Plates Restaurant Invited to James Beard Institute

-- Gourmet Honors for Chef Matthew Karp

by Judy Silberstein

(November 16, 2005) When Chef Matthew Karp of Plates Restaurant went to Manhattan earlier this month to prepare a luncheon at the renowned James Beard House, he took with him his Larchmont family to share in both the feasting and the festivities of this culinary honor. There were his literal family members (Wendy Weinstein, his wife and partner in the restaurant; his newborn third daughter, and his mother), his restaurant family (both serving in the kitchen and dining as special guests) and some of the Plates regulars who have taken to dining so often at the restaurant they feel like family.

Plates at Beard

Master Chef Matthew Karp (center) in the James Beard kitchen whips up appetizers with help from culinary students (and recent MHS graduates) Frank Sansotta (left) and Ian Halbwachs (right).

For a chef, being accepted to present a meal at the James Beard Institute is considered quite a coup – akin to a musician being invited to Carnegie Hall. Except that the performance space is the historic brownstone home of famed gastronome James Beard at 167 West 12th Street, which upon his death in 1985 was renovated to accommodate luncheons and dinners with established and emerging stars of the food world. Guests, mostly members of the Beard Foundation, gather first in his front parlor, then walk through the small open kitchen for hors d’oeuvres on the backyard patio before climbing up to the library for a multi-course meal showcasing the featured chef’s special dishes.

At the Plates luncheon, the Beard Foundation members were introduced to a number of Chef Karp’s signature dishes already familiar to the Larchmont table, including seared sea scallops on a bed of roasted salsify and parsley topped with vanilla foam and sprinkled with shitake and hen of the woods mushrooms (see phot). Of particular note were the Vietnamese beef lettuce rolls with lemongrass vinaigrette hors d’oeuvre, but the hands down favorite was the duck and foie gras terrine with Parma ham, with its delightful flavor combinations and melt-on-the-tongue texture.

The members also learned about the chef’s culinary history. He started as a boy in his mother’s Scarsdale kitchen and worked his way through some of the more impressive, Michelin-starred restaurants of Europe (like Le Moulin de Mougins) and Manhattan (including Bouley), while also picking up tips from old-country home cooks and bakers. Along the way he also picked up souvenir plates from his favorite places, which provided both inspiration and decoration for his Larchmont establishment. Opened only since 2004, Plates has been on a steady diet of positive reviews (including one from the Larchmont Gazette) and was recently picked “Best New Restaurant” by Westchester Magazine (July 2005).

For Larchmonters Stephen and Pat Blau, two self-described “foodies” who had taken off work to attend the luncheon, dining at Plates has become a weekly ritual. “We used to go into the city, but why go?” asked Stephen Blau, whose psychiatric practice is based in his Larchmont home, only a few blocks from the restaurant. “Pat gets off the train and heads straight to Plates,” on Friday evening, he reported. “Every dish is the best you can make it – [Chef Karp] puts such care into everything.”

Every dish is also a testament to Chef Karp’s use of farm-fresh ingredients, which he promotes in his kitchen and through holiday sales of farm-raised turkeys from Pennsylvania. He’s part of the newly formed Larchmont Farmer’s Market Group advocating to bring an in-season, Saturday-morning market to the train station parking lot across from Plates. (See: Letters) In the kitchen with Chef Karp was John Zeltsman, who run’s a number of Westchester farmer’s markets and was helping out for the day.

Also in the kitchen were two recent Mamaroneck High School graduates, each sporting a white jacket with the emblem of his cooking school. “It’s an absolute treat to get to work for one of the best chefs in Westchester,” said Ian Halbwachs, Class of 2000, who began at Plates a year after graduating from NYU with a major in journalism. Now he’s taking courses at the Institute of Culinary Education in Manhattan. Frank Sansotta, MHS class of 2001, has been at Plates as a chef since it opened. He’s finishing up a degree at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. Mr. Sansotta finds that “Matt has a great deal of respect for the traditional foods, but he follows some of the more innovative chefs.” Chef Karp regularly mentors young interns, including some who start by washing dishes and end up showing a flare for the creative side of the business.

Kudos and Questions

As tiny coffee cups were being placed at the tables, the chef appeared with his staff, receiving a round of applause from the fully-sated diners. Calling the Beard event “the pinnacle of a 10-year journey” as a chef, he accepted a certificate and gift knife from the Foundation and responded to questions from the floor. On a query about his hamachi tartare with apples and kimchi, Chef Karp advised, the dish “relies on the freshness of the fish, don’t over do it.” When asked, “Why donuts for dessert?” he replied, “Why not?” which elicited laughs and cheers from the Larchmont regulars. The chef explained how he’d methodically gone about creating his own version of the country donuts once available in Westchester at apple orchards that no longer exist. Served with a dollop of his home-made cinnamon gelato, this dessert is a far cry from Dunkin’ Donuts.

The luncheon celebrated a milestone for Plates and its chef. Ms. Weinstein told the gathering she’d been told, “We’ll know when you’ve really made it when you get to the James Beard House.” Now the couple is getting new advice, “You’ll really have made it when people start collecting your plates.”

For Thanksgiving, Chef Matthew Karp is sharing his recipe for sweet potato muffins. See: Dine & Wine.