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Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Feb 24, 2007 12:02pm ET

What's the deal with shattered food? Did I miss the memo or something? Maybe I just haven't been going to the right restaurants, but two different chefs on the first day of the 21st Masters of Food & Wine here in Carmel Highlands served plates with what appeared to be shattered purple glass as a garnish.

At dinner, Michel Richard of Citronelle in Washington, D.C., broke up paper-thin, freeze-dried beets into random pieces no bigger than a half-inch. He then strew them on one side of a plate that also held a thick slice of sous vide-cooked duck breast and a bright crimson sauce made of beet juice, broth and balsamic vinegar.

At lunch, Wylie Dufresne, the endlessly inventive chef of wd-50 in New York, made a crispy sheet of tart hibiscus candy and broke it into bits no larger than a third of an inch. He then scattered them over a beautifully cooked squab breast, which rested on a clove-scented onion compote.

Strikingly, both garnishes of busted-up food were about the same color. The beets actually were sweeter than the hibiscus, which set up some tension between Richard's duck dish and the soft, generous El Molino Pinot Noir Rutherford 2004 served with it. But since the shards were in a separate pile of their own, it was easy to eat them separately as a sort of mini-dessert.

The tartness of the hibiscus, however, helped balance the sweetness of the onion compote and the hazelnut-scented tofu that was served with it. And that helped bridge the gap with Etude Pinot Noir Carneros Estate 2004, a wine of crisp focus.

Maybe it was a coincidence that two chefs decided to do this on the same day. Maybe it was a coincidence they both did it to go with Pinot Noirs. But next time I see a Pinot Noir coming on this schedule, I'm on the lookout for big flakes of food.

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