VALDOSTA – The local art scene consists of theatre, painters, photographers and musicians – all of whom may be considered typical mediums to most people.
Art also comes in forms not traditionally thought of including restaurant chefs, caterers and chef-instructors.
This report explores the artistic aspect of those chosen careers.
Taste drives the dishes on the Friends Grille and Bar menu.
Though presentation is secondary, chefs at the Valdosta eatery focus on color when plating.
“We really focus hard on wanting that plate to look delicious,” said Randy DeCoudres, co-owner.
Mental concepts assist chefs with crafting dishes that not only cook well but also plate well together.
Seasonal vegetables are useful for color considerations. The color diversity adds contrast.
“When you think of that from an artistic standpoint, with each season, comes different colors of vegetables (and) different shapes of vegetables,” DeCoudres said.
Spring lends itself to green veggies such as asparagus and peas while summer offers reds and yellows such as tomatoes and squash. Winter brings browns such as braised foods.
Restaurants may utilize chopped herbs for garnishes. Friends makes use of Italian flat leaf parsley.
“We may finish a dish with a sprinkle of rosemary or fresh basil,” DeCoudres said. “We like to sprinkle toasted sesames over a dish or maybe thinly chopped chives or green onions just to give a little pop of color.”
Garnishes serve the purpose of color while adding brightness to dishes.
Fried ribs with sweet mustard and green onions are on the Friends menu.
“The green onions create some nice color on the plate but that little bit of soft, kind of sweet, onion flavor against the rich ribs and the sweet honey mustard, I think, adds something nice to the dish,” DeCoudres said.
Painters work on canvases while chefs produce their masterpieces on bowls and plates. The shape of the dish is complementary to the appearance.
Not an afterthought, the type of dish used is dependent upon the cuisine it will hold; the thickness of the sauce and accessibility to ingredients, for example.
DeCoudres said restaurant chefs find inspiration and excitement in receiving new cooking materials, such as pots or cooking tools, similar to artists who receive new brushes or canvases.
DeCoudres co-owns Manwell-DeCoudres Restaurant Group with Chris Manwell. The two also own Salty Snapper Seafood and Oyster Bar and Woodstack BBQ Tavern.
Next Round of Chefs
Prior to chefs tossing ingredients and serving tasteful meals in busy restaurant kitchens, they must first receive an education.
Chef Hunter Wills is a culinary arts instructor at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College.
At Wiregrass, he teaches students about the math and science aspects of culinary arts. The course also focuses on presentation and flavor.
“The artistic side comes through practice and interpretation,” Wills said. “Those two things put together are what makes chefs, not cooks.”
He said a person enters the realm of culinary arts due to his or her desire to please others.
“What better way to do it than through food,” he said.
Being a chef is a profession one can take anywhere in the world, Wills said. With no boundaries, the chef-instructor said it’s all centered on what chefs can create in their minds.
His students’ creativity shows in dishes such as a frosted cake dessert with melted chocolate sauce or pork ribs garnished with sesame featuring a sweet soy glaze.
Wills said he leads a series in his course that spotlights plating. He stresses the importance of color to his students.
“I tell them to take inspiration from the ordinary. Look at nature, what are the colors that are beautiful to you,” he said.
Grays and earthy greens are not aesthetically appetizing.
While color is essential, Wills said he believes height, temperature contrasts and textures are artistic traits.
“The beautiful thing about height in a dish, it gives some visual focal point to draw your eyes,” he said. “Generally, you want that to be the main focus on the plate. In most cases, that’ll be the protein because that’s what people are paying for.”
Wills believes the protein is the star of the dish like a steak meal with accompaniments.
“But all the supporting characters make it a great play,” he said. “If the supporting cast does nothing to enhance the plate, then it just looks like a meat and three.”
Wills said he’ll stay away from symmetry while plating, a lesson he passes along to the culinary class. He prefers abstract appearances.
“It really is taking a white plate as your blank canvas,” he said. “I was told to never color inside the lines and I’ve passed that along to them. This is your opportunity to learn and create.”
Culinary creativity is based on layering flavors – and knowing which flavors pair well – and understanding chemical reactions, the chef said.
“You’re going to eat with your eyes first, and this is truth,” Wills said. “But then you’re actually going to eat. It needs to taste good. It needs to make sense.”
Visit wiregrass.edu to learn more information about its culinary arts program.
Performing a Service
Catering – much like other culinary professions – centers itself on creativity, presentation and taste.
Sue Cox, owner of Covington’s Dining and Catering, said she believes the artistic value extends beyond the food on the plate.
The presence staff puts into culinary service links catering to performance arts, Cox said.
“I try to have my people that work for me put on a nice presence,” she said. “I think when anybody goes on the stage, they want the persona of the character. The character I want my people to portray is somebody who cares.”
Though there are characters who serve catered meals, there are visual artists who create them.
Chefs and cooks have been working to cater to customers for nearly 30 years at Covington’s. The downtown eatery can serve up to 1,000 people.
Weddings, business meetings and rehearsal dinners are among the events the restaurant accommodates.
Reds, oranges, yellows and purples comprise fruit displays while other displays hold crackers and cheeses.
Dishes may mirror the color scheme of an event, such as a wedding.
“If I knew a wedding or a party was using turquoise and coral or oranges, then I’m going to put on that plate a papaya because it picks up that orange,” Cox said, adding she may reflect the turquoise color in a table cloth.
Finishing garnishes on colorless foods such as mashed potatoes or grits help to make them more attractive.
Covington’s considers proportions in its plating.
Comprehending correct proportions stems from the art of understanding customers, Cox said.
“The key to our success, I think, is knowing our customers and the staff,” she said.
Call (229) 242-2261, or visit covingtonscatering.com, for more information.