Whether you want to emulate the minimalist gourmet trend of pairing big white plates with carefully stacked, bite-size towers of food, or you just want to bring a touch of elegance into your dining room, you can refine your plate presentation skills by learning some basic food presentation tips.
Presentation of Food: The Basics
Most meals consist of a main element–usually the protein–and supporting elements such as vegetables, grains and sauces. When putting together any meal, consider how you can create the most pleasing presentation of your food without going overboard. Keep the following food presentation ideas in mind as you work on your plate presentation:
- Go for a simple look. Presentation of food can benefit from looking simple and effortless. If you work too hard on creating an elaborate display, you might end up with a muddled or even silly-looking plate. Plan ahead, visualize what you want the plate to look like and brainstorm by looking up pictures of recipes online. When you actually get ready to execute your design, do so with a few deft strokes.
- Look at the plate as a clock face. Place the meat or other entrée at six o’clock. This means that the diner will be directly presented with the most important part of the meal. Now, place your vegetable, grain or other side dishes at three and nine o’clock. This design encourages balance, which will make the meal seem more complete.
- Prepare a variety of shapes. To avoid an entire plate full of circles (such as meatballs, potatoes and peas), vary the shapes of the foods on your plate. You can cut some vegetables, like carrots, into almost any shape for optimal food plate presentation.
- Think in terms of odd numbers. This basic rule of composition has to do with the fact that odd numbers, strangely enough, actually create balance. When confronted with one object in the middle and an equal number of objects on each side, the eye knows exactly where to go. So make two sides to support your meat, not three, and when you’re crafting a cherry tomato flower as a garnish, create five “petals” rather than four or six.
- Use contrasting colors and textures. When planning what foods to make, think about contrast. This idea relates to color, texture and even geometrical layout. If your standout food is an earth tone, and you want a potato dish to go with it, use purple or blue potatoes. If you’re making a green salad, top it with beet shavings. Blend puréed foods with starchy vegetables and hard cheeses, and make a nutty crust for that supple salmon.
Plate Presentation: Tools of the Trade
You’ve probably looked at a plated dish and wondered how the chef got the dish to look so perfect. The fancy tricks experts use often involve very simple tools and techniques. Here are some food presentation ideas and tricks that any novice can master using simple tools:
- Cooking ring towers. Have you ever seen gourmet food stacked like a round, layered tower? Achieve this effect using cooking rings, which look like tall cookie cutters. Contrary to the name, these rings are sometimes square–if you’re trying to make perfect frittata squares or cubed tuna, you would use one of these.
- Melon baller mounds. You can use melon, ice cream and other scoopers to make perfect mounds of grains and soft cheeses.
- Squeeze bottle sauces. Sauce often looks best when first pooled onto the plate. Use a basting brush to generously brush the sauce down for a swept look, or use an eyedropper to make perfect circles. Squeeze bottles also work wonders, whether you want to make cool diagonal lines or polka-dots. This method works well with savory foods and desserts.
To make simple desserts look beautiful, you can purchase a cheap dessert decorating kit, complete with beginner’s instructions and tools such as squeeze bottles and frosting pens.
Put the “Plate” in Food Plate Presentation
The plate is a canvas upon which you serve your food, so treat it like a part of the presentation. Follow some food presentation tips for choosing and prepping plates, such as:
- Invest in some basic big white plates. If you happen to collect dishes, and you know the thrill of finding bright-colored Fiesta® dinnerware and gorgeous antique china, by all means, arm your kitchen with a variety of choices. Ultimately, though, you will find it helpful to fall back on a basic white staple that rarely clashes with anything.
- Serve cold on cold and hot on hot. If you are serving a cold dish, chill the plate beforehand. For a hot dish, you can add a touch of warmth–and keep the food warmer longer–by warming the plates in your oven (on the lowest heat) or in the microwave.
- Treat the plate’s rim like a picture frame. Leaving several inches of clean space will really underscore the food’s beauty. This allowance of space will also eliminate clutter, which takes away from the “wow” effect that you want to achieve.
- Throw the plates out altogether. Whether it is a pineapple boat at a barbeque or twin bread bowls for a cozy soup dinner, you can really set a mood by restructuring how the food is plated (or in this case, “not” plated).
Although white plates may be your best bet for most of your meals, consider using colored plates occasionally to contrast and bring out the color of the food in your plate presentation. Square-shaped and other interesting plates can also add a unique touch; just don’t let the plate overpower the food. Choose plates that are neither too big nor too small for the meal–a big plate can make portions look small and a small plate can make your plate presentation look messy and crowded.
Garnish Your Meals
The garnish should provide a finishing touch to your dish. When deciding what garnish to use, think about what you want to accentuate. Cucumber balls, made with a melon scoop, can bring out the freshness of a salad. A dusting of herbs over rice pilaf can hint at its earthiness and savory flavors.
Look at the garnish as a way to even out any imbalance in presentation of the food. If your plate contains two earth-toned colors and a green color, a deep green garnish over one of the warm colors will tie everything together.
Decide what garnish to use based on the dish’s most exciting feature. French toast with lavender and grapefruit will greatly benefit from a sprig of lavender to tie the meal together, and emphasize the ingredient’s originality.