Plating Food

“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

The Plate

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.

The 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.

The Setup

Plating Food

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.Dumplin plating food presentation

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

Tips For Trays

You have a choice with every dish you make: Always choose to take the extra effort to plate it as beautifully as you can.

Let me recommend two books here: “The Flavor Bible” and “Culinary Artistry“. If you entertain a lot 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.

The Flavor Bible: The Essential Guide to Culinary Creativity, Based on the Wisdom of America’s Most Imaginative Chefs
  • Winner of the 2009 James Beard Book Award for Best Book: Reference and Scholarship

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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.