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 time around: Tyson Cole and Philip Speer of Uchi and Uchiko. Check back in for more dish design from Chefs Cole and Speer. – Ed.
The Dish: Black and White
Watch the dish come together here.
I really like to do monochromatic desserts—dishes that are all red, all yellow. So I was thinking about a dish that was all white, but with a dark black in there to make it pop. And I also started thinking about doing a dish with lots of surprising visual and flavor or texture contrasts: You’d look at something and expect it to be creamy, only to have it be crunchy. Or you’d see it and guess it might be a certain flavor, but have it actually be something very different.
So with white and black, maybe your first guess is that it’d be vanilla and chocolate, but the flavors here are really a play on one of my favorite Thai dishes: tom kha soup. I was playing with coconut milk and jasmine rice and then added lots of elements of a Thai curry paste—galangal, kaffir lime, chile, tamarind that brought a savoriness to the dish, but that lend themselves very well to dessert.
The cool thing about this dish is how simple it looks, how stark in its presentation, but when you eat it, the flavors are all very bright, very different, things you wouldn’t necessarily expect. It’s a lot of fun, but I try never to do anything that’s about ego, that’s for me, that isn’t accessible and delicious. Coconut, ginger, lemongrass lend themselves very well to dessert. But I hope people will get the reference to tom kha.
The sauce brings the dessert all together and balances it: I roasted tamarind and tomato together, and blended it up with palm sugar and a little squid ink, which gives it that black color and a little extra savoriness. Visually, I wanted it to be—I hope this doesn’t sound pretentious—but I wanted to make it look dramatic. So I literally threw the puree on the plate, to have that splatter and make it stand out.
Basil infused-coconut milk cream
This is almost like a panna cotta. It’s coconut milk steeped with lemongrass and basil, set with gelatin, and then whipped to give it a little height. I freeze it on a sheet tray to give it a firmer texture, and then break off the edges to give it a jagged look.
Crispy galangal-lime foam
Galangal is one of the basic flavors of tom kha, so I wanted to feature it, with a little more acidity from lime. I tried doing this as a traditional meringue with egg whites, but doing it as an eggless meringue made it lighter; it dissipated more quickly in the mouth.
The puree is on the plate already, but it’s kind of flat there, and I wanted you to get some of these savory flavors with the coconut cream and the meringue, so I just dropped a little more on top. And visually, the black pops a little more.'
When most people think of curry power, they think of turmeric, cumin, etc. But this is more like the components of a Thai curry paste, a mixture of galangal, ginger, kaffir lime, thai chile, white pepper, coriander, cardamom. It’s got a sweet heat and herbaceousness that carries through the dish.
With a black and white plate, I wanted another visual white component. How do I bring in these flavors and still keep it white? So I infused an oil with all those flavors, strained it, and finished it with tapioca maltodextrin, which absorbs fat and makes it a powder.
Spooning it on, it’s almost a snowy kind of thing. It kind of cascades from one level onto the next, a little over the black.
Jasmine rice sorbet
When you look at a tom kha, you don’t necessarily eat rice with it, but you eat rice as part of that meal. So it made sense to have the flavor of jasmine rice in this dish. I toast the raw rice with kaffir lime leaves buried in to perfume it, and those two floral flavors really play well against the other elements on the plate. When you turn it into a sorbet with a PacoJet, though, it lightens the color, so I knew it would still come out white.