Some chefs punctuate a meal with a bang

For the Krog Street Tunnel Lamb dish at Georgia Boy, a peculiar-looking bent plate and tableside finish of edible carrot spray elicit surprise and disbelief.

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For the Krog Street Tunnel Lamb dish at Georgia Boy, a peculiar-looking bent plate and tableside finish of edible carrot spray elicit surprise and disbelief.

These dishes have left us speechless through the years

What do peacocks on platters, avocado foam and liquid nitrogen-infused ice cream prepared tableside have in common? These are just a few of the interrobangs from the annals of culinary history.

What’s an interrobang, you ask?!

Also known as an interabang — bang, for short — an interrobang is an unconventional punctuation mark that combines the functions of a question mark and an exclamation point. It looks like this: ‽

I got to thinking about interrobangs in the food world after watching an episode of Netfix’s “Explained” series, exploring the evolution of the exclamation point. Things took a funky turn in 1962, when an advertising exec lacked a punctuation mark suitable to express both excitement and disbelief. Thus, the interrobang was born.

From flaming baked Alaska to Thanksgiving turducken, the culinary equivalent of the interrobang is sensory-driven, boundary-pushing food. These days, they are the dishes that are 100% Instagram-able and TikTok-able — until they are so overplayed that they become trite.

We’ve actually been eating culinary exclamations for centuries — edible wonders that come alive through ingredient manipulation, plating and presentation, even the performative use of elements like smoke and fire.

Royal feasts have offered big bang moments. Consider Henry VIII’s coronation banquet in 1509, which included platters of cooked birds, including peacocks, with their feathers fanned out as if they were still flapping.

Apparently, the big talker at Queen Victoria’s wedding to Prince Albert in 1840 was their 300-pound, 10-foot wedding cake.

We’ve also seen culinary acts brought to us by big name chefs over the past four decades. The ever-enthusiastic Emeril Lagasse — known for his catchword “Bam!” — encouraged us to “kick it up a notch” with spicy heat.

However, molecular gastronomy took the culinary interrobang to new heights. At their respective restaurants, el Bulli and the Fat Duck, Spain’s Ferran Adria and Britain’s Heston Blumental popularized spherification, gelification, powderizing and deep freezing.

And, other chefs, ascribing to the modernist mindset that anything is possible, have embraced science, research and techno gizmos to break new ground, including Wylie Dufresne, Grant Achatz, Homaro Cantu, Jose Andres and Richard Blais.

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This burger with candied onions, braised bacon and cheddar foam is indicative of the work of chef Richard Blais. Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

This burger with candied onions, braised bacon and cheddar foam is indicative of the work of chef Richard Blais. Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

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This burger with candied onions, braised bacon and cheddar foam is indicative of the work of chef Richard Blais. Hyosub Shin/hyosub.shin@ajc.com

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Blais turned Atlanta’s burger world upside down when Flip Burger debuted in 2008. “Flip Burger Boutique allows Blais to play with the whimsical goofiness that makes him, well, him,” wrote former AJC dining critic Meridith Ford in her January 2009 review of that burger joint. “Atlanta might not be ready for the molecular gastronomic equations calculated by kitchens such as Chicago’s Alinea or New York’s WD-50, but boutique burgers, it can handle.”

In 2013, Blais’ fellow “Top Chef” alum, Kevin Gillespie, gifted Atlanta an all-in-one dinner and a show. Gunshow broke all sorts of restaurant rules when it rolled out dim sum-style service with Gillespie, along with chefs Andreas Müller and Joey Ward, personally delivering to guests their takes on Southern small plates.

ExploreAtlanta Orders In: Kevin Gillespie returns to the drawing board for Gunshow
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Kevin Gillespie broke all sorts of restaurant rules with Gunshow. Becky Stein for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Kevin Gillespie broke all sorts of restaurant rules with Gunshow. Becky Stein for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Kevin Gillespie broke all sorts of restaurant rules with Gunshow. Becky Stein for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“Ward is the modernist of the bunch,” AJC restaurant critic John Kessler noted in his review of Gunshow.

“We went nuts for his spring vegetable salad served with a creamy ramp dressing (‘rampch’) and yellow lemon-fennel-olive oil powder meant to evoke tree pollen,” Kessler wrote of Ward’s whimsical nod to the worst thing about an Atlanta spring.

Ward brought his bag of tricks with him when he left Gunshow in 2018 to open Southern Belle, which also has a chef’s tasting menu experience, called Georgia Boy, hidden behind a bookcase in a private dining room.

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Joey Ward is executive chef of Southern Belle and Georgia Boy. Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Joey Ward is executive chef of Southern Belle and Georgia Boy. Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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Joey Ward is executive chef of Southern Belle and Georgia Boy. Mia Yakel for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

When he spoke with me at that time about his plans for a culinary tribute to the South, Ward called it “a forward-thinking concept that will be very unique to the Atlanta area. There is definitely nothing like it.”

True to his word, Ward gave us the nonalcoholic applewood smoke-infused drink Smoke and a Pancake, encased in a glass cylinder. They’ve since switched to delivering the smoke through a pipe. “It’s like you are smoking the pipe and drinking through the straw,” is how Ward described it in a recent phone conversation.

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Joey Ward created the nonalcoholic applewood smoke-infused drink Smoke and a Pancake. Courtesy of Southern Belle

Joey Ward created the nonalcoholic applewood smoke-infused drink Smoke and a Pancake. Courtesy of Southern Belle

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Joey Ward created the nonalcoholic applewood smoke-infused drink Smoke and a Pancake. Courtesy of Southern Belle

Inspired by ice cream prepared tableside with liquid nitrogen at Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in the early 2000s, Ward got his hands on a Delta Air Lines service cart and offered a dessert of liquid nitrogen-infused Biscoff ice cream, also prepared tableside.

“I found that new spin on a very classic thing,” Ward said. “Tableside gets people very excited.”

Plus, the elements of the cart and the ice cream flavor both lend the dish local ties. “The Delta cart is a symbol of Atlanta, and Biscoff cookies are the best part of Delta,” he said. “Pre-pandemic, when we were only a la carte, the Delta cart was what we call the ‘fajita effect’ — one person would order it, and everyone would look. Inevitably, everyone would order it.”

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Southern Belle’s only dessert is Biscoff cookie ice cream, served over warm, sticky toffee-coffee pudding. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Southern Belle’s only dessert is Biscoff cookie ice cream, served over warm, sticky toffee-coffee pudding. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

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Southern Belle’s only dessert is Biscoff cookie ice cream, served over warm, sticky toffee-coffee pudding. Courtesy of Andrew Thomas Lee

Lately, Ward has channeled his inner graffiti artist with a dish called Krog Street Tunnel Lamb, which features such jaw-dropping elements as a bent plate and a tableside finish of carrot spray paint. According to Ward, he’s the only person ever to have purchased this particular Steelite dinnerware, whose shape “acts like a shield” so that the carrot spray — delivered via a reusable spray can wrapped in a Georgia Boy label — doesn’t fly everywhere.

Another dish, Spring’s Arrival, is a sensory overload paying homage to the new season. The dish features asparagus and lobster, with a floral arrangement of edible flowers. But, when dry ice under the flowers is “watered” with hot tea, made from rose water and orange blossom water, smoke billows, and the aroma of spring flowers fills the air.

And, just in time for pollen season, Ward’s salad that Kessler raved about in his 2013 visit to Gunshow is returning. Dubbed Local Spring Vegetables and Georgia Pollen, Ward said it is his first dish that “felt like a signature dish. It speaks to the time and place. It’s beautifully plated … all locally sourced. When you’re eating it, everything’s colored in yellow.”

Ward admitted that there’s a “fine line” between keeping “the stimulus going” and becoming kitschy.

“It should be entertainment and dinner,” he said. “You can shape both of those needs in one sitting.”

Just as a ? and a ! are shaped into a ‽

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