Working the Plate

One of the greatest desires I have always had as a chef is to improve my plating skills. All chefs should have a basic understanding of how to dress a plate in order to maximize the effectiveness of food in working up an appetite. There are seven different categories in which food can be plated and they are as follows; the minimalist, the architect, the artist, contemporary European style, Asian influenced, the naturalist, and finally, dramatic flair.

The minimalist doesn’t necessarily use small portions, but they try to use minimal space in order to convey the feeling of the heart of the dish. Imagine a light bowl of miso-soup, surrounded by a simple rice ball, topped with nori, and just two stalks of celery. Simple Japanese cuisine, but high flavor.

My personal favorite, the Architect, uses the plate to stack elements of the dish together, in order to add size to a plate. This allows for a much grander looking dish and can sometimes give the impression of foods being more filling. Foods can be presented vertically or horizontally.

Next comes the “Artist“, where colors and shapes are used to give a plate definition, while still following a slightly Naturalist view. Artists, like to re-imagine dishes like a root veg puree, only instead of mixing the roots together, they are kept separate and then artistically brought back together.

The Contemporary European Style mixes old European recipes with modern technique, while giving the essence of filling, heavy foods a somewhat lighter role. Think of a wonderfully braised veal or lamb shank, served with a side of a light risotto with fresh tarragon and saffron. The homely effect is there, with heavier foods, but smaller portions are a must.

Obviously Asian influenced cuisine doesn’t really take much to explain, for anyone who has seen sushi knows about this. Still there is an aspect of simplistic yet exotic beauty in these foods. I remember my first Salmon roll, fresh salmon wrapped in avacado and ginger, further wrapped in crab shavings, rice, and finally nori. Easy and splendid. The same works for many other amazing dishes like shrimp tempura placed on an grilled asparagus salad.

The Naturalist is just that, a natural. They love keeping food in the original state with little to no modification. They present what’s truly beautiful, and natural.

Finally, we have those who love to just be dramatic. Dramatic Flair just has to be over the top, with little left to think about. It’s all about going beyond the norm, and conveying a sense of exhilaration while eating. Its not just food to them, it’s entertainment.

I’d like to note that I had the help of a wonderful book called Working the Plate, by Christopher Styler when I wrote this. I recommend it for anyone trying to improve their technique in plating, I know it has helped me substantially. You can pick up a copy of it here.