The eyes have it! At least when it comes to tasting food. A team of scientists and chefs led by Professor Charles Spence from Oxford University’s Department of Experimental Psychology has confirmed through their experiment that people think food tastes better when it is artistically presented.
You don’t have to be an artist or a culinary whiz to give your holiday creations an added visual oomph though. During this festive season, Insidehas compiled an easy guide with helpful tips from the Executive Chef of The Marmalade Pantry so you can create a gastronomical experience for family and friends that will be a pleasure for both the palate and the eyes.
Step 1: Picture Your Product
Think about how you want your final product to look. Consider the rim of your plate the frame of this edible art and work within it. Draw it out if you must. French chef, Alain Passart, makes collages with paper cut outs when he is planning how to plate his food so he can arrange and re-arrange the food on paper till he is satisfied with the results.
Step 2: Look Beyond the Plain Plate
Professional chefs favour white serving ware, and for good reason. White serving ware provides a lovely contrast to the food without competing with it for visual effect.
But why limit yourself to conventional plates and bowls? Rustic country loaves can be hollowed out to create bread bowls. Hollowed out fruits can be used to serve desserts, nuts or candies.
Instead of serving platters, cutting boards can be used to serve cheeses, cold cuts, and bread.
Step 3: Work Out Your Portions
Keep portions modest. The food should take up no more than two thirds of the plate so the space around can create an appetising contrast.
Keep your proportions appropriate. A classic rule of thumb is look at your plate like a clock. Place carbs at 10 o’clock, vegetables at 2 o’clock and proteins at 6 o’clock. This will help ensure that proportions are correct: carbs and proteins should take up only a quarter of the plate each while half of the plate should be veggies.
Finally, follow the rule of odds. Present food in odd numbers. It create the impression that one piece of food is being framed by the others.
Once you have that settled, work from centre out as you plate your dish so the food is the centre of attraction.
Step 4: Bring on the Colours
Vibrant coloured food always looks more enticing. To retain the bright colours of vegetables, steam instead of boiling them. Alternatively, sauté them with a little butter so they are glossy and caramelised. Fried foods often brown a bit even after they have been removed from the oil. So make sure you don’t deep fry your food till they are brown. A light gold is what you are looking for.
“Keep colour in mind as you prepare your meals. A plate of cauliflower, potatoes and halibut is a sad, bland thing. Save the parsnips for red eat and use something like carrots for chicken. Using colour is also a great way to ensure you are getting the proper nutrients in each meal as each colour of vegetable generally means different nutritional qualities,” says Chef Moong
So throw in splashes of greens, oranges, reds, purples, blues, pinks and yellows in the form of fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs, and even flowers.
Step 5: Play with Shapes
Use an ice-cream scoop or scone-cutter to create mounds when plating rice or noodles to help them keep a certain form. Vegetables and fruits can be cut into interesting shapes. Instead of a wedge of lemon or lime, for example, slice them thin and twist them into a butterfly shape.
Step 6: Pile on the Layers
Play with height. Layer and stack your food. Proteins can be presented on a layer of carbs. Sauces can be used to create a pool to set your food within. Fluff your salads instead of laying them flat. Stack your asparagus, celery and carrot sticks. The idea is to make your food look bigger and taller.
Adds Chef Moong, “Layering your foods ties all the flavours together and layering sauces under a dish can create contrast and allow your protein to shine without being smothered in gravy or sauce.”
As a variation to layering, Chef Moong recommends deconstruction.
“A salad is a great example of the benefits of deconstruction. Instead of tossing the ingredients together, separate and layer them. Suddenly, it’s colourful and you can see what the ingredients are that make the salad special.”
Step 7: Think About Texture
Just as you would create contrasting colours, create contrasting textures, too.
“Texture is a big part of good food presentation as well as enjoyment. Contrast hard and soft, smooth and crunchy, salty and sweet,” advises Chef Moong.
Go ahead and top a creamy dessert with crunchy spun sugar. Scatter crunchy scallions over pan-seared salmon. Toasted nuts provide crunch while Greek yoghurt, fresh cream, crème fraiche and goat cheese can be used if you are looking for something creamy.
Step 8: Get Creative with Garnishes
Garnishes can add a wow factor to any dish.
“This final touch can fix a multitude of problems. Lack of colour? Add some herbs. Lack of texture? Add some parmesan crisps. Need height? Add a small bunch of fresh lemony salad to the top of your protein,” says Chef Moong.
But be careful to make sure that the garnishes are edible, says the chef responsible for The Marmalade Pantry’s wonderful cupcakes. It avoids confusion and embarrassment.
Think beyond the traditional parsley. If chilli features in the dish, you can use a whole chilli to decorate your food. If strawberries are the focus of the dessert, a strawberry chip, strawberry sauce, swirl of strawberry cream or even strawberry powder can garnish the dish. Pomegranate seeds can liven up a salad, adding a burst of flavour and colour. A dash of rosemary or cinnamon over a chicken dish can enhance the poultry. Whatever you decide, the garnish should always be in harmony with the taste of the dish.
Step 9: Make Art You Can Eat
If you are serving something with sauce or gravy – a stew, curry or casserole – drain the sauce. When you are ready to serve the food, pour just the right amount of sauce or gravy onto the food without drowning it. A soupy dish looks sloppy.
You can put sauces into a squeeze bottle for better control as you drizzle and swirl in designs on the plate.
Follow these steps and you are on your way to becoming the Picasso of Plating. Ole!
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