growing through concrete.
TOMORROW: Root beer ribs and a treasure box of peas and carrots