By Dominic Zoffranieri
If the old adage "you eat with your eyes" is true, then the manner in which we present food is of paramount importance. There are many factors and techniques to consider in food plating that affect the overall customer experience. Using any one of them alone can enhance your food. But using them all can set you apart from your competition.
When plating food attractively, it's important to remember the actual plate is critical to the final presentation. Choose your plates carefully, and remember, the plate is the frame of the presentation. Today, there are many sizes, shapes, colors and patterns available. If the plate is too gaudy, it will take away from the food. Choosing the correct size of plate is also important. While food should not be crowded onto the plate, it should convey that the portion is adequate and not stingy. Most chefs now use solid white plates to better showcase the food. Some texture may be embossed on the plate to add visual interest. Also, specialty plates may be used for very specific dishes.
Always consider color as an important part of plate presentation. For example, white fish with a cream sauce served with boiled potato and steamed cauliflower may have a very good flavor. However, when presented on a white plate, it will seem very monotonous and plain. And that will translate into how the customer perceives the food. Always try to have a variety of colors on the plate. People respond to certain colors more favorably than others.
- Green is fresh and cool, and can be soothing
- Red is passion and excitement
- Black is sophisticated and elegant
- Blue is a natural appetite suppressant, since it can make food look unappetizing
Color is especially important when dealing with vegetables. Here are some tips to keep in mind when plating vegetables:
- Blanching and refreshing green vegetables ensures they are fresh and vibrant when served
- Always complement green vegetables with other colored vegetables such as carrots, sweet peppers and beets
- Avoid clustering vegetables and arrange them more naturally around the plate to increase the contrast in colors
- Use different cuts and shapes of vegetables to add visual interest
Playing with Texture
Texture is critical to food presentation, as well as enjoyment. Contrasting hard and soft, smooth and coarse, adds visual interest to your food, and it will enhance your customers' enjoyment of the food. Texture can be achieved by choosing foods with differing characteristics, or it can be done with different cooking methods.
For example, a crisp fried accompaniment to a smooth main will add substantially to the overall dish.
Choosing the Focal Point
When plating a dish, you should decide on a focal point. This does not necessarily have to be the center of the plate. Focus can be achieved by varying the heights of the food. Just remember to have the highest food at the back, and don't have the lowest point at the center. The main item in the dish – usually the protein – should have prominence in the presentation. Don't plate food in such a way that the customer has to de-construct the food before eating it. Food should be presented in a natural and appealing manner.
Keep Things Tidy
Remember that neatness counts. Even the tastiest food served sloppily will not be well-received by your customer. Food should be contained within the rim of the plate, yet it should not be crowded in the center. Take a hard look at the plate and ask yourself if it is pleasing to the eye. Some chefs use the "spill and splatter" technique to decorate plates. This can be effective, yet it must be done with restraint and an eye to the overall presentation. It should not look sloppy and dirty.
Garnish to Impress
Garnishes and decorations can enhance your plate presentation. Choose garnishes that are appropriate to the dish and that echo some of the ingredients. For example, using a rosemary sprig on a dish that does not contain rosemary is inappropriate.
Here are some other techniques to keep in mind when garnishing:
- Never decorate a plate with something inedible
- Always make sure the garnish is in keeping with the food and its preparation – for example, a lemon garnish with a broiled or fried fish is appropriate, but it does not belong on a fish in a cream sauce
- Ensure the garnish complements and enhances the dish without being overpowering
- Choose garnishes that are the correct size; they should be easy to eat without having to be moved to the side of the plate
When choosing your garnishes, remember that they're purpose is to add flavor, texture and color to each dish. And, above all, remember that the garnish should not be an afterthought. Don't get stuck in the rut of using a sprig of parsley and a lemon wedge.