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The Daily Tar Heel

Pleasing The Palate

Restaurants lining Franklin Street strike a balance of maintaining taste standards and taking creative liberties.

But behind all the shiny silverware and fanciful entrees, a whole other world of culinary creativity exists to make restaurants visually and aesthetically appealing to customers.

Carolina Crossroads' chef Brian Stapleton said chefs play the largest role in restaurants' day-to-day attempts to establish consumer appeal. "Chefs are the focal point of a restaurant from a marketing point of view," Stapleton said. "From most guests' perspective, the success of a restaurant is equated with its chef."

A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Stapleton's background, like many chefs, includes professional training.

But John Tate, a pastry chef at Il Palio, said it isn't always necessary that chefs go to culinary school in order for them to do their jobs well.

In fact, Tate said he landed his job at Il Palio by coincidence.

"I became friends with a guy that used to be the sous chef, and one day he asked me if I wanted a job," Tate said. "Then one day the old pastry chef asked if I'd be wiling to take over. It's been a big learning experience."

Tate said a large part of his learning has come from watching other chefs in action. He said one instance in particular taught him what not to prepare for the restaurant.

"One time this guy did this bright green cream sauce for Saint Patrick's Day that looked like it came from the Caribbean," Tate said.

While Stapleton and Tate woo their guests with lavish entrees, chefs Dave Allworth of Four Eleven West and Patrick Cowden of Michael Jordan's Restaurant-23 said they prefer a more relaxed approach.

"We're a casual, fun place," said Allworth. "(Four Eleven West) is a friendly neighborhood restaurant, and we do pretty good business."

Allworth said he makes an effort to use local produce in his dishes to bring the restaurant's neighborly feel full circle. "I try my best to get local produce because it adds to the friendly nature (of Four Eleven West)," he said.

In catering to the elegant yet subtle atmosphere of Michael Jordan's 23-Restaurant, Cowden, who is the general manager, said he likes to keep the presentation of his dishes relatively simple. "Sometimes people build dishes a mile high, and while that kind of looks cool, the reality is that people come to eat the dish," Cowden said.

But Cowden said his knack for practicality in presentation doesn't keep him from creating dishes that are complex and visually appealing. "I would describe my presentation style as artistic and somewhat color-coordinated," he said.

Aurora's sous-chef Scott Dunlap said it is simple attention to presentation details that help to make food visually appealing. "I think presentation is very important," Dunlap said. "If food is presented in a beautiful way, then people are going to be looking forward to enjoying it."

The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at

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