A few of our Clean Plate Award winners took a minute to explain their dishes, what drives them to cook and how it feels to have a “plate cleaning” dish nominated by this tough panel of their peers.
Ferry Market, San Francisco
Thomas Odermatt, chef/owner of Roli Roti explains the delicate process behind his porchetta, what inspires him and the challenge of cooking in a truck.
“I find my inspiration in cooking in two segments:
First: I grew up in a butcher shop in Switzerland where simple preparation of meat was key. I look at meats now days similar to the way my father did back in the fifties. Second: I use seasonal and organic ingredients for all my cooking—because I go with the seasons I change my menu often and inspiration keeps flowing.
I think my porchetta sandwich is a masterpiece of flavor balance. This all comes together because we use only the best ingredients. We use an old traditional butchery technique for the pork and season it with simple fresh ingredients. Each porchetta is hand rolled, which is one of the most important parts when making this dish. We cook it for 3 to 4 hours on the rotisserie grill to make the skin crispy and keep the juice inside the product.
I must say—cooking on a rotisserie truck is a challenge but also provides lots of inspiration to keep up with the demand. I have many local supporters, like Alice Waters and Michael Mina, but I’m not yet known as well around the country.”
Chef Cesar Ramirez of Brooklyn Fare provides some insight into how he designs the dishes for his prix fixe dinner menus that entail over 20 small courses.
The dish is Hokkaido Sea Urchin, Black Perigord Truffle, and Brioche. It's a one-bite course eaten with the hands.
“I focus on very classic cooking, perfect technique and high-quality ingredients. When structuring a new dish, flavor, balance, nuance and texture are the most important elements.
It is an honor to be chosen by Michael Mina, a chef who has had a great impact on our industry."
Fusilli with Red Wine Braised Octopus and Bone Marrow
New York City
Chef/Owner of Marea, Michael White, explains where he first fell in love with cooking, how he draws from traditional concepts to create something extraordinary and how it feels to be chosen by a friend.
“I am inspired by everything around me. My first inspiration was my studies at San Domenico in Imola, Italy, where I studied for seven years and have been learning ever since. I’m inspired by ingredients, travel, sights and scents in the big city, my staff and mentors.
This dish is one of my interpretations of “surf and turf”—the bone marrow as the turf and octopus as the surf. The fatty richness of the marrow is cut by the acidity of the red wine tomato sauce. The handmade durum wheat pasta quills are coated beautifully by the rich sauce and tender baby octopus. All of this is made even more delicious by the finishing touch of crunchy spiced breadcrumbs added at service.
I think the fusili was chosen [for a Clean Plate Award] because it’s different. I thought ‘out of the box’ on that one and it has been winning accolades ever since I put it on Marea’s opening menu in 2009.
I’m honored! Alfred [Portale] is a friend and a wonderful chef. His food is amongst the best in the city. We just both were winners at 2012 Burger Bash so I guess we’re doing something right...”
David Blackmore’s Dry Aged Full Blood Waygu Sirloin
Rockpool Bar and Grill
Chef Khan of Rockpool Bar and Grill discusses the root of great food— fresh ingredients—and how his enthusiasm for sourcing quality produce is essential to his cooking.
‘The David Blackmore’s grilled sirloin is special because it is the best expression of Waygu beef in Australia. It’s fed a special ration diet and is humanely reared and killed. The meat is then aged on the bone, and the butchering process is finished on our premises by our butcher. The second thing that makes it so special is that it is cooked over hardwood (ironbark) coals, which give the steak an amazing smoky quality.
It’s nice to have been chosen by a fellow chef who gets it. I believe we were chosen because we serve the best ingredients in a stunningly simple way, which allows the consumer to construct their own menu with the addition of their favorite side dishes. I’m of the belief that great produce inspires great cooking.
In addition, the simplicity of our food is conducive to the appreciation of fine wine—of which there is an abundance in our restaurant.”
Bell Book & Candle
New York City
Chef John Mooney of Bell Book & Candle describes how he found inspiration in his hometown and simplifies what makes this Patty Melt so delicious.
“I feel great to be chosen by a fellow chef [Jose Garces]. It's a huge honor.
My dish is special because I like to describe it as a perfect marriage of grilled cheese and cheeseburger. You feeling me?
I think my patty melt and myself were chosen because my dish is a throwback to my childhood in Chicago, which is where Jose is from also. My cooking is inspired by ingredient quality and simplicity. I also pull from a collection of global travels and food experiences.”
Hot Stuff Café
San Gabriel, CA
Chef Jimmy Wang of Hot Stuff Café dreams of food and draws inspiration from turning tradition on its head.
“I am honored. I am very happy to know that Andy Kao enjoys my food, and I appreciate my fellow chef’s recognition. My cooking inspiration comes from just about everywhere. The food I enjoy eating, my family, other great chefs and seasonal availability.
I like to look at myself as a type of chef who thinks outside the box. Everyday I think and dream of reconstructing a traditional dish or deconstructing a crowd favorite. I love eating; I love serving food I like to eat.
My thoughts for this dish were based on the fact that I am a pizza lover. I especially love thin crust pizza. The flavor profile came from my early career in Japanese cuisine. Eel, wasabi and seaweed, are a truly tasty combination. I hope I was chosen because I make delicious food. I hope my clients and colleagues liked me because they love food just as much as I do.”
Grasshopper Ice Cream Sandwich
Milk and Cookies
New York City
Tina Casaceli, pastry chef/owner of Milk and Cookies Bakery explains that the comfort and attention of a neighborhood bakery sets her creations apart from others.
“I am honored to have been chosen by a colleague as they are sometimes the best critics. I know they eat and taste things all over the country/world, so it is a great honor to be a favorite.
I am mostly inspired by the things I like to eat. My favorites are classic foods with a twist—things that warm the heart. I think our dish was chosen because we use the finest ingredients and make sure that we have a consistently good fresh product.
We are a small bakery and can still take the time to pay attention to the little details that get lost in larger production operations.”
New York City
Chef Jody Williams of Buvette explains the secret behind her winning dish – beautiful ingredients and interesting people.
“I find two things inspiring—great ingredients and people with an appetite for them.
Croque Forestier is a twist on the classic Croque Monsieur; we sub the ham with slow roasted mushrooms and season it with herbs de Provence, add gruyere cheese and béchamel and you have one of the best cheese sandwiches ever—earthy and delicious.
It is always great to have someone like [A Voce’s] Missy Robbins unwinding after service, late night at Buvette.”
Hot Wings and Waffle Fries
New York City
Chef Scott Tolhurst of Wogie’s explains how he loves the subtle complexities in a simple dish.
“Wogie’s is truly honored to be nominated for the Clean Plate Awards.
My true belief in cooking in general is that no matter how simple or complex a dish, it has to be made with the very best ingredients.
Wogie's is truly about simple, great food done with the freshest ingredients always. We pride ourselves on making everything to order. All of our sauces are made in house and our Buffalo sauce is one of our most popular. We use 100% natural wings, which I think makes a huge difference.
Our waffle fries are also one of our most popular items because they are extremely fresh, seasoned and cooked to perfect crispness each and every time.
I think the greatest achievement as a chef is to be recognized by another chef.
I feel that the simplest dish can be the most difficult. There are a lot of places out there that do fries and wings but I truly believe it is the commitment to our customers to give them our very best each and every time that sets us apart from all the others.”
Sea Urchin with Calamari and Seaweed
Kaz Sushi Bistro
Chef Kaz Okochi, chef/owner of Kaz Shushi Bistro, describes how an unlikely combination can be such a crowd favorite.
“I am very surprised myself that this dish has gotten so popular because two main ingredients, sea urchin and squid (calamari) are not so popular by themselves. First, people like the presentation of finely shredded seaweed and quail egg yolks—looks like a bird’s nest. Then, the unique texture of squid and the flavor combination—sweetness of squid, ocean flavor of sea urchin and seaweed, unique fragrance of shiso leaf and saltiness and umami of soy sauce—is well balanced. (We normally add a dash of truffle oil, but I didn't put it in Chef Michel Richard's dish because I knew he hates truffle oil).
People must like the combination of all the ingredients, but also each ingredient pronounces its own clean flavor clearly without blending too much. In other words, you can identify each flavor in your mouth.”
Chef Kaz says he is inspired by “All of [his] life experiences including [his] childhood food and a variety of dining experiences with cuisines from all over the world.”
“I can’t be more honored. especially chosen by one of my most respected chefs, Michel Richard. Chef Richard is always searching for something to inspire his cooking and is not afraid of trying anything new. I think this dish was very different from his cuisine and caught his attention. I really admire his passion for searching and creating food.”
The Eggel Sandwich
Chef Cleetus Friedman of City Provisions drew inspiration from a childhood favorite and describes how it feels to be chosen by his, “Midwestern bubbe.”
“Any time I have a fellow chef in the restaurant, it's a compliment. To have the Breakfast Queen [Ina Pinkney] choose one of my breakfast dishes as a favorite is a huge compliment. Ina is a friend, mentor and all around wonderful person. She is my Midwestern bubbe.
I get inspired by many things. The inspiration for the Eggel is more of an homage to The Bagel Shoppe, a regular spot for bagels back in my hometown in Maryland. They are not around anymore, so this is my revision of the classic.”
Spaghetti and Meatballs
Palo Alto, CA
Saundra Middleton, Chef de Cuisine of Mayfield Café, explains how fresh pasta helps elevate her spaghetti and meatballs beyond the dish on your mother’s table and the importance of consistency to her as a cook.
“We prepare our pastas in house. The freshness and quality of the ingredients is key. While in season, we prepare the sauce using tomatoes from SMIP Ranch. SMIP Ranch is Bacchus Management Group’s (they own and operate our restaurant) private farm, located in the hills above Woodside. The farmers grow ingredients specific to our needs.
I am inspired by the ingredients. I find a beautiful vegetable, and then plan my dish around it. Same with our poultry, fish and meats. I allow for the quality of the ingredients to take center stage. Seasons also inspire me. Our menu changes frequently, as well as our weekly Farmers’ Menu, which features three courses, and is available on weekdays, during lunch. The daily du jour (meatballs!) menu gives me the opportunity to cook true comfort food. Most of our additions are inspired by my childhood food memories.
It’s a huge compliment when another chef or restaurateur enjoys my cooking. It’s, in a way, validating. I know my guests enjoy my food; most of them come back on a regular basis. So when a fellow industry member does the same, I know I am doing something right.
I would hope that my food and I were recognized simply because my food is good. I feel that it is very accessible, and never pretentious, which is what I feel many of our guests are looking for. They want to enjoy a meal that is consistent, something they can rely on. Every time they dine at Mayfield Bakery & Cafe, they will receive delicious food, along with great service.”