If you’ve scrolled through #yegfood on Instagram, you may have seen beautiful photos of Tryst Wine & Small Plates’ brussels sprouts with homemade cheddar crisps. Chef Zach Eaton says it’s his most popular dish and, whether or not Instagram plays a role in its popularity, it certainly plays a role in its creation.
“I’m often inspired by perusing Instagram and looking at interesting ways of putting food together, ways to cut a vegetable, and ways to bring a different texture to the presentation,” Eaton says. “When I’m working on developing the presentation of a dish, I like to take a picture of it to see how it would look to a potential customer on Instagram.”
Presentation is an important part of Tryst’s mandate, and the food certainly tastes as good as it looks. “We really take to heart the idea that you eat with your eyes first,” says co-owner Michelle McDonald. “Food needs to be beautiful to entice people to try it, and we want to have that ‘wow factor’ hit the table.”
Before opening the restaurant, Eaton commissioned custom plates from local ceramicist Laureen Purkis (whom Edify profiled in March 2021). “No two plates are the same, and you really get a sense that they’re handmade,” Eaton says. “It was important for us to have neutral-coloured plates to serve as a canvas for the colours and textures of the ingredients. I always think of the flavours of a dish first, and then I’ll plate it in a way that looks appealing.”
Unique plateware is also part of the presentation at Restaurant Yarrow. Each of the 20-25 courses (12-14 if you dine on a weeknight) are served on different plates or bowls sourced from ceramicists around the world, or custom vessels like a handcrafted ice bowl, a plank of wood, a box of rocks, or a slab of marble tile.
“Our plating style is very much in tune with our overall philosophy of finding the best ingredients and letting them speak for themselves,” says chef Ben Staley. “We limit all of our dishes to just three or four different ingredients, and the plating showcases that. We want everything to look very natural and organic.”
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At Yarrow, the true art takes place behind the scenes: A humble-looking tomato served in a clear broth and drizzled in caramelized oil requires months of preparation and delivers complex flavours. “We try and keep presentation as simple as possible, yet our food is not simple by any means, and I think it ends up looking beautiful,” Staley says.
Yarrow’s setup also guides Staley’s approach to simplicity. All guests are served from a set tasting menu and appearance doesn’t factor into what they order. “I like to think of the menu as a whole rather than just individual dishes,” Staley says. “I like to make small, intricate plates, and I consider the order in which they’re served, so there is a balance of lighter and heavier dishes, and have the entire menu fill you up.”
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