“Plating food” refers to placing food on a plate in as appealing a manner as possible. Many cooks give short shrift to this concept, but let me assure you, presentation is a very important part of the dining experience because we eat with our eyes first.
One of the things we all most enjoy about dining at an expensive restaurant is that moment when our entree arrives, decked out in all its glory. We marvel at what the chef has wrought, and can’t wait to dig in.
Honestly, if the presentation is excellent, the food need not be. Plating food properly is that important . . . or nearly so.
Remember “BUFF” when plating: Balance, Unity, Focus and Flow
Bigger is better: Crowding food is a no-no. Large plates allow for separation between items, which lets the inherent beauty of each one shine.
Color me neutral: When plating food, use classic white or earth tones; these will complement any color of food.
What grows together goes together: Preparing fresh ingredients that are in season doesn’t just taste better, it looks better. Seasonal produce tends to fall into both culinary and visual harmony.
Clock it: The conventional “smiley face” (starch at ten o’clock, meat at two o’clock, and vegetables at six o’clock) is always a safe bet.
Focus, focus: For more drama, “find the focal point” of the meal (usually the protein) and elevate it by placing it on or leaning it up against the starch.
Get saucy: Spoon sauce under the meat rather than on top. This allows the meat’s crust to stay crisp while also offering a contrasting circular shape beneath.
Tips For Plating
- Plan it. Sketch the presentation to help you visualize the plate. Assemble a “practice” plate to help decide the final presentation.
- Keep it simple and quick. You want the food to look attractive, but not overwhelming or silly. Don’t try to build towers or other elaborate structures when plating food. And remember: Unless you have a dozen cooks at your disposal, you will need to arrange the food on the plate quickly in order to serve it warm.
- Everything should be edible. Don’t garnish with large sprigs or spears of rosemary or other herbs. garnishing tips
- Start arranging food in the center of the plate and build outward. This improves appearance, and also helps prevent the server from sticking his or her thumb in the food.
- Reserve the front of the plate for the most attractive and appetizing food.
- Add height to the plate. Do this simply by mounding potatoes, rice or other starch (make a mound, not a mountain) at the back of the plate and leaning other vegetables or meat against it. Generally, the presentation should begin low at the front of the plate and grow taller at the rear.
- Think color. If your food is basically brown or white, brighten the plate with colorful garnishes and vegetables. A sprig of fresh cilantro or flat leaf parsley, a few rings of sliced green onion, a wedge of fruit, a sprinkling of toasted sesame seeds, or a small chile pepper are just a few garnishes that add color. Make sure your garnish suits the recipe.
- Serve according to design. If someone helps you serve, show them how to position the plate correctly in front of your guest.
Tips For Trays
- When making up a tray, be sure to separate the colors. Try not to put different foods of the same color next to each other.
- Trays also look best when arranged symmetrically. Strong lines add eye appeal. It adds energy and movement. Keep in mind that balance is important, particularly when making a round tray. food presentation tips
- A centerpiece is also important. Hollowed-out foods can make wonderful bowls for your dips. Try hollowing out peppers, tomatoes, round bread loaves, cabbage, or eggplant. Serve fruit salad in a pineapple, cantaloupe, or watermelon.
- Or, for winter, try serving soup in a pumpkin, or rice or stuffing in a baked squash half. Edible bowls are both beautiful and functional; they create interest and reduce waste
You have a choice with every dish you make: Always choose to take the extra effort to plate it as beautifully as you can. Sign up for my free newsletter and visit my recent interviews with chefs for more plating ideas.
Let me recommend two books here: “Flavor Bible” and “Culinary Artistry”. If you entertain alot and want to learn what foods go well together and which combinations work best, along with the cooking techniques, these books are wonderful. I use them as a reference on menu planning. An example would be:
Plums – almonds, apricots, bananas, brandy, brown sugar, caramel, cinnamon, poach, raw, stew.
Squash, acorn: Season: autumn-winter, Techniques: bake, mash. Allspice, bay leaf, butter (especially brown butter) etc.
I’ve heard beginning chefs say that they’ll never be able to plate food like the pros, because they aren’t “artists”. I promise you, you do not have to be an artist to learn the basics of plating food like Emeril and Wolfgang and Bobby Flay. All you need to do is be observant and practice, practice, practice.