The 3-Michelin-starred Quince in San Francisco is serving croquettes on an iPad displaying a video of truffle-hunting dogs. True story. My initial reaction to reading about this was disgust. (Did you know that smartphones and tablets carry more germs than a toilet seat? Would you eat off a toilet seat? I wouldn’t.) Upon further reading, I learned that there’s a sheath separating the white truffle croquettes from the iPad. Okay, I guess that’s better. I think. Maybe?
A chef’s impulse to serve food on anything but plates is something diners have been discussing—complaining about, even—for years. But what happens when wooden planks and jam jars become status quo? Is spooning cake out of a martini glass and buttering bread that’s served in a slipper really the future of gastronomic presentation? I hope not.
I reached out to a handful of Dallas chefs and restaurateurs to hear their thoughts on dining off an iPad and the no-plates trend as a whole. Here’s what they had to say.
“I’ve always been a fan of unique and innovative ideas when it comes to the culinary experience, as long as it doesn’t take away from the cuisine. My goal is to honor the ingredients and focus on highlighting the food. Sometimes less is more.” — Suki Otsuki, Chef at Mudhen Meat and Greens
“The whole iPad thing is gross. So what happens when they put them through the wash? They don’t. So you’re eating off of someone else’s Candy Crush high score. Better get checked out for that. The strangest thing I ever ate off of came from Michelin-starred Alinea in Chicago, a place known for ‘unique’ servings. At the end of a massive evening of what felt like two billion courses (or maybe that was the final tab for the evening), the staff stripped the tablecloth from the table and replaced it with a sheet of neoprene. Like Jacques-Cousteau-goes-diving-for-sea-urchins neoprene. The next thing I know, out comes dry-ice-smoking, cantaloupe-sized bulbs of chocolate, placed right on to it. The whole thing was drizzled with various sauces and fruits and who the hell knows what else (Fairy dust? Unicorn farts?). After which, the server proceeds to smash the chocolate cannonballs with a hammer, spreading everything across the table. We used the chocolate shards to scoop up the sweet dreams of a thousand culinary strivers, straight from the table. I felt a simultaneous pang of guilt and, well, guilt as each mouthful led to the inevitable conclusion of receiving the check. It was like eating at a Simpson family reunion, only with better wine.” — Mack Simpson, Creative Director at Dallas Grilled Cheese Co.
“Innovation comes in so many forms, and plating on an iPad is just another step in the evolution of technology, innovation, and the exploration of taking things to the highest level of creativity. Quince is an incredible restaurant. You don’t become incredible without taking risks and pushing the envelope. I applaud them. I have used all kinds of things to plate things, though using an iPad never occurred to me. At Whiskey Cake our sliders are on a brick, at Sixty Vines we use a rolling pin as a holder for hummus, at The Ranch at Las Colinas we plate things in cast iron skillets, stack onion rings on a branding iron, and plate flatbreads on wood boards cut from mesquite trees that burned down in a forest fire in Central Texas. Those are some examples of us at Front Burner trying to be innovative and keep the guests intrigued.” — John Franke, Corporate Chef of Front Burner Restaurants
“Plating on an iPad, that is fun as long as it gets sanitized properly. I think we saw that coming a while ago. Chefs can, and will, plate on any clean surface that they can. That is part of the fun of cooking. Plates can make the dish. People eat with their eyes first. A cool plating idea can inspire a new dish, a cool plate can spark an idea for a new setup for a new menu item. Necessity breeds innovation. In a pinch we will grab any clean board, plate, pice of wood, bowl, toy, recycled pizza pan, or just a piece of waxed paper and put food on it. For instance, stick 10 spoons together on a stand that we can send out to the customer, and chefs will create an array of things to put on it. There are no set rules on what chefs have to plate on, and we will continue evolving plating and technique ’til the end of time. Just like graffiti, you don’t just paint on walls and trains—the canvas is the world. Food is art and we put our art on anything we want. As far as crazy plating for me experienced in real life: Alinea in Chicago. This article just shows that pushing the plating envelope pays off sometimes when done right. They received three Michelin stars. Cheers to them.” — Chef Oliver Sitrin, Blind Butcher
“STOP. STOP IT. It’s out of control. Wooden planks, like wolmanized lumber. Shoes. Beach toys. Lightbulbs. Shopping carts. Books, Legos, dentures. Pails. Pots. What’s next? Spittoons? Soap dishes? Bed pans? I don’t want a screen at the dinner table. The first time I realized this was at Charlie Palmer. I thought it cool, at first. But a couple seconds into paging and scrolling, I just made a noise in repulse ‘GAH! Get it away from me!’ Food? On an iPad?! Check, please!” — Brian Luscher, Chef/Owner The Grape
“It seems like trying too hard. It’s tough enough to get people off their devices to have a meal, without using them as plates. Plus it’s weird to serve food on things that you can’t run through a dishwasher.” — Graham Dodds, Chef at Wayward Sons