They say we eat with our eyes, and that means plating food can be almost as important as your cooking technique when it comes to serving a successful dish. Fortunately, learning how to plate food doesn't have to be difficult. While many culinary professionals may spend significant time perfecting their presentation, a few simple guidelines can be used to quickly improve the appearance of any meal.
Once you have mastered the basics, you can experiment and add your own personal twist. Great chefs often using plating to create a signature look for their food, and you can too.
Fundamentals of plating
There is no one way to plate a dish, but here are some guidelines that every chef should keep in mind.
The most traditional dishes involve a main course, a starch and a vegetable. Imagine your plate as the face of a clock and add food so it is balanced across that face. A common practice is to place the protein on the bottom half of the plate, centered between the 3 and 9 if you were looking at a clock. On the top half of the plate, the starch side can be placed between the 9 and 11 and the vegetable side between the 11 and 3.
The Rule of Odds
This is a rule used both in plating and photography among other places. For whatever reason, people are more attracted to the presentation of an odd number of objects than an even number. Whether you're slicing steak or selecting how many shrimp to be arranged on a plate, stick to an odd number to increase your meal's appeal.
Draw Attention with Color
While too many colors may look busy and overwhelming, a plate full of neutral colored foods looks bland and boring. Trying to have at least one side or component of the dish bring a pop of color.
Balance the Textures
Texture is another important component of plating food. There is a reason fried chicken looks so good next to mashed potatoes. The crisp skin of the chicken and creamy texture of the potatoes make for an appealing balance. It doesn't matter if you're serving up comfort food or elegant fare, look for ways to contrast different textured ingredients.
Symmetry and asymmetry can be used as a way to balance food. Symmetrical plating will have each half of a plate acting as a mirror image of the other half. It's a very traditional way to plate. For a very basic example, think of a cheese ball circled by crackers. Asymmetrical plating is a more modern way to arrange food. It may have food occupying only one portion of the plate or result in the sides and protein being stacked.
Another basic to master when it comes to plating food is stacking. As the name implies, stacking adds height to food by placing dish components on top of each other. It's a common technique for smaller courses where there is less food but chefs want to make it look more abundant.
How to pick your plates
Your choice of plate adds to the overall presentation of your food, and it's another opportunity for you to experiment with creating your own personal style. While there are no hard and fast rules on which plate you should use, you want to be sure your choice doesn't detract from your food. Here are the factors to consider:
- Size: Your plate needs to be appropriate for your dish. For example, you may want to use a deep plate with a rim for meats covered in sauce, and smaller courses look better on smaller plates.
- Shape: Round plates are traditional and some chefs have strong opinions that any other shape diverts attention from the food, which should be the star of your meal. However, it's really all about personal preference and you can use square, rectangular or other shaped plates to add interest and flair to your food if you'd like.
- Color: White plates are traditional, and they remain a popular choice for good reason. They offer a bright background which contrasts well with almost any food. However, colored plates have their place. They can add a fun vibe or add interest to a largely neutral-colored dish. Just be careful with using dark colors with dark food that may blend into the background.
Sauces and garnishes
A final factor to consider when plating food is the use of garnishes and sauces. Everything you add to your plate should be edible and meld with the other flavors in the dish. For example you shouldn't pick a garnish simply for its color. Be sure to pick an ingredient that will complement the rest of the flavors on the plate. Here are some guidelines:
- Thin sauces may be best either poured onto the plate to be used as a base to the main ingredient or spooned on top of the dish.
- Thicker sauces can dot or line the plate as a way to add color and interest.
- Be reserved when adding both garnishes and sauces. You don't want them to dominate or overpower the dish.
- Add garnishes and sauces immediately before serving.
- Have a clean towel handy so you can wipe off any drops that may land on the edges or rim of your plate.
Plating food is a skill from which all cooks can benefit. If you want to learn advanced techniques about how to plate food, you can enroll in a culinary arts program for instruction from experienced chefs and instructors. Check the list of schools below to find classes in your area.
- 10 tips for plating, The Kitchenthusiast: A KitchenAid Blog, http://blog.kitchenaid.com/10-tips-plating-food-like-a-pro/
- 5 basic elements of food plating, Unilever Food Solutions, http://www.unileverfoodsolutions.com.sg/our-services/your-menu/food-presentation