The Ultimate Guide To Plating Up – Part 2

Balinese Tomato Prawns

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In Part 1 of my blog I shared 5 tips and ideas to get you plating up like a Masterchef in your own kitchen.

With this finale of the 2-part ‘Ultimate Guide to Plating Up’, I share some nifty tools that you have to have in your kitchen to really amp up that creativity when it comes to plating up. The chances are that you have some of these accessories already living in that kitchen drawer! Plus, how to put that creative flair and imagination to good use. We all have a creative bone within us so think outside the box, be brave and let it flow.

Are you ready? Let’s jump in!

1) Cool Tools For Your Tool Kit

This is where the fun begins! An assortment of the right tools will help you create beautiful dishes that your friends will be talking about at every dinner party to come.

You don’t need to have all of these. Start with the ones you either already have, or feel comfortable learning with. 

  • Piping bag – used for things like mash, puree or mousse. Piped mash will look far more attractive than mash dumped onto a plate with a spoon.
  • Soft sauce bottle – this is a really easy way to get dots of various sizes on the plate
  • Skewer – use a skewer to create fine lines and change the shape of dots. Want to show some love for your guests? Turn sauce dots into a chain of hearts with a skewer.
  • Paintbrushes – brushes in different sizes will allow you to smear strokes of sauce, puree and melted chocolate. Just like painting, be mindful of how wet your brush is, and practice on a spare plate to get your stroke just right.
  • Precision tongs – ever tried to place capers on smoked salmon and watched them cheekily roll away? For perfect placement of small items and garnishes, precision tongs are your essential new kitchen tool.
  • Silicon plating wedge – this clever tool gives an added level of sophistication to a smear. Small teeth in the end of the wedge create multiple lines within a smear, providing texture and visual appeal.
  • Ring mold – for the slightly more adventurous chef who wants to create height & build stacks. A mold will hold your food in place as you build.
  • Spoons of all sizes – choosing the right size spoon will enable you to place food in its intended place.  Spoons can also be used to smear if you’re feeling confident!
  • Fine grater – not just great for food garnishes, but can also be used for cocktail garnishes. Imagine a balmy summer evening, your guests arrive and you hand them gin sours spritzed with lemon zest. Their excitement and curiosity is now totally on point for what lies ahead!
  • Small smooth towel or napkin –  probably the most important tool! Have several of these at the ready to clean up any runaway bits of food.

2) Think Beyond The Two Dimensional

Food with height looks enormously impressive – especially when served at home. Using a ring mold, sculpt the food to create height, structure and organisation on the plate. 

You don’t need to build the Eiffel Tower, but think beyond the two dimensional. For example, if serving pasta or noodles, use tongs to twirl it onto the plate and build it upwards. If serving meat, carve it in a way that enables you to stack it. 

You can also do this with your garnishes, for example curls of carrot or lemon zest. 

Creating height means you are building upwards, not outwards. This leaves more white space, giving a sophisticated, minimal feel.

Colourful plating

3) Be Expressive

Consider your personality, your culture, things you love, and bring those to life through your food presentation. Cooking is no less an art than music, painting or sculpture. Check out relevant hashtags on Instagram and create a Pinterest board of ideas that suit your style. If you love travel, consider incorporating inspiration from countries you have visited or wish to travel to. 

For bonus points, consider what your guests love and incorporate some of their personality into your presentation. Having your boss and his wife over for dinner? Remember that time your boss said his wife is obsessed with pink nasturtiums? Imagine how impressed they will both be if you serve a spectacular salad, indulgently adorned with pink nasturtiums.

This idea is definitely the most fun of all my tips. Because it really is about you, and about your guests. You get to fire up your creativity, with possibilities only limited by how much time and effort you want to put in. So yourself a glass of merlot, crank up the jazz, and get creative.

4) Make It Odd

Visually speaking, humans have a preference for odd numbers. We might like the symmetry of even numbers, but when it comes to creating visual interest, our brains are drawn towards an odd number of items placed together. The lack of balance created by an odd number of items is visually alluring. 

If you want to see for yourself, have a quick look at your home styling and decorating Pinterest boards. You’ll see collections of five cushions or three vases, not two or four. Now that you know this, you’ll start noticing odd numbered visual collections everywhere!

So serve up five pieces of ravioli instead of six. Or seven pieces of crispy pork belly, and cheekily pop the eighth in your mouth. You’re welcome.

5) Sketch It Out

Planning is crucial and will make your whole evening far more enjoyable. You don’t want your guests impatiently salivating over the delicious aromas coming from your kitchen while you decide whether to have two smears of carrot puree, or one. 

As part of your planning, sketch your plating thoughts on a piece of paper. Don’t let a fear of drawing like a five year old scare you from trying this. No one will see your work (unless you decide to showcase it at your dinner!). 

Figure out which elements should be highlighted, how the colours will work together, and what goes where. This preparation will allow you to see how visually appealing your dish will be. 

Sketching it out may seem like extra work, but it will make life much easier once you start placing items on the plate. And will leave you more time to spend with your guests, which really is the primary purpose of your dinner. Hint: Get those Pinterest boards out and start sketching!

6. When In Doubt, Keep It Simple

Remember, you don’t have to – and shouldn’t – do it all. Over-garnishing, over-engineering and over-layering will end up looking over the top. 

Fresh ingredients, exceptional cooking and beautiful tableware will win every time over excessive efforts at food presentation. 

Work within your capability and don’t try to be a Michelin Star chef when you’re not. Simplicity and minimalism will never go out of style.

You’re now equipped with the ultimate guide to professional food presentation. But be aware: this list is not intended to be a rule book. You don’t need to do all these things to present your food professionally. 

What I have done is give you options that encourage you to play to your strengths. If you don’t trust your hand and feel like sauce bottles dots will end up resembling giant puddles, then step away from the sauce bottle. 

If you were never any good at building with blocks because you don’t have an inner engineer, don’t focus too much on height. 

But if you are a rock star with choosing colour palettes, focus time and energy on colour. 

If you are known for choosing soothing jazz to create a relaxed dinner party vibe, focus on using music to complement your food choices and courses.

Remember, dinner parties are for fun, laughter and great conversation. So even if your food presentation isn’t perfect, you will have presented an opportunity for conversation, and maybe even a giggle or two.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with food presentation. What works for you? What will you never try again? What tips do you have for the community? 

And if you found this post helpful, share it on your socials so your friends can learn too. After all, you just may benefit next time you’re a guest at their dinner party!

With Happy Food Vibes,

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Follow us on social to get more of those creative juices flowing and more ideas on plating up at home.

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