On a day-to-day basis, most of us don't put too much thought into what our meals look like. Half the time, it's a victory to dump takeout on paper plates in time for dinner, right? But special occasions call for extra effort -- and that's where plating comes in.
Of course, we're not saying that great plating will magically transform your cooking into a culinary masterpiece, but a little effort will go a long way. Think about it like putting on a great new jacket or pair of jeans. Although the scale still says you haven't lost an ounce, your new clothes make you look and feel 10 pounds thinner.
Keep reading to learn some tips from the pros that will help you put a touch of swank into your next dinner party.
A Blank Canvas
The first thing you need to do, if you don't have them already, is buy some white plates -- bigger is better, and a wide rim is ideal. You might think a fancy patterned plate would look, well, fancier, but you want the focus on the food. A white plate really makes your food pop -- it's a blank canvas, just waiting for your mouthwatering work of culinary art (or at least it will look like a work of culinary art). Restaurants that serve, say, Caribbean food can get away with brightly colored plates, but for everyday purposes you can't go wrong with white.
Getting the plates is easy -- now you have to make the food look good.
A Pop of Color
Before you get into fancy-schmancy food placement and sauce drizzling, you need to figure out what you're going to make -- and if you're looking to impress, take color into consideration. You can't serve up a plate of chicken, boiled potatoes and baked beans and expect your guests to fall off their chairs in amazement. But substitute some green string beans and blue potatoes (yes, blue potatoes), and now we're talking. And if you still think the color combo needs a punch, you can add pizzazz with a bright sauce or garnish.
See Me, Touch Me, Feel Me
A boring food color palette will make your friends want to take a snooze, and the same goes for texture. You don't want everything on the plate to be smooth and creamy -- throw in some crunch, snap and meatiness, too. It's important for both taste and visual appeal. When you're in doubt, though, taste trumps eye candy. Don't add something to the plate that doesn't taste right with everything else.
Location, Location, Location
There really are no hard-and-fast rules about food placement, but do yourself a favor and try to curb your burning desire to construct edible Eiffel Towers out of chicken and green beans. Go minimalist -- simple is always better. Here are a few general placement guidelines that you can use as starting points.
- Use the tried-and-true clock method -- starches at 10 o'clock, meats at 2 o'clock and veggies at 6 o'clock.
- Find a focal point (probably the chicken) and elevate it -- maybe on a pile of beans.
- Mound the potatoes at the back of the plate and lean the beans against them.
- Slice up the chicken and fan it out on the plate.
Once you have all the major elements in place, go ahead and add some flair -- but again, try to restrain yourself and don't use all these ideas at the same time.
- Spoon sauce under the meat instead of on top of it.
- Get a squirt bottle or eyedropper and experiment with sauce drips and swirls.
- Throw on a garnish -- if it's edible and doesn't overcrowd the plate.
- Try out some props -- tiny spoons, perhaps, or sauces in shot glasses.
Check out the next page for more information on how the pros plate food.
- Alinat, Gui. "Introduction to Texture." Aug. 13, 2009. (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.chefgui.com/2009/08/13/food-plating-introduction-to-texture/
- Alinat, Gui. "Plating Food: Choose Your Support." April 14, 2009. (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.chefgui.com/2009/04/14/plating-food-choose-your-support/
- Alinat, Gui. "Plating Food: The Little Tools that Make a Difference." April 17, 2010. (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.chefgui.com/2010/04/17/plating-food-the-little-tools-that-make-a-difference/
- Alinat, Gui. "Plating Food: Show Your True Colors." Jan. 26, 2010. (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.chefgui.com/2010/01/26/plating-food-show-your-true-colors/
- Alinat, Gui. "Plating Food: Work on Your Maillard Reaction." Feb. 9. 2010. (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.chefgui.com/2010/02/09/plating-food-work-on-your-maillard-reaction/
- Anderson, Lessley. "Stack Your Salad (And Other Plating Tips). Nov. 27. 2006 (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.chow.com/stories/10317
- Davault, Kathy. "How to Plate Like a Pro." (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.how-to-cook-gourmet.com/platingfood.html
- Martinelli, Katherine. "The Impact of Texture." August 2009. (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.starchefs.com/features/textures/html/index.shtml
- TheKitchn.com. "Five Simple Tips for Plating Food." (Accessed June 30, 2010) http://www.thekitchn.com/thekitchn/entertaining/easy-entertaining-five-simple-tips-for-plating-food-080771