sprigs and flakes make a bright, easy accent for many dishes,
but they can become boring quickly when overused.
By plating as creatively as possible, you can visually stimulate
your diner's appetite and imagination. The most exciting plate
presentations arouse interest and a sense of expectancy, then
present food that tastes as good or even better than anticipated.
Here are some of the principles to keep in mind as you design
plates for presentation:
Plate presentation concepts are the same as those of fine
art: the chef-artist works with a palette of different colors,
shapes, textures, and flavors, and arranges them with the
principles of artistic composition in mind: balance, harmony,
And the rules are simple. The most important thing to keep
in mind is that the main ingredients remain the focal point.
The way you showcase them should never overwhelm, clash with,
or obscure them.
Add to these simple concepts an attempt to avoid repetition
and trite standbys (such as the ubiquitous parsley), and you'll
be able to create attractive, enticing plates every time.
The most important, most dramatic tool a chef can use is the
plate itself. Wide choices in color, shape, and size offer
a multitude of opportunities to create harmony or contrast,
or simply serve as a blank canvas that lets the food speak
Achieve drama with unusual shapes and sizes: serve a selection
of cheeses on a triangular plate or tuna tartare on a large
white square. Keep materials in mind: etched glass, clear
glass, and even glass bricks are perfect for serving chilled
salads, sushi, and other raw items--the glass conveys a cool
Also consider plate choices as a way to underscore the theme
or cuisine of your establishment. Richard Stallings,
Dining Room Manager at Aquarella in La Jolla, CA, tells
us that his restaurant's charming rustic plates and color-chip
embedded glasses are imported from Mexico and enhance the
authentic flavor of the upscale Mexican dishes.
Many chefs, including the renowned Thomas Keller of
The French Laundry in Yountville, CA, draw from a variety
of plates for service. A table might feature a number of different
designs, each chosen to complement diners' individual selections.
How you arrange the food on your plates is another aspect
of presentation. When serving more than one item, consider
Asian design principles--an odd number of items or asymmetrical
placement will look more intriguing than a two-by-two or grid-like
We've all seen (and practiced!) intricate architectural stacking
and towering--a round of polenta, topped with a medallion
of beef, layered with a bed of caramelized onions, topped
with a vertical sprig of greenery. If restrained, stacking
remains an effective and dramatic technique. However, too
much can border on the bizarre.
A fresh alternative to stacking might even be the absence
of arrangement: simplicity can make a design statement all
by itself. We've been impressed by the simple mound of dark
green arugula with a light sheen of olive oil casually piled
into a small, stark-white soup crock at the Tate Gallery
Restaurant in London, England.
Other principles to keep in mind include avoiding portions
that are too small in relation to plate size, or portions
that are too big, such as the off-putting steak and frites
that hang over the side.
The final and perhaps most important presentation tools you
have at your disposal are complementary sauces, reductions,
coulis, and added ingredients. For example, a pair of colorful,
contrasting sauces creatively "painted" or drizzled on the
plate will enhance appetizers, main courses, and desserts.
Herbs such as torn basil or sprigs of fresh dill and seasonings
such as pepper flakes can accent flavor while adding color
contrast. Greenery--curly endive, cress, or pea shoots, for
example--and nuts or seeds such as black mustard, cracked
coriander, or sunflower also add taste and visual interest.
Artfully carved produce items make excellent garnishes. Two
principles to keep in mind: they should be fresh and in season,
and serve as an enhancement to the item they're garnishing.
Even the tried-and-true lemon, probably the most common pairing
for seafood, can make a dramatic impression if looked at in
a different way. For example, the Buckeye Roadhouse
in Mill Valley, CA, serves a unique lemon half to accompany
its signature Oysters Bingo. A millimeter-thin strip of zest
is pared almost all the way around the cut edge of the fruit,
and then loosely knotted in the middle, creating a Zen-like
Check out some of these resources for more ideas on artistic
garnishing and plate presentation. You can find them at the
- The Book of Garnishes by June Budgen
- Fantastic Food Decorating by Emanuela Caldirola,
Sergio Barzetti, and Manuela Caldirola
- Garnishing: A Feast for Your Eyes by Francis Talyn
- Glorious Garnishes: Crafting Easy & Spectacular Food
Decorations by Amy Texido
- Stunning Garnishes by Valerie Ferguson
- Grand Finales: The Art of the Plated Dessert by
Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty
- A Modernist View of Plated Desserts (Grand Finales)
by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty
- Grand Finales: A Neoclassic View of Plated Desserts
by Tish Boyle and Timothy Moriarty
- Culinary Carving and Plate Decoration by Harvey
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