What Does it Take to Design the Ideal Dish?

Chefs from Gaskins in Germantown and Clock Tower Grill in Brewster share the necessities in building a balanced plate.

What exactly is it that makes a perfect dish? Is it the quality of an heirloom ingredient, or adding the right measure of salt to enhance each flavor’s note? According to Chef Nick Suarez at Gaskins in Germantown, it’s all of it. “Balance and harmony are crucial,” says Suarez, “just like writing a song, all the flavors have to be in tune.”

If you’ve eaten at any one of the Valley’s top restaurants — where meals are carefully plated and each bite marks a separate perfect tone — your initial reaction may be that creating this culinary cacophony is easier said than done. But as the classically trained chefs at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park advise, it’s as simple as composing the ingredients’ consistencies. 

Suarez describes this parity by citing the construction of a Caesar salad: It starts with an ultra-rich dressing made up of mostly fats. This would be overwhelming on the palate if not balanced by piquant tastes of garlic or lemon juice. Similarly, the selection of greens must be carefully thought out. Something flimsy, like arugula, would fall unnoticed. The dish needs something sturdy — such as the locally sourced romaine leaves used at Gaskins — to hold the structure up.

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Rich Parente, co-owner of Clock Tower Grill in Brewster, seconds this wisdom. “You need the right ingredients first,” says Parente, “and then to make sure it all makes sense.” He believes the most crucial components to consider are the meals’ sweet, salt, acidic, and savory notes. And of course, “having the tools to execute the dish and, most importantly, passion and love.”

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