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Chef Mark Purdy’s recent menu addition at Alizé Restaurant is already a popular crowd favorite. Served on both the Alizé A La Carte and Tasting Menus, we asked Chef to explain how he actually creates a dish, from concept to presentation.

What was the first idea that prompted this Duo of Salmon?

Chef Purdy: Normally, I come across a unique ingredient that gets the creative juices rolling. In this case, it was fresh wasabi that I buy from a farm in the Pacific Northwest. And, from the beginning I wanted to do a tableside service for the wasabi – actually shaving the wasabi and preparing the sauce. Everything else came after that.

So, what’s unique about wasabi?
Chef Purdy: Wasabi root is very hard to come by because it takes so long to grow. The farm we buy from grows the wasabi in the sawa traditional method … actually grown in running water. Wasabi naturally occurs in streams of constantly flowing water, so the farm created a hydroponic system that provides the same sort of environment.

You actually created an entire dish around wasabi?
Chef Purdy:  That’s how it started, definitely. I started putting ingredients together that go with fresh wasabi and it built up from there. Wasabi is clearly an Asian ingredient, and it’s not unusual for wasabi to be served with tuna or in a sushi application, so it was easy to start down that path with salmon.

So, let’s start with how you prepare the salmon for the plate …
Chef Purdy: There are three versions of salmon on the plate. We have it seared, and then also in a salmon spring roll with ginger and sesame and, finally, salmon that’s steamed and wrapped in wasabi leaves.

How do you come up with all the additional pieces in your plating that create such a great meld of flavors?
Chef Purdy: We want to hit all the flavor high points and that’s where product selection gets so absorbing. What we end up using is really due to a process of elimination. As an example, we initially tried to make the spring roll using a soy wrap, but it just doesn’t get crisp enough for that particular application, so we finally landed on spring roll wrappers.

The Forbidden Black Rice adds such a color contrast to the plate, and it has such a deep, rich flavor profile. Once upon a time, it was considered a very rare delicacy, so it seemed the perfect foundation for this plate.

Then, we pickle Daikon radish and create thin ribbons, add Daikon sprouts and Sweetie drop peppers, and drizzle a truffle and yuzu emulsion. The roasted, salted Macadamia nuts add that nice crunchy, rich flavor.

… And the black crisps?
Chef Purdy: That’s a puffed rice crisp, also the result of eliminating other options! We use Jasmine rice with charcoal powder – it’s a vegetable ash you more often see as a rind on some cheeses. So, we overcook the rice to a mush, spread a thin layer on sheets and allow that to dry for 48 hours. Then, we just fry it and it puffs up nicely. It adds a neat texture to the plating.

Do you actually sketch the plating process for all of your dishes?
I do, yes. The organization on the plate is as important as the elements we’re using. It’s really the blueprint piece behind the finished presentation.

So, I make a list of all the components and do the conceptual development in writing, and then I do a sketch on how all those components will come together. My college degree is in studio art and art history, and I specialized in jewelry fabrication. One of my professors at the time used to say, “If you can’t draw it, you can’t build it,” so it’s something I’ve made a practice of in my culinary art.

And how is the Duo of Salmon presented at the table?
Chef Purdy: Once the dish itself is presented, we grate the fresh wasabi, add Tamari sauce and whisk it together to create the fresh sauce for the diner. We chose Tamari instead of soy sauce because it’s gluten-free. Soy sauce is made from soybeans fermented with wheat, while Tamari is the liquid runoff of the aging and drying process of soy cake, so it doesn’t involve wheat, which keeps it gluten-free.

Is this dish actually gluten free?
Chef Purdy: It’s all gluten free except for the spring roll wrapper. Of course, any diner can request a wholly gluten-free option with this dish, and we happily oblige.

How often do you change the elements on a dish like this?
Chef Purdy: Oh, it all depends on feedback from our guests and front-of-house staff. So far, this dish is very popular on both of our menus, so I don’t think we’ll be fiddling with it any time soon!