By Rebecca Turchan
Humans are visual creatures, and before a forkful of food ever passes our lips, we eat with our eyes. What a plate looks like can drastically change one’s opinion of it. In recent years, food has been embraced as its own art form. Trends come and go, but food that balances flavor and flair will never go out of style.
Colton Roberts, chef at Cena in Appleton, embraces spontaneity and a spur of the moment style.
“A lot of times, [creating a beautiful presentation] isn’t even thought about until the minute you’re doing it,” he says.
Despite his free spirited philosophy, Roberts has a certain criteria he relies on when plating a dish. One ever reliable technique is centering of the food, the key to an aesthetically pleasing presentation.
“There’s usually a centerpiece whether it be your protein, or maybe you build on something that you think is really pretty, in the middle. Symmetry is beauty, right? So if we have an even amount of things, we can build them towards the middle or away from the middle,” Roberts explains.
But beauty isn’t always what one may imagine. Roberts both accepts and tries to redefine what makes a dish pleasing to the eye.
“I want to make all dishes look appealing, but at the same time, I like to make rustic looking dishes as well, where it’s not just about being pretty. You can have a big dish of something, a braised lamb shank, and it is beautiful simply because of what it is.”
Roberts loves working with fish, and has done a different fish feature every week for the three years he has worked at Cena.
“I’ve done over 200 fish features and they’ve nearly all been different,” Roberts says.
One such dish integrates an amalgam of southern flavors. Roberts created a tower of corvina, a firm white fish native to Central and South America, and layered it with fresh flour tortilla chips, zesty mango avocado salsa, and the Cajun staple, dirty rice
Three Three Five
Eating at Three Three Five in Green Bay is an adventure, providing a dining experience like none other in the area.
Chef Chris Mangless is a trendsetter, dedicated to finding innovative uses for local ingredients. His unusual approach of featuring ingredients in more than one form allows him to explore different facets of presentation without sacrificing flavor.
“So with chives for example, I’ll have a chive pudding, chive blossoms, micro chives, and then I might have a chive powder,” Mangless explains. “When you’re eating a dish you want it to be salty and sweet and acidic and crunchy and soft and so you want all those different textures. So that’s something for us, using three or four flavors in a dish but having six or eight textures on a plate”.
Utilizing simple flavors and ingredients and letting them speak for themselves is Three Three Five’s specialty.
But simple doesn’t mean easy or careless. Mangless is an artist of the plate, and every morsel he presents to his guests serves a very specific purpose.
“I always tell my staff when they’re plating a plate, I want it to look like [the ingredients] fell from the sky, but when you’re putting them on, I want it to be perfect. So when I’m plating [a dish], I know that it needs some cilantro here, and a chive blossom there, and it needs a little sauce here, but when you get it as a guest, I want it to look like a piece of art. I want it to look like, when you look at a nice painting, like a watercolor painting or a canvas painting or a nice print, it looks as though it’s random, but it very rarely is actually random, [the artist] put something there for a reason.”
The area’s gastronomical artisans don’t all focus on the savory in their culinary masterpieces. Tamara Mugerauer of Tamara’s Cake Guru operates an extensive wedding cake business along with a small shop that sells a variety of cupcakes each day.
Even before Mugerauer began her career as a cake designer, she had a background in the arts. She attributes this artist’s training and creative mind to her success.
“I went to the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design,” she explains. “I worked part time as a cake decorator at Dairy Queen and I just fell in love with it as an art form.”
Mugerauer believes that in the cake business, a creative mind can be just as important as a culinary background.
“When people come to work here I take it into consideration if they have an art background as much as a culinary background, sometimes more, depending on what they’re going to be doing,” she says. “I think also, just having a creative mind is something that throughout the shop everyone has.”
A cake designer has a very different set of tools than most restauranteurs. Mugerauer is able to do everything from using food colorings and brushes to replicate watercolor effects on a cake, to sculpting with the popular wedding cake covering rolled fondant.
Wedding cakes are a large part of Mugerauer’s business, and she finds inspiration for her cakes from the bride’s dress.
“For weddings, I enjoy working fondant because I love to do draping like fabric, working off a bride’s gown and trying to pull elements off it.”
Because so much of Mugerauer’s business is based on the personalized requests of customers, she’s working with the latest trends in cake design. Right now, birds and branches reign supreme as a “rustic chic” design sweeps the cake world.
“I have a new display I haven’t put out yet, but I made a burlap flower out of fondant and the cake itself is kind of just rough iced,” Mugerauer explains. “Underneath the cakes I have a big chunk of wood. It’s just a slice of log, but it goes out almost every weekend for weddings.”
As the Fox Cities grows and evolves, so does its interest in creative and inventive food. When deciding where to dine, people look for cafés and restaurants that give them more than just food on a plate, but rather an elevated dining experience. Our local culinary gurus may have different approaches, but they all strive for the same end result – providing dishes that please the eye and the palate.