NYC’s Contra restaurant has racked up its fair share of awards and rave reviews for its inventive menu, powerhouse flavor combinations, and beautifully plated meals. It’s hard not to be a little intimidated by what’s happening in their kitchen.
When we met up with Contra’s chefs Fabian von Hauske Valtierra and Jeremiah Stone to work on some recipes for our latest chef collaboration, they pulled the curtain back on the art of plating. Their technique and style is surprisingly pretty simple and really boils down to two key lessons:
Think about your guest
How will this dish actually be consumed? If you’re thinking about how your guest will dig in with their fork or spoon, you’re on the right track. Chef Jeremiah says, “One of the first things we think about is, ‘How is the guest going to enjoy the dish?’ Are they going to be able to get all of the flavors when they’re cutting into it? Is it going to be easy to fit it all on the spoon? Because if it’s hard to eat and it’s clumsy, you’re losing a lot of the idea transferred in the dish.”
Draw inspiration from your ingredients
Consider the shape, color, and texture of your ingredients when you’re plating. Playing with the features that are inherent to your dish can help your flavor and presentation feel elevated or come as a total surprise. Chef Fabián explained how they approach this at Contra: “The plating style at Contra is very minimal … So for example, the Little Gem salad that we’re doing is just a piece of Little Gem, but we wanted to come up with a way that it would be interesting, so it’s a play on the color green. It’s a Little Gem topped with a dressing of cooked Little Gem with pistachio and herb. It’s very simple – just one color – but you go into it and there’s the spice of the peppers, the notes from the herbs, the fattiness from the pistachio, and you get this complexity of textures and flavors that you wouldn’t really think too much when you see it.”
Keep these lessons in mind and see what you can assemble tonight. Need some inspiration or extra credit from Professors Fabián and Jeremiah? Check out the Made In x Contra kit, which includes some of their favorite recipes and hard-to-find shelf-stable ingredients that make basic proteins and produce look chic.