All the pretty plates

Connection

Step into Upton 43 and you’ll find that Harcey’s refined, rustic aesthetic permeates all corners of the space. A gentle smokiness emanates from the kitchen’s open fire pits, and courses often come served on wooden planks or earthenware. For many diners, an experience at Upton 43 recalls a cabin up North; it instantly transports, comforts.

That feeling is elicited by the presentation of the food on the plate, as well as by Harcey himself, says Liz Gardner, creative director and co-owner of Minneapolis advertising agency, Bodega Ltd. Her agency helped Upton 43 tell a consistent story from the very beginning. “We’re really just trying to capture these interesting dualities we see at play in Chef,” Gardner explains. “He’s this big, tattooed guy who wears camo and likes to hunt, but he also creates food that’s incredibly refined and has this huge heart connection.”

Harcey’s Swedish meatballs speak to the various dimensions of his character. By plating his meatballs alongside pickled cucumbers and potato puree, Harcey uses traditional techniques to transform a humble comfort food into something elegant and surprising. He consistently draws on his grandfather’s old recipes for inspiration, using familiar, local ingredients to develop extraordinary new flavors.

Like Upton 43, The Bewildered Pig, nestled in California’s rural Anderson Valley, appeals to a diverse set of diners with its perfect balance of rustic charm and sophisticated flavors. The staff encourages patrons to ask questions about the ingredients and preparation of their meal, creating a more open, engaging experience, and removing some of the pretense that often comes with fine dining. Sous chef Izzy Leas reflects on the intentions behind this approach: “As chefs, we’re not just satisfying hunger anymore; we’re trying to satisfy this deeper, more ethereal hunger,” she says. “What am I eating? Who grew it, who cooked it, and how?” As diners seek transparent, relatable experiences, restaurants need to offer more, and be more.

Engagement

Some of this demand for openness and engagement in dining ultimately stems from the way our interactions with each other have changed. We’re always plugged in—poking, tweeting, ’gramming, snapping—telling the world where we’ve been and what we’ve tasted.

This virtual connectedness has complex implications for restaurants. “Social media adds this extra challenge because you realize […] it’s not just one person, one plate, one time,” Krattenmaker explains. “If someone takes a picture, and your food looks crazy, and they put it on the internet […] then it’s there forever.” Dining used to be temporal. Today, the snap of a photo means that donut you had for breakfast can live on and forever contribute to a baker’s brand.

Liz Gardner and her partner Josef Harris worked with chef Harcey to build a restaurant that reacts to and embraces this new food reality. “We were really conscientious when we designed the space,” Gardner says. “We knew people would be taking photos, so it became […] how can we help them?”

White table cloths, tall ceilings, muted wall colors, and an open kitchen all contribute to making Upton 43 a photo-friendly space. “We were thinking about how these photos were going to be doing advertising for us, and really being mindful of that in the building phase,” Gardner elaborates. Photographing an experience at Upton 43 makes as much sense as snapping a photo of Beyoncé mid-shake, or Curry on the court: The restaurant fully engages all of the senses, begging to be shared and remembered.

Preservation

While I’m admitting to food firsts, I suppose I’ll unload another confession: I used to cringe when I saw people snapping photos at restaurants. Can’t you just put the phone down? Appreciate the experience for what it is in that moment? Posting pictures of food on social media can feel self-indulgent, even boastful—look where I am! Look who I’m with!

But at the same time, in this ever-more competitive restaurant market, Twin Cities chefs are trying to make each dining experience more memorable and more meaningful than the last. In that respect, documentation almost feels like a small, important acknowledgement of their efforts. When Krattenmaker slid his gravlax in front of me, I knew I wanted to remember it, preserve it. Truly, it was almost too pretty to eat. “I don’t know if I should be embarrassed, Chef, but…do you mind if I take a picture?”

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