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At the Chef’s Table: Engage all senses when cooking

The best dishes balance flavors colors textures says Aria’s Beverly Kim Clark. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

The best dishes balance flavors, colors and textures, says Aria’s Beverly Kim Clark. | Rich Hein~Sun-Times

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‘Top Chef’ hopefuls

Aria’s Beverly Kim Clark is one of six Chicago chefs vying for the title in Bravo’s “Top Chef Season 9.” Her Windy City comrades are Sarah Grueneberg of Spiaggia, Richie Farina and Chris Jones of moto, Heather Terhune of Sable Kitchen and Bar and Chuy Valencia of Chilam Balam.

The series premiere is at 9 p.m. Nov. 2.

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Updated: November 16, 2011 9:32AM

How do you create a perfect dish?

I believe it needs a flawless balance of flavors, colors and textures. It also needs some emotion behind it, weaving in flavors and ingredients you enjoy or an inspirational gastronomical experience. The key is really letting your senses — smell, sight, touch and taste — be your guide.

The nose is as important as the mouth because smells often bring back distinct memories. When I smell kimchi, a Korean dish, my mind takes me back to my family dinner table growing up.

Sight also is important because it transforms the meal from an ordinary dish to a work of art. You can accomplish this by using multiple colors or even making a bold statement with one color to capture the essence and intent of your dish. However, be careful not to overthink presentation, as it shows; think simplicity and authenticity.

Touch is two-fold. You want the texture of the ingredients to work well together, and you want to feel your food as you prepare the dish, delicately dressing a salad or touching fish to know if it is cooked to perfection.

A great dish features flavors that pop in your mouth. Let your sense of taste be your guide, from salty and sweet to sour or bitter.

Don’t forget that fifth taste: umami. What exactly is umami? It’s best described as savory. This delightful taste occurs naturally in many foods including vegetables, dairy, meats and fish. Mushrooms and seaweed are two of my favorite ways to enhance the savory side of a dish.

Since cooking with your senses is important to every dish, a recipe alone will not get you there. It is essential to cook from the heart and allow your intuition to be your guide. Ask yourself — does it need to taste more salty, sour, sweet, spicy or savory? Dissect the dish in your mind. Do the textures work well? What works well with what you already have in this dish?

As you begin to allow your senses to guide your culinary creations, you will be able to identify the missing ingredients, and your palate will thank you.

Beverly Kim Clark is the chef de cuisine of Aria in the Fairmont Chicago, 200 N. Columbus.

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