by Jenna Norwood
Food presentation has always been an important factor in the enjoyment of a meal and, in the Berkshires, chefs take special pride in their culinary innovations.
"I like to make your mouth go, 'Wow!,'" said Chris Bonnivier, Chef de Cuisine at Cranwell Resort, in Great Barrington (637-1364). "People eat with their eyes, so their first impression is very important."
There are more elements to food presentation than most of us realize.
"We put hot, cold, sweet, tart, buttery, soft and crispy together for a total visual and mouth sensation," said Bonnivier. "We also vary height and colors and separation is important, too. Everything has its own place on the plate."
Bonnivier incorporates his own French heritage into his unique style, which he calls "Pan-Asian and New-American, with classical backgrounds."
"Everything I do is a spin-off of classical dishes, with a lot of Asian flair tossed in," he said. "You won't find these dishes anywhere else. They come from my imagination."
Bonnivier's eye-popping combinations include Schichimi Pepper-Seared Scallops, served with lemon-lavender sorbet, frisee and white peach vinaigrette and Roasted Salmon in Rice Paper, which is sake-marinated and served with white bean and mint risotto, aiiso and carrot vinaigrette.
At Bizen, a gourmet Japanese restaurant in Great Barrington (528-4343), Owner/Chef Michael Marcus goes to the next level of creative food presentation. The Japanese believe the taste of the food is in the plates themselves, so he creates the ceramic dishes the food is served on, too. Marcus studied the 1,000-year-old tradition of Bizen ceramics in Japan. Bizen-Ware is unique in that it's wood-fired for 12 days and 12 nights and no glaze is used, making it a natural creation of earth and fire.
"We're very Zen here," said Marcus. "The atmosphere is peaceful; the foods are all organic and we have one of the largest vegetarian selections on the East coast."
Marcus recently debuted the very colorful Yo-Yo Ma-Ma roll, inspired by Yo-Yo Ma, the world-renowned cellist, who had the pleasure of eating the first roll himself. Marcus said Yo-Yo Ma highly approved of his namesake reverse roll, made with spicy Big Eye tuna; Haas avocado; Hawaiian mango and roe of many colors.
At The Williams Inn, in Williamstown (458-9371), Benjamin Castro, Chef de Garde- Manger, specializes in cold food sculpture. Whether enhancing a fruit and cheese plate, creating bouquets of vegetable-flowers (see photo), or making his signature gelatin plaques, Castro takes a fresh approach to adapting fruits and vegetables to all types of displays. His work is on exhibit weekly at Sunday brunch, served from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Castro is always available during brunch to answer questions about how to make a carrot look like a Bird of Paradise, among other things.
At Seven Hills Country Inn, in Lenox (637-0060), Chef Aura Whitman, who was first in her class at Cordon Bleu and at the Culinary Institute of America, brings worldwide influences to her cuisine. She believes in using the colors of the season in her presentations, making a strong visual impression before the food reaches your taste buds.
Seven Hills Owner Jim Eder is proud of the Inn's membership in Berkshire-Grown, an organization that supports local farms by promoting the use of locally-grown foods.
Although most Berkshire chefs were educated at the finest schools of culinary arts, they agree that the passion for what they do can't be taught.
"I'm inspired by a love of the food," said Bonnivier.
Sometimes we hunger for the delicious simplicity of familiar comfort foods. On those occasions, The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge (298-5545) satisfies with contemporary and traditional regional foods, like Carved Roast Turkey with Cornbread Stuffing, which is served year 'round; Grilled Yankee Meatloaf; Yankee Pot Roast and Macaroni 'n Maine lobster. For dessert, nothing is more reminiscent of home than a slice of Red Lion Inn apple pie, served warm with vanilla ice cream.
Feast your eyes on the desserts at Trattoria "Il Vesuvio," in Lenox (637-4005). If you're on a diet, just a glance at the Tiramisu with drizzled chocolate feels like a guilty indulgence. The Trattoria offers hearty, authentic Italian fare in a cozy environment. The building was converted from a turn-of-the-century wooden stable.
Martin's, in Great Barrington (528-5455), serves a peanut butter and jelly sandwich that brings you back to those days when you created your own art-on-a-plate.
And at Appletree Inn, in Lenox (637-1477), the muffins and other baked goods are homemade daily.