Credit: Michael Gebert

If the Reader‘s Key Ingredient series has demonstrated anything, it’s the undying appeal of the swoosh for today’s chefs. More dishes than not these days start with a bit of sauce or some other substance, schmeared across the plate. So when an order of octopus came out of the kitchen at Andersonville’s the Brixton on a plate spattered from edge to edge with an explosion of black squid-ink goo, it was startling. It had the energy and the edge of violence of Jackson Pollack’s action paintings from the 1950s. In a dark room lit only by the light behind the bottles of the bar, it seemed positively diabolical.

Chef Kevin McMullen says the kitchen calls it the “murder splatter,” and though the octopus dish was recently retired (“It’s such a winter dish,” he says), the splatter has found a new home on a dessert in the form of a reddish blackberry puree that only increases its resemblance to a head shot in a George Romero movie. McMullen demonstrates his vigorous technique by whip-cracking a spoonful of blackberry puree at a plate, and says: “It’s the most liberating part of my job.”