Spanish Surrealist Salvador Dalí was known for opulent dinner parties and even published his own cookbook in 1973 called Les Diners de Gala. Similarly, over 100 recipes from famous poets of literary history made it into John Keats’s Porridge: Favorite Recipes of American Poets. There is a cross-pollination of culinary culture and the arts, where plating food becomes a masterful work of art, much like that of any notable painting or sculpture.
The saying, “You eat with your eyes first,” couldn’t ring more true. This is why prominent chefs strive to create meals that are not only delicious, but artfully executed and aesthetically pleasing as well. Plating food utilizes components of design; chefs call upon visuals, textures, colors, aromas, and balance to create a unique presentation to impress their diners. With the holidays fast approaching, you too can impress guests with artfully plated meals, festive table settings, and delicious flavors. Utilize elegant plating as a platform to showcase antique porcelain or china you’ve been saving for a special occasion.
9 Masterful Tips on Plating Food
The presentation of a meal should have one goal in mind: stimulate appetite and build anticipation. Plating is a creative, thoughtful process that is designed to enhance both the look and taste of your food. Because it’s a creative form of art, there aren’t any hard rules to follow except that presentation should never compromise taste. Below are ideas to keep in mind to strike a perfect balance between taste and impressive presentation.
1. Choose Plates Strategically
For chefs, dinnerware is a blank canvas; the backdrop for the presentation. It’s important to consider composition of the meal before deciding which plate to choose. White plates are a preferred choice, offering a neutral background to let high contrast, colorful ingredients pop. For collectors of antique milk glass or Wedgewood creamware, this is a perfect opportunity to use your settings as your canvas.
It’s equally important to consider the shape and size of the plates chosen. For a hefty steak dinner, larger plates allow for more room for a presentation, while a smaller plate for an appetizer makes the portion appear bigger. Serve round foods on a square platter to create a contrast in shapes. Use different sized dishes for soups, sauces, and various courses.
2. Get Creative with Color
Color adds contrast and energy to your dish. Add bright fruits and vegetables like beets and lemons to serve as accent points. Adorn meats and salads with bright orange dressings, and garnish with banana leaves or citrus zest. Further, work with complementary colors to enhance the artistic appeal of a dish.
3. Form Must Meet Function
It’s important that your choice of plate never compromises the function or taste of your meal. Think about how flavors will best combine. For example, you can leverage a layering technique by placing all components on top of one another to allow the diner to taste each flavor in one bite. For meals that spotlight individual flavors on their own, opt for a decomposed arrangement of ingredients. Avoid compositions that might look beautiful, but fail to highlight the flavors of each particular component.
4. Contrasting Textures
Much like how a painter uses texture to create depth and dimension, culinary chefs employ the same tactics in their plating techniques to further enhance the appeal of a dish. Beautifully designed plates utilize contrasting textures like a smooth puree with a crunchy element on top. Another way to add a textural element is to top a piece of meat with blue cheese crumbles or drizzle dressings sparingly across plates.
5. Create a Focal Point
Pick a striking visual element that will catch your diner’s eye. For example, plate a richly colored piece of fish with a small textured element in the center to pique interest. Or, consider adding height by layering or stacking ingredients while keeping the rest of the plate refined and simple. To create a truly captivating focal point, be sure not to overcrowd your plate with other unnecessary elements.
6. Garnish with Care
Garnishes shouldn’t be an afterthought, but rather a purposeful, edible element that harmonizes with the rest of a dish. Garnishes can be anything in the form of herbs, spices, edible flowers, citrus zest, sauces, and creams. Place them all over your plate to add color throughout. Garnishes can be added to all courses, including dessert. For example, if you’re serving strawberry ice cream, add a strawberry slice placed in the center of the scoop for texture and color.
Garnishes should always be an ingredient in the dish, so that the diner associates it with a flavor present in the meal. As always, make sure they are quick and easy to apply so that the food is still served at the desired temperature.
7. Often, Less is More
Plating depends on the occasion. Have fun serving festive holiday food in a more playful, lighthearted way. Or, for a more formal gathering, opt for a spare, elegant presentation. Regardless of the occasion, simplicity should be the goal. For example, if you want to execute a dish using height, don’t make it too tall so that it wobbles or falls. Focus on a main ingredient instead of overcrowding.
By keeping the plating simple, you can get more creative with table settings, table decor, and servingware. For example, place fresh-cut flowers in low vases throughout the table for an elegant, aromatic addition. Use different textures and patterns for tablecloths, napkins, and placemats. Create ambiance with dappled light by strategically placing candles, and show off your personality with hand-written nameplates.
8. Splurge on the Right Tools
The right tools are essential to achieving the design of your dish and allowing more precision in applying the finishing touches. Below are some of the most useful tools necessary to plate a perfectly executed composition:
- Decorating brushes: Much like paint brushes, these come in a variety of sizes, allowing you to create detailed line work, broad strokes, and precision when plating purees or sauces underneath meats.
- Garnishing kits: These kits often include a variety of materials like plating wedges, tongs, squeeze bottles, and more brushes to create sensational presentations.
- Molds: Particularly helpful when creating size and structure, molds are essential to getting the exact size and shape desired.
- Shavers: Shavers are useful for grating chocolate, cheese, etc.
- Pastry bag: These cone-shaped bags are ideal for desserts to decorate cakes or get creative with mashed potatoes and other semi-soft elements and foods.
9. Position Deliberately
The way food is positioned on a plate can impact its desirability. Best practice is to place your components with a clock in mind. From the diner’s perspective, the protein should live between 3 and 9, and your starch or carbohydrate should be plated from 9 to 12. Then, your vegetable fills the area from 12 to 3. It’s best to arrange small portions or appetizers in odd numbers, as it’s more appealing visually and gives off the allusion of higher volume of food.
How To Create an Artistic Plate of Food
The fusion of art and food is evident in a perfectly crafted plate presentation. Everything from the choice of plates, the colors represented, and the garnishes used is a creative decision that requires talent and precision. Learn how to plate your food like some of the most respected creatives throughout history using our guide below.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, a time celebrated with family-style meals, wine and spirits, and holiday cheer. Creating the perfect tablescape and setting for your gathering is reflected in the creativity of your food plating. Much like that of an artist’s blank canvas, a clean plate is a starting point to get creative with your presentation. Weave these tips into your culinary creations to construct a delicious plate of food to wow your guests, both artfully and flavorfully.