“Chefs are composers, and food is their opus…”
Charleston City Paper’s winter edition of The Dish dropped last month. Inside this dining guide de Charleston, writer Susan Cohen shares a glimpse inside the mind of a few local chefs-slash-artists. In her article, “The Art of Taste”, Cohen gets some insight into the creative process behind developing a menu. Our Executive Chef Marc Collins, Nate Whiting of Tristan, Emily Cookson of Charleston Grill, and Ken Vendrinski of Trattoria Lucca, show us how it’s all done.
“At Circa 1886, chef Marc Collins and his staff go through a drawing process for new dishes, making sure the individual components work on the plate. They make notes, weigh the pros and cons of garnishes, and come up with flavor profiles. “It’s just an evolution of what ingredient to go to next,” Collins explains. “To me, putting the plate together … like any great painter, they think out their process prior to it, they visualize it in their head, and then they put it on paper.” He confesses that he doesn’t even taste his dishes before he writes recipes. Instead, he visualizes them in his head. “I can figure out which goes with what, and I can write the dish and I know the dish,” he says. “You do it enough times, you know that.”
That was the case for the bison short rib ($30), a highlight of Circa’s winter menu and comfort food in its purest sense. “At the same time, I want [customers] to be like: I don’t think I would have ever thought to put those ingredients together, but I understood all the ingredients and they worked very well together and I got what the chef was trying to do,” Collins says. “I like to push people to the edge. I don’t like to push them over.”
The tender short rib is playfully tied around the bone in the fashion of an osso bucco, a whimsical presentation that hints at the thought process behind it — it’s a short rib, but elevated, served over a braised stew of rice beans (instead of, more obviously, actual rice). Colorful cubes of diced celery and carrots, along with pearl onions, add a compelling crunch to the otherwise soft meal, while a brilliantly veiny and green leaf of Savoy cabbage brings a dramatic bang of color to a plate. “We think in our heads color-wise, we’re brown on top of brown. So we need to go with something bright,” Collins says.
A horseradish foam, besides being a classic complement to red meat, helps cut the richness of the dish. It’s also finished with a few dollops of Greek whipped yogurt, adding a velvety, creamy balance and a hint of tang. “We can’t just be the status quo,” Collins explains. ‘You’ve got to give a little ingenuity to what you put in your dish to make it stand out.’”
Read the article in its entirety and learn about Chef Collins’ “boxed” creative process.
This delicious edition has earned a permanent spot on our coffee table. Make sure you pick up an issue for yourself. Thank you, City Paper for the artful article.