How to Present Food on a Plate
Presenting food well is all part of the show that is cooking. From historical extravaganzas such as live birds that fly from a pie, to modern day garnishes with unexpected twists, food presentation is an art form. In this article, you'll have the opportunity to explore some of the more modern ways to present food.
- Start at the foundation. Selecting the right plates, cutlery, glasses and linen will enhance the overall appearance of the dish upon the table. The dish itself should add appeal and interest to the food without detracting from the food. Often chefs rely on plain colours, especially white, to set off the food. Aside from colour, there is a wide range of shapes and styles to choose from too and if you don't already have interesting plates, many can be sourced very cheaply. Some are practical, some are more decorative and some are conservatively formal.
- When looking for interesting tableware, don't go past Asian grocery stores, craft or flea markets, antique stores and Middle Eastern wares. You can find some very interesting curios from all of these sources.
- Also consider if the plate size is right for the dish; a small portion on a large plate can work for the artistically minded diner, but some guests may equally be unimpressed and feel cheated of sufficient food.
- Consider the use of a separate sauce or the sauce the dish comes with (such as a curry, stew or casserole) as a form or decorative design. A soupy dish on a flat plate looks messy unless it is reined in with something such as rice, pasta or potato, or served in a suitable bowl or deep dish.
- Consider the shape of your cooked vegetables and how you serve them, which can make the simple become special. Formal vegetable cuts can add a lot of appeal, but also can add to the cook's workload. While using an ice cream scoop to make domes of food is really left to the realms of childrens' parties, you can cook and serve vegetables, desserts, pot pies and a host of other foods inside unique shaped dishes and many other fire-proof vessels.
- If you have a food processor with all the cutting elements, such as shapes and julienne cutters, then the time and effort required to produce specially shaped vegetables is considerably reduced.
- Remember that styles change even within the space of a few years or even months, so keep up-to-date by checking out cooking magazines, cooking or foodie websites and cooking shows for current ideas. At one stage, vast and complex garnishes taking more space was attractive and at another time, towers or stacks of food was all the vogue. As these are both tricky to prepare and serve, these fashions tend not to last long and go back to the older formal styles.
- At current focus on presentation is on the increase as more educated dinners are viewing simple presentation as low skill and effort and therefore have higher expectations, unless it is done with high art and aesthetic in mind - quality over quantity in essence. With todays technology and the goal of many chefs to make Michelin star grade food possible for cooks at home, aside from the large benefit it will bring, is that the diner expectation and skill level will be raised to match as diners seldom would be impressed with something they can make at home, unless they go to a cafe for a break from home cooking.
- Different serving vessels or materials for serving food are increasing popular as Changed trends in food presentation can also be a reliable indicator of whether a cafe or restaurant has moved with the times!
- Consider how to present the main portion in relation to the side dishes. Be it a slice of pie, meat, a flan or whatever, consider where it will look best on the plate with everything else. Consider also how get best impact––the appearance and symmetry is all affected by whether the food is sliced thinly, thickly or left whole. Experiment a little and ask other people for their thoughts on what looks best. You'll soon get the idea of what works best, and there's never any harm borrowing ideas from your favourite restaurants.
- Choose the food to suit the occasion - context is everything. Avoid feeding children's fare to adults and vice versa, or you'll have a culinary disaster on your hands.
- Imagine what you will serve on the plate according to the character of the diner. Some restaurants are known for serving just a meat and sauce portion with nothing else, allowing the guest to buy an additional serve of vegetables or side dishes. This can be fine in certain styles, especially formally served roasts often serve the meat plain on the plate allowing the diner to select from a range of side dishes. But it tends to be unpopular with those who want a varied, interesting meal or a who desire the feeling that they're getting a complete or value packed meal. Psychology therefore can make a huge difference and effect.
- Gastro-pubs and many modern cafes and restaurants therefore are fantastic sources of inspiration to visit. Today using many of the skills of the scientific age where sous-vide is now a common method for steaks, while extraction, distillation and ice filtration for clear soups and sauces is becoming available at lower cost. Many diners today are eating more complex meals without realising by chefs and cooks reinventing common fare.
- Investigate simple garnishes. The food speaks for itself so the garnish should complement this be it a small side salad, sprinkling of herbs, nuts or ground spices. Above all, make it relevant and unless it is fashionable to hide the food with the garnish, opt for simple, easy elegance. Confusing diners won't win you any favours.
- You can buy machines that make easy garnishes. You might want to train older children to make these for you as part of their pocket money; the excitement soon wears off!
- Choose your garnish wisely. In many cultures, flowers are an acceptable garnish or a large inedible leaf sitting underneath the food. In broader Western culture, it's recommended that nothing inedible be served on the plate. As well, since certain garnishes can affect the flavour, choose carefully.
- is a highly regarded art form, while it does have its places such as buffet and smörgåsbord, they are not very common in wider presentation.]]If you like the idea of having edible flowers, see How to choose edible flowers for more details.
- Consider colours and textures. White sauce is often paired with a white meat, but sliced chicken with a white sauce, cauliflower and potato is lacking in colour and soon looks bland and unappetising. Try to add different colours and textures to spice up the interest. This is usually fairly easy to do and it can add a lot of appeal for just a little extra planning effort.
- Finally, but importantly, consider what you would prefer to do within the range of your skills and time availability. Spending ages fiddling with ice, butter or vegetable garnishes can sometimes be unrealistic, unnecessary and tedious. Enjoy the cooking process as much as the eating.
- Read current cooking books and magazines for ideas. Your local library is a wonderful resource and many culinary magazines are now available for downloading to electronic reading devices, allowing you to read the recipes in the cooking area straight off your iPad, eReader or other device. This also enables you to decorate a table with the electronic device as a reference!
- Keep all presentation of food relevant and simple. A nice formal dish is great for a celebration, but even simple meals can be improved with the addition of some herbs.
Things You'll Need
- Food magazines and cookbooks
- Ideal dinnerware and tableware
- Inspiration from recipes and restaurants/cafes that you like