The Ultimate Guide To Plating Up – Part 1

beautiful breakfast table setting

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Professional But Simple Food Presentation Ideas

Reality cooking shows like Masterchef have provided the home chef with a double edged carving knife.

We’ve been shown how to create restaurant quality meals at home, with the presentation to match. 

But with that knowledge comes pressure. Pressure to plate up like a Masterchef, just because we’ve seen everyday home cooks like us do it.

And we know our dinner guests have too. The pressure is now on. Gathering Pinterest boards, researching on Insta and trying to get inspired by all the things on the world wide web. Overwhelm takes over and we start to feel like our upcoming dinner party meals are a Pinterest fail waiting to happen.

But hang on a minute. Isn’t hosting a dinner party meant to be fun? Of course it is! Take a big sigh of relief when you learn that there are elements of food presentation that are actually really simple.

To make sure your next dinner party wows your guests, but doesn’t stress you out in the process, I’ve created a 2-part blog of 11 professional but easy food presentation ideas that’ll make everyday dishes looking like they came from a Michelin-star kitchen.

These ideas are designed to enable success for the everyday home cook. Even if you don’t have an artistic bone in your body!

So grab your notebook or bookmark this blog and get ready to be inspired. Here’re the first 5 tips and ideas to get you started.

1) Decide which ingredient is the hero

This seems obvious, but it is essential to decide which ingredient will feature on your plate. Often, with mains, this will be the protein. But even with protein based dishes, there might be two or more proteins. Be clear on which is the hero before you plan any other part of your food presentation. 

The hero ingredient should take up the most real estate and be visually appealing. Consider this when making your choice. 

And make sure you think about how you are going to present your food when you are cutting it up. Cut it to enable aesthetic appeal. If you’re not sure of the best way to cut food so that it’s optimised for presentation, do some research first.

Haloumi Beetroot pistacho salad
Image courtesy of The Devil Wears Salad

2) Choose your plate based on size, shape and colour

Choosing the right plate is everything. Consider all aspects of the plate, including size, shape and colour.

Consider portion size when choosing your plate. How ‘filling’ do you want your dish to look, and how many courses are you serving? Don’t feel like you need to overfill the plate – the right amount of blank space is visually appealing. It’s all about balance – too much food and it will look messy, overcrowded and uninviting. Too empty and it will look like you want your guests to starve!

If your dish contains lots of bold colour, choose a mono coloured plate that won’t compete with the dish for your guests’ attention. Black plates work really well to make vibrant colours pop. Paler, less vibrant dishes will pop on a plate with some pizzazz

The shape is also important, and with round, oval, triangular, square and rectangular options, as well as bowls, how do you know which is right for your dish? If you’re fairly new to food presentation, the safest choice is round, as you almost can’t go wrong with it. But take note – for dishes such as pasta, curries and stir fries, the best choice would be a bowl. If you want to be a bit more daring, I suggest doing a bit of research in your sketching phase (see tip #10 in part 2 of the blog).

My number one tip when it comes to choosing your plate?  Beautiful tableware will always have your back. If you’re worried about your ability to professionally present your food, choose really simple dishes and present them on stunning plates or bowls. This will take the visual emphasis away from the food and onto the tableware it is presented on.

Beautifully plated salad

3) Make it a multi-sensory experience

While your fork and spoon may disagree, you eat with more than just your mouth. Eating is a multi-sensory experience, engaging the eyes, the nose, the ears and even our hands (don’t tell your kids that though!). 

Indulge all five senses and provide your guests with a neurogastronomic extravaganza.  

The aroma of all-day cooking as guests arrive is sure to create a buzz. Ever come home to lamb that’s been slow cooking all day? As soon as the front door is open, your nose triggers your taste buds and tells them to get ready for a feast.

And when it’s time to dine, remember, you eat with your eyes first. Think about when you see someone else’s food come out in a restaurant and food envy kicks in. Or the moment your food is first placed in front of you. Even the damn impulse chocolate at the supermarket! One of the brain’s key roles is to facilitate foraging and feeding, so it makes sense that when we see something we love the look of, we can’t wait to eat it. 

Ultimately this means all the other elements of food presentation matter, because your eyes will create preconceived ideas about the adventure your taste buds are about to have. 

Sound matters too. The right amount of crunch can have a positive impact on the perceived taste of your food. According to Oxford University Professor of Experimental Psychology, Charles Spence, noise impacts our perception of taste. A crunchier chip can taste better than a less crunchy chip, even though they have been cooked and served together and technically have the same taste. 

High decibels can affect our ability to taste sweetness. By contrast, loud noise enhances our ability to taste umami. So crank up the tunes during main course, and dial it down to dolce for dessert. 

Loud music is also said to make your taste perception decrease. So if you have an epic failure with how something is meant to taste, let music be your dinner party BFF and help disguise blandness.

4) Use Flavours, Not Garnishes

When you garnish, you are choosing complementary and enhancing flavours, not just styling up your dish.

How the food tastes and how the garnishes work with the food is your primary consideration when choosing garnishes. Don’t force something just because it looks pretty, or randomly add things that don’t complement the flavours in the dish. Like coriander, for example. 

This ever controversial herb has been accused of crimes against garnishing like it is some sort of herbaceous criminal. This reputation has likely been earned through decades of thoughtless garnishing by chefs who have been somewhat lazy, and put looks before taste. 

Coriander has its place adorning a fiery Thai curry. But it does not belong floating in cauliflower soup because you thought a pop of green would bring it to life. Less can sometimes be more!

Plated up dish with garnish

5) Consider Colour

Think about the colour of your food, as well as your plates and use accent features to complement not clash. You want to create a palette of colours that work together, without creating an overwhelming rainbow of colour. 

This is where sauces and purees can play a huge role. A raspberry sauce or purple cauliflower puree will appear bold and alluring on a mono coloured plate.

Place contrasting colours adjacent each other to make each one pop. Consider a single hero colour and use it in several elements to make the entire dish a delight for eyes.

If you’re serving meat, place it so that your guests can see both the inside and the outside. This shows the contrast in texture and colour.

I hope that these 5 tips have made plating up at home a little less daunting, but have fired up curiosity and the desire to play more with your food! Stay tuned for Part 2 where I’ll be sharing some cool plating up tools to include in your repertoire of kitchen tools, how sketching your ideas goes a long way and much more!

With Happy Food Vibes,

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