Staplehouse chef Ryan Smith carefully goes through a container of organic eggplant prior to preparation. ( / special)
Photo: Chris Hunt
Photo: Chris Hunt

Chef Ryan Smith: Magic of Staplehouse is in the pantry

With a moving story of loss and triumph and a raft of accolades that include being named America’s best new restaurant of 2016 by Bon Appetit magazine, year-old Staplehouse has emerged as Atlanta’s most in-demand dining destination.

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Executive Chef Ryan Smith oversees a menu that has evolved over the past 12 months while always featuring dishes that twist and turn on the palate and challenge notions of technique, sourcing and flavor.

With that in mind, we asked Smith to explain that thing he does at Staplehouse.

Visual familiarity is important, he said. “We try to name our dishes very simply, so it doesn’t confuse our guests. And then we want it to appeal to them visually, so it’s not over the top and too complicated.”

Also fundamental is what Smith calls “building a pantry.”

“For us, that means making things,” he said. “We ferment things and age things and cure things and smoke them and dehydrate them.” All of which leads to new flavors that are then incorporated into “whatever is fresh and available at the moment.”

These principles are on display at Staplehouse in something as basic as a salad.

“We’re doing this salad right now, and it almost tastes like a Caesar salad, but it is nothing like a Caesar salad. On the menu, it’s just lettuce, pistachio, sake bushi, green tomato.”

The salad gets a depth of flavor from sake bushi, which is similar to bonito flakes, made from salmon. At Staplehouse, they form it into a sausage, cure it, smoke it and age it until it dries out. “It’s salty and smoky and fishy,” Smith said.

Fermentation and dehydration also enter into the equation. “We juiced green tomatoes and fermented the juice and made a salad dressing with roasted pistachios and canola oil. It became this creamy kind of texture that resembled Caesar dressing. And we dehydrated the pulp of the tomatoes to make a powder that we sprinkled over the salad.”

And don’t forget the fun of the surprise.

“We took the outer leaves of the lettuce and charred them on the grill and draped those over the entire salad. When you dive in, there’s all this crunchy, creamy, salty, smoky stuff that’s hidden under the leaves. So it’s four ingredients, but there’s so much more going on.”

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Staplehouse, 541 Edgewood Ave. S.E., Atlanta. 404-524-5005, staplehouse.com.

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