The Art of Plating – Part 1
While reviewing many recipes as a Chef that appears in contests, I find some wonderful recipes, great innovative ones but still fail to make it to the top because of wrong execution. Runny sauces, needless garnishes, wrong choice of colors and so on. Many home chefs on our website worry a lot about plating and almost every day I end up getting messages or calls about tips for Plating. At the end of the day its about food that tastes good. What we are trying to help is to be make the food look good as well and taking it to the next level.
“The Eye eats first” is a well known saying. Our first impressions of a plate of food set our expectations. The sight of food stimulates our appetite, starts our digestive juices flowing and making our taste buds alert and make us eager to dig in. Our meal becomes exciting and stimulating. If the food is carelessly served, tossed on a plate in a sloppy manner, we assume that it was cooked with lack of care. If the colors with no color accent, we expect the foods to be bland. The size of the plate makes the food portion looks small (even if it’s not) and makes way for an unsatisfied customer. So, Food presentation and plating is all about these. Its our job to get the customers, viewers excited about the food and we can’t afford to turn them off even before they taste it. While there aren’t any hard and fast rules when it comes to “Correct Plating”, but there are several important concepts to keep in mind as you prepare your culinary creations.
Things to Remember before plating
When a chef plans a new dish the appearance and flavor must be considered. You can’t start building your plate until all of your flavors are finalized, so it’s wise to have your ingredients prepared before you begin the actual plating process. You want to consider portion sizes before plating but please remember presentation should never overshadow taste.
Guidelines for Plating Food
A typical plate arrangement consists of some or all of the four components. The first one is almost always present, the others may or may be not be included on the same plate.
- Main Item: This is usually a meat, poultry, or a fish item, although it may also be a pasta dish or a vegetarian item.
- Side dishes or accompaniments: These are usually vegetable and starch preparations that are appropriate to serve with the main item. Today we use the term for any substantial or starch accompaniment.
- Sauce or Sauces: If used, may be served around, under, or over other items on the plate.
- Garnish: We use the term primarily for some edible items intended to enhance the visual appeal of the dish. Flavors and textures of garnishes should serve as an appropriate compliment or contrast to the main item.
- Choose the Right Plate: Selecting the right plate for your creation is a key to attractive food presentation. One way to conceptualize is to think yourself as an artist, the plate as a canvas and food as a medium. (This is a great description, thanks to the author for this fascinating description, I always abide by that ðŸ˜Š)
- Choose the Right size plate and choose the right complimentary color: The plate should be big enough to allow your food to stand out, but small enough that your portions don’t look small. White plates are popular because it provides a neutral background for your colorful creations.
- Keep food off the rim of the Plate: Utilize the space thinking your rim as your frame and it should hold the food without hanging off the edge.
- Plate the food with a clock in mind: As you begin plating your ingredients, picture the face of a clock. From the diner’s point of view, your protein should be between 3 and 9, your starch or carbohydrate from 9 and 12, and your vegetable from 12 and 3.
- Keep Space between items: Don’t pile everything in a heap. Each item should have its own identity. Even when items are stacked, this should be done neatly so that each item is identifiable.
- Use Moist Ingredients as base: Another rule of thumb is to plate moist or runny ingredients first, as they tend to move during delivery if they aren’t held down by other foods. One way to anchor runny ingredients is by placing other foods on top of them. For example, you can angle sliced meat or vegetables against purees and mashed vegetables.
- Serve odd amounts of food: If you are serving bite sized appetizers always try to give the guests odd quantities. It creates more visual appeal and also the customers think they are getting more food.
- Place food to create flavor bites. Flavor bites are forkfuls of food that combine all of the ingredients in your dish into one bite. Creating flavor bites is the perfect accompaniment to creative plating as it pleases both the eye and the taste buds.
- Think about Color and contrast: While the focus on the plate will be protein, think of other elements to create color and contrast.
- Use Texture to enhance your dish: Contrasting a moist khichdi with some crunchy onion straws or Sev creates appealing texture combinations that look classic.
- Garnishes: They are not just added for color. They are needed sometimes to balance a plate by providing an additional element. Two items on a plate may look unbalanced but adding a simple sprig of mint leaf completes the picture. Don’t add unnecessary, inedible garnishes. Its best to add nothing to the plate that is not intended to be eaten. Avoid anything with a strong odor so that the focus is on the main dish.
- Using a sauce or gravy: Sauces, gravies are essential part of many dishes, especially Asian cuisine. But sometimes ladling the sauce all over an item hides colors and shapes. If the item is attractive by itself, let the diner see it.
- Keep it simple: Simplicity is more attractive than overworked and complicated plating. One of the simplest plating styles can also be the most attractive if it s carefully done.
- Temperature: Serve hot foods hot on hot plates, serve cold foods (salads, desserts) cold on cold plates.
- Wipe the edges of the plate: Once you have placed all the items on the plate, always make sure you wipe the edges of the plate with a wet towel or napkin to give it a clean look.
In the next part of plating we will be having a live session/demo of plating of Indian foods/ Plating for kids/ plating of curries/snacks followed by an article on tools for plating and different types of plating. I would like to thank some legendary names like Le Cordon Bleu, Wayne Gessler, Chef Vineet Bhatia and POS Sector whose articles and work has been used in this article for pure teaching purposes)
About the Author – Chef Ashok is a certified culinary professional who graduated from the world’s oldest culinary school Le Cordon Bleu with high honours and distinction. He has gained a speciality experience in Spanish cuisine from Spain working with chefs from Michelin starred in Bilbao and San Sebastian.
An experience with Ritz Carlton, working with Top French Chefs and with the top Italian restaurants in Australia has taught him the art of perfection and culinary discipline which he practices. Besides working in a corporate culinary environment, Ashok enjoys themed fusion dinners, hosting culinary classes. Chef Ashok shares his culinary journey with Plattershare and on his FB page Food Raconteur.