Some culinary creations practically put the still lifes of the old masters to shame. Artfully composed delights of form and color, these dishes demand to be visually appreciated, then savored. Here we highlight the work of three chefs who truly know the meaning of Perfection on a Plate

Grant Achatz
  • Image about Thomas Keller
Lara Kastner
It’s one thing to make a pretty plate. It’s quite another to serve a rigorously reinterpreted notion of what constitutes an appetizer or entree while still wowing the eye. Perhaps no one’s work epitomizes the confluence of product and presentation quite like that of Chicago’s Grant Achatz. A star of the wildly inventive food movement often referred to as molecular gastronomy, this 36-year-old chef has made the Windy City’s Alinea one of the country’s most sophisticated dining destinations. Deploying an arsenal that includes dehydrators, vaporizers, and the Anti-Griddle — whose minus 30 F temperature instantly freezes sauces and purees — Achatz makes his ingredients do the seemingly impossible. The chip in this monkfish dish (pictured top right), for example, is fashioned from a caramelized onion that has been pureed and dried. The morsels atop the strip of heirloom tomato (pictured top left) include a spiral of saffron-molasses gelée, cucumber blossom, and curry pudding. Ever imaginative, Achatz launches his newest Chicago venture, Next, this fall. As with Alinea, he’ll challenge diners to rethink their idea of an evening out, as he creates menus pegged not to the seasons or specific ingredients but fashioned to evoke cultural moments, such as Paris circa 1912 or Sao Paulo in 1968. www.alinearestaurant.com

Daniel Boulud
  • Image about Thomas Keller
Courtesy: Dinex Group
Operating multiple restaurants in New York City and satellites in Palm Beach, Vancouver, London, and Beijing (with locales in Miami and Singapore to debut this autumn), Daniel Boulud has come a long way from the family farm in Lyon, France. His latest outpost, Bar Boulud — featuring a full bistro menu with a wine list focused on Burgundy and the Rhone Valley — opened this past spring in London’s Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park hotel. But whether one dines in his high-end flagship, Daniel, or at the more-humble DBGB Kitchen and Bar, the fare is always finely focused, executed with superb technique and impeccable attention to the essence of each ingredient. While nearly infamous for serving a $150 hamburger during truffle season (the patty is stuffed with red-wine-braised short ribs, foie gras, and preserved black truffle, then topped with fresh black truffles), Boulud’s greatest showmanship is manifested in his restrained luxuriousness. His influence is abundantly apparent on dishes such as the lobster masterpiece (pictured above, right) and this utterly artful foie gras au torchon (pictured above, left), both served at his restaurants. A standard Boulud strategy is to employ an ingredient in more than one way on a single plate. With the foie gras, pistachios turn up crushed, candied, and pureed; rhubarb makes an appearance as a puree and in the form of poached batons. In the end, the dish comprises essentially three ingredients. Less is more never looked so good. danielnyc.com


Deborah Jones


After an auspicious New York debut in the 1980s, Thomas Keller took the restaurant world by storm when he opened The French Laundry in the Napa Valley in 1994. And that, as the poet said, made all the difference. Blessed with access to stellar product and free to exercise his imagination upon the classical skills he mastered at the iconic Guy Savoy and Taillevent in Paris, Keller produced flawlessly orchestrated plates that had patrons and the press swooning. While Keller is not averse to unusual combinations, it’s the truth and clarity of his cooking that most impresses; the way he’s able to make diners believe they’re tasting a halibut fillet or a carrot for the first time. Or, for that matter, devil’s food cake (pictured above ), as it appears in his take on the English pastry known as Banoffee (served at Keller’s Manhattan outpost, Per Se). And who wouldn’t sigh at the sight of The French Laundry’s tart cherry sorbet (pictured right), companionably turned out with sesame nougatine and vanilla sherbet? Although Keller’s sweets are lusciously seductive, as anyone who has dined at his restaurants will attest, the wooing begins long before, through such dishes as his signature offering, Oysters and Pearls, a sabayon of tapioca with exquisite oysters and Osetra caviar. frenchlaundry.com, perseny.com