You can make the simplest dish, but by presenting and plating it with a little bit of thought, you can make it look like you trained at Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School.
That’s what food presentation is all about.
All you need are a few easy tips and ideas to get you started, and soon you’ll be making your meals look gourmet – but without the cost!
Food plating is all about arranging food in a way that’s both attractive and functional. Here are some things to keep in mind when you are plating:
Serve in courses, and with smaller portions. Serving in courses allows each dish to be highlighted individually, as well it’s easier to keep food temperatures and flavors separate. You can keep a salad cold and crisp easier, than if it was plated beside a hot casserole. Offering smaller portions allows your guests to enjoy the meal without feeling too full by the end.
Select a plate (size) suitable for each course. Too much food on the plate looks messy and overcrowded. Instead of patterned or colored plates, use plain white plates. They are like a blank canvas so your guests can focus on the beauty of the dish in front of them. Choose a plate that is at least 2-3 inches wider then your dish, this will give you some space to add some garnishes, sauces or decorations around the rim.
Plan the composition. Like a photograph, each item on the plate should be taken into consideration and determined the best (and most eye catching) way to arrange it. Stacking is an easy way to accomplish this. For a dish of steak, potatoes and gravy; start with a small puddle of gravy in the center of the plate, next place a bed of mashed potatoes, top with a small steak medallion, and garnish with a sprig of fresh rosemary or thyme. If using rice, try compressing it into a shape then stack your food on top of that (use a small tuna can with both ends removed. Spoon in some rice, gently press to compact it, then slowly lift off the form).
Be creative. Arrange food in unexpected ways. ‘Deconstructing’, or ‘turning your food inside out’ are some ideas. Where all the food elements are there, but they are served in a different order or style than what is expected.
Combine foods with a variety of flavors, textures and colors. Gets all senses engaged for the fullest taste experience. Nuts, caviar, gemolata, fresh herbs, and sauces, are a few ways to accomplish this. A mandolin grater, used on root vegetables, squash, or firm fruits will create unique textures and shapes like; matchsticks, crinkles, waffle cuts or paper-thin shaves.
Use unique food containers. Instead of a bowl, use a hollowed out gluten free bread bowl, different types of squash – like pumpkin or gourds (baked or unbaked), citrus fruits and melons, red, yellow or orange peppers. These bowls could be used for soups, salads, sauces, seasonings, condiments, or as a table decoration filled with flowers or candles. Large sea shells (like scallop, abalone, or razor clam shells) are another unique ‘plate’ you could use to serve small appetizers, or fill with dips or condiments.
Create an impressive presentation for vegetables by wrapping them. Use long vegetables like asparagus, green beans, or thinly sliced carrots and zucchini.
- To wrap them try gluten free; bacon, prosciutto, pancetta, pastry dough or rice paper wrappers. If using pastry, cut dough into long thin strips then wrap around vegetables that have been partially cooked (since dough will only need 10 minutes or so to become fully cooked and golden brown). You can also use long stalks of fresh chives or green onions as a ‘tie’ to form the veggie bundles.
A garnish should be a complementary flavor that will enhance the dish, catches the eye, and adds to the beauty of the foods presentation. Here are some tools and tricks to help you garnish perfectly:
Drops, Drizzles, Flooding & Marbling
To create these effects use a squeeze bottle for thin sauces like raspberry coulis, caramel/chocolate sauce, or a gluten free balsamic reduction. Find a bottle with a narrow tip to create delicate swirls or designs on the plate or over the dish. For thicker things like melted chocolate, whipping cream, peanut sauce, or sour cream, uses a pastry bag (or plastic bag with corner snipped off).
Flooding is like stained glass. Once you have created a shape on the plate (like with melted chocolate that has firmed up), use a squeeze bottle and carefully squeeze a thin layer of sauce to fill in the design. Arrange your dish beside or on top of your design.
Spider webs and marbling are another way to create a beautiful base for your dessert to sit on. First squeeze one color in a circle into the center of the plate (size depends on how big you want design). Next squeeze another color/flavor into a circular pattern inside the first, then take a skewer to pull the colors out from the center to the outside. To marble, once you’ve made the spider web, use the skewer to draw a continuous circle –starting in the middle and working out.
Dusting creates a colorful addition to the plate, and can highlight specific ingredients. There are many different types of graters that can create a variety of sizes and designs. Chocolate can be grated into curls or shavings, citrus fruits rind can be grated into fine to medium sized zest, curls, or strips. Using a sharp knife, vegetable peeler and graters is how you can achieve these different looks.
Fresh herbs are an easy way to add color and texture to your dish. For most herbs, pick off the leaves and press them into a small ball with your fingers. Then finely chop until you get the size your want. To make long thin strips for large leaf herbs like basil, follow these easy steps to learn how to ‘chiffonade’.
Use a spoon to create a ‘swoosh’ type garnish by placing a small spoonful of sauce on the plate, then use the back of the spoon to pull the sauce down and around into a ‘swoosh’. For soft foods like ice cream, sorbet, or mousse, you can create quenelles. Using two spoons form the food into an egg or football shape, by passing the scoop between the spoons, pulling the outer edge down and around as you go. Yes you could just use an ice cream scoop, but this shape is much more elegant and unique.
Mandolin & Other Graters
Another type of grater that is indispensable in the kitchen is a mandolin. Using root vegetables (raw or cooked) or firm fruits, you can create delicate garnishes that create visual appeal, add texture, and enhance the overall taste experience. Here are some examples of what different graters and mandolin’s can create with your food:
Create 3-D designs using chocolate, royal icing, or meringue, that you can stick into your food.
For chocolate, on parchment paper, swirl melted chocolate (free form or from a pastry/plastic bag) to create shapes and designs. Chill in fridge until set, then just before serving place onto food.
Use royal icing the same way, just let sit at room temperature until hardened (could take up to 48 hours to become completely hard). Similarly, pipe meringue onto a parchment lined baking sheet and bake at 200°F until crisp (time depends upon thickness).
Tip: on the underside of the parchment paper, trace out exactly the design you want, flip parchment over, then pipe chocolate (or whatever) following the lines you drew.
To create realistic chocolate leaves, use a fresh mint leaf and with a small paintbrush or a small spatula, brush melted chocolate carefully over leaf. Set leaf on parchment paper lined baking sheet, chill until set then peel off leaf.