A few little tweaks can mean the difference between serving a basic looking plate of food and one that looks like it came straight out of a culinary magazine. Since a lot of effort goes into cooking, why not make it look as appetizing as possible?
First thing’s first, your plates. Food looks best on white plates, or at least light colored ones – think ivory tones! It’s clean looking and let’s the colors of ingredients ‘pop off the canvas,’ so to speak. When it comes to the size of a plate, it is a delicate balancing act. If it’s too large, your meal will look skimpy and if it’s too small, everything will look overcrowded. Keep it simple when it comes to shapes as well, and use a round plate. As you get more comfortable with styling food, you can begin to experiment with geometric shapes.
Don’t overcrowd your plate by trying to do too much. A good rule of thumb is to only fill two-thirds of the plate, allowing for white space. When it comes to arranging ingredients, there are a few options. There is the tried-and-true clock method: place starches at 10 o'clock, protein at 2 o'clock and veggies at 6 o'clock. Your goal should be to find a focal point (probably the protein) and build around it. Building height is often visually pleasing so, in the case of a protein, elevate it – perhaps atop a pile of beans or mashed potatoes. Similarly, stacking or leaning items against each other can be visually exciting. When it comes to large pieces of meat, instead of placing them whole on the plate, slice them and fan them out instead. This not only looks better, but also makes it more manageable to eat.
A good rule of thumb is to only fill two-thirds of the plate, allowing for white space.
As much as you can, consider pairing different colors and textures together. It’s not surprising that plates that include a variety of both are more appetizing, so multicolored and pickled vegetables, as well as fresh greens are great options. Steaming and blanching will actually bring out bright, vivid greens in vegetables like broccoli and asparagus. As for added texture, get creative with those trusty knives. Shaving or cutting carrots on a diagonal can be enough to visually elevate a dish.
Serving long noodle pasta is the perfect opportunity to practice your plating skills. Twisting pasta into a nice, round pile instead of throwing it on the plate adds one extra step but will really wow your guests. Using a carving fork, pick up a portion of pasta and anchor it in a soup ladle. After that, simply twirl until the pasta is coiled into a neat little nest in the ladle. Keeping the fork still in the ladle, gently nudge the nest of pasta onto a plate and slowly remove the fork. You may need to practice a few times to nail this technique but it’s worth it.
Twisting pasta into a nice, round pile instead of throwing it on the plate adds one extra step but will really wow your guests.
If you want to get fancy, perhaps for a special occasion, you can use a squirt bottle or eyedropper and experiment with sauce drips and swirls. If you’re working with a thicker sauce, simply dragging the back of a spoon through it and moving it swiftly can create an artsy smear on the plate. To take it one step further, you can even use stencils to decorate the plate, it all just depends how creative you want to get. The most important part is that the process is more fun than it is stressful.
Garnishings are key to beautiful plating and fresh herbs often make the best choice. It’s amazing what a few sprigs of parsley or chives will do to complete a plate. Garnishes provide color, aroma and allow you to mix and match textures. Apart from herbs, toasted seeds, zested citrus and crispy onions are common garnishes, provided they are paired appropriately. Pro-tip: thin tweezer tongs are a chef’s best friend for precisely placing tinier items.
Lastly, a final drizzle of olive oil and finishing salt will perfectly complete many dishes, from pasta to steak. Remember that cooking can be messy business, so it is important to keep a clean, damp cloth handy so that you can wipe down the edges of your plates immediately before serving.