The French Laundry, a fine dining restaurant, presents its dishes and desserts so beautifully that customers are justified in just admiring its beauty instead of eating such fine works of edible art. For chefs, after all, food presentation is just as important as the flavors and feel of the food in the mouth.
But how do chefs make their food so beautifully presented? How can you, a person with little to no training in the culinary arts, make such works of art on a plate? Here are tips that can make your food look more appetizing, as well as reinforce your appreciation for the culinary arts.
Choose the Right Plate
This is key to food presentation because the plate can make or break your arrangement. Think of food plating in this way – you are the artist, the food is your medium, and the plate is your blank canvas. You should then carefully choose the plate according to its size, color and size in the same way that artists choose these canvas.
Start by choosing the right size – it should neither be too big that it seems to swallow the food nor too small that the food seems to spill over it. The food should stand out, so to speak, when placed on the plate.
White plates are typically used in fine dining restaurants because these provide a neutral background, a must to highlight the colors of the food, and create high contrast for the food to stand out. The color also speaks of pristine cleanliness, a quality that diners want in the people who prepare their food and the place where said food is prepared.
But many chefs also use plates in vibrant colors and/or with prints. Be careful when choosing these types of plates, however, as the food can easily become lost in, say, a black plate. Studies have also shown that dark-colored plates, such as blue and brown, tend to reduce the appetite so lighter-colored plates are usually recommended.
Place the Food in the Right Way
Well, of course, there’s no wrong or right way to plate your dish or dessert because beauty, like art, is in the eye of the artist and the beholder. But chefs follow general guidelines when placing the food on the plate, a few of which are discussed below.
- Balance contrast and variety, especially the textures. For example, crunchy onion straws can be contrasted by a smooth vegetable puree or a steak can be topped with crumbled blue cheese.
- Use a clock as a guide when plating. From the diner’s perspective, the protein should be between 3 and 9, the carbohydrates between 9 and 12, and the vegetables between 12 and 3. The placement will then be symmetrical while also making it easier for the diner to get at each part of his meal.
- Use moist or runny ingredients as the base for aesthetic and practical reasons. Moist and runny ingredients will likely move during delivery from the kitchen to the table when these aren’t anchored in place by solid ingredients. For example, mashed vegetables can serve as the bed for sliced meat and vegetables so the former doesn’t spread all over the place.
- Arrange food so that there are flavor bites. These are forkfuls of food combining all the ingredients on the plate into a single bite. The diner will then be able to savor the flavors of the food with each bite and, thus, enjoy how each ingredient complements or highlights the others. Plus, flavor bites on a plate are visually appealing and increases the sense of anticipation of what’s to come when the diner starts eating.
- Avoid overcrowding the plate. Find a focal point, usually the protein (i.e., meat), and build your other ingredients around it. The accompanying ingredients are usually in smaller quantities than the focal point because these play a complementary role only.
- Place odd amounts of the ingredients, especially the small ones. Examples include bite-sized appetizers, scallops and shrimps. An odd number of ingredients on a plate creates more visual appeal, such as placing 7 scallops instead of 6. An added benefit is that diners think they’re being served more food and, thus, become more satisfied
- Use accent ingredients for their color and flavor. Garnishes like mint, for example, serve both functions.
- Create height to increase the food’s visual appeal and to make the illusion of more food. But avoid compactly stacking the food because then it just looks lazy
- Highlight the height of certain ingredients by offsetting them with long, flat ingredients. For example, steak on a bed of polenta can be accented by lean asparagus spears set against it at a 45-degree angle.
Plating is an art so you have to apply your personal sense of artistry while also taking into account the standards of beauty. Practice is also key so plating food at home as frequently as possible is recommended. Observe the plating in fine dining restaurants, too.