It’s hard to deny the old adage that “you eat with your eyes first.” The way food looks translates directly into our desire to consume it. Whether you’re a home cook or restaurant chef, how you plate a meal is an art form that involves a careful balance of creativity, strategy and cleanliness. But like all artists, your plating style is uniquely your own. So let your imagination run wild as you consider these 10 tips for plating like a pro.
1. Pick Your Plate: Consider your plate as your canvas, and your food as your medium. The size, shape and color of your plate will have a direct impact on the overall appearance of your dish. White is a popular color choice for a reason; it creates a high contrast when paired with other colors, which means your food will be the focus rather than the afterthought.
2. Find a Focal Point: Designate a focal point when plating your dish. More often than not, the focal point will be the protein, such as a perfectly grilled steak or simply seared scallops. By focusing on this one element, other aspects of the dish, such as the accompanying vegetable or sauce, will play supporting roles to the main attraction.
3. Create a Clock: Many chefs reference a clock layout when choosing the placement of the three basic elements to a dish: protein, starch and vegetables. For example, the protein should be placed at 2 o’clock, the starch at 10 o’clock and the vegetables between 3 and 9 o’clock. This layout will vary depending on your personal preferences, but it helps to create a thoughtful approach to filling the space on your plate.
4. Contemplate Color: The colors of the foods you’re plating will be the leading determinants for how to best highlight a dish’s strong points. For example, a pop of color provided by a tower of green beans or sautéed kale adds a fresh touch to an otherwise monochrome palate of chicken and mashed potatoes. Draw attention to the positives of a meal by juxtaposing bright accent colors with more neutral tones.
5. Play Up Texture: The texture of food creates an immediate attraction to the eye, be it the extra-crispy skin of roast chicken, a creamy dollop of crème fraîche or a shower of chopped chives. Keep a plate visually stimulating by pairing such contrasting textures with one another, which also creates an intriguing textural contrast in each bite.
6. Aim High: Height is a critical component in plating in that it helps to draw the eye up and toward the focal point of a dish. It’s no surprise that fluffing rather than smashing down foods makes an overall plate more appealing.
7. Cleanliness Counts: Keep your canvas clean by wiping away stray crumbs or dribbles of sauce. Such outliers will distract from the focal point and create a less polished look to your plate.
8. Garnish with a Purpose: All garnishes on a plate should both have a purpose and be edible. Do not garnish with a food that is not included in a recipe. For example, a rosemary-rubbed tenderloin could be garnished with chopped fresh rosemary, rather than sprigs of parsley, which while edible, don’t create as much cohesion with the dish.
9. Odds Rule: Groupings of three, five or seven are naturally more appealing to the eye in that the lack of balance creates visual interest. Consider the Rule of Odds when plating proteins such as scallops and shrimp, as well as vegetables such as asparagus and pearl onions.
10. Embrace the Unattractive: While many foods are visually stimulating, inevitably there are those that are anything but attractive (think beef stroganoff, hummus, black beans, etc.). Make the most of what you have by highlighting the colors or textures of each component on the plate. If all else fails, rely on a relevant, edible garnish to distract from the monochrome nature of less appetizing foods.w. Good luck!