Making food look good requires careful attention to all kitchen tasks.The following
three principles should be observed in order to create attractive food. Note that only
one of them concerns arranging the food on the plate.
Good Preparation and Cooking Techniques
If vegetables are improperly cut during prep,the plate presentation will look improper.
If meat is badly trimmed before cooking,a fancy plating design won’t correct it.If a fish
is overcooked and dry or a green vegetable is drab and mushy, it won’t look good no
matter what you do with it.
Professional Work Habits
Serving attractive food is largely a matter of being neat and careful and using common
sense.This is an aspect of the professionalism we discussed in earlier articles. Professionals
take pride in their work and in the food they serve.They don’t send a plate to the dining
room with sauce accidentally dribbled across the rim and maybe a thumbprint or two
for extra effect—not because their supervisors told them not to or because a rule in a
textbook says so but because pride of workmanship prevents it.
Beyond just being neat, effective food presentation depends on developing an understanding
of techniques involving balance,arrangement,and garniture.These are the subjects
of our next sections.
Balance is a term we used when talking about menu planning in earlier articles. The rules of
good menu balance also apply to plating. Select foods and garnishes that offer variety
and contrast while avoiding combinations that are awkward or jarring.
Two or three colors on a plate are usually more interesting than just one.Visualize this
combination: poached chicken breast with suprême sauce, mashed potatoes, and
steamed cauliflower.Appetizing? Or how about fried chicken, French fries, and corn?
Not quite as bad, but still a little monotonous.
Many hot foods, especially meats, poultry, and fish, have little color other than
shades of brown, gold, or white. It helps to select vegetables or accompaniments that
add color interest—one reason why green vegetables are so popular.
Garnish is often unnecessary, especially if the accompaniments have color, but it
is very important in some cases.The classic combination of broiled steak (brown) and
baked potato (brown and white) looks a little livelier with a few asparagus spears on
the plate or even with the simple addition of a healthy sprig of watercress.
Plan for variety of shape and form as well as of color.For example,you probably do not
want to serve brussels sprouts with meatballs and new potatoes.Too many items of the
same shape, in this case round, looks monotonous or even odd. Green beans and
whipped potatoes might be better choices for accompaniment.Try for a variety of
shapes that work together well.
Cutting vegetables into different shapes gives you great flexibility. Carrots, for example,
which can be cut into dice, rounds, or sticks (batonnet, julienne, etc.), can be
adapted to nearly any plate.
Textures are not strictly visual considerations, but they are important in plating as in
menu planning. Good balance requires a variety of textures on the plate.
Perhaps the most common error is serving too many soft or puréed foods, such as
baked salmon loaf with whipped potatoes and puréed squash.