Sous-vide tuna Nicoise at Vessel: not a boob in sight.

In the dim red light of a seat near the open kitchen at the new Vessel,we recently noshed on BLT rillettes—porky housemade rillettes, bacon fat embellished toast crumbles, and roasted tomatoes for wrapping in bibb lettuce cups—and overheard chef Cameo McRoberts coaching one of her minions on how to plate a dish.

 “I had a culinary teacher tell me a chef composing a plate has to avoid three things,” she cautioned him. “Smiley faces, boobs, and swastikas.”

Happily, there wasn't a single human face, body part, nor Nazi symbol to be found on our rillettes. I called McRoberts later and learned that this isn’t all she considers when composing a plate. Plating is one of the most artful parts of a chef’s job—and one that many diners never think about.

“You use your negative space,” she notes, referring to the parts of the plate not covered with food. Every plate must have some. McRoberts fondly recalls when her little brother Jacob Metcalf, now a lead line cook at the Salish Lodge’s casual restaurant, the Attic, would proudly show his big sis his compositions. “You know, like seared black cod with five different sauces and three different garnishes,” she chuckled. “It was a classic rookie move. Too messy, too busy. You have to think about the elements.”

“I like to follow Coco Chanel’s method for getting dressed,” McRoberts said. “Design the plate—then take one thing off.”

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