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The Art of Plating


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How To Plate & What To Consider


the process of offering the selected foods to guest or diners in a fashion that is visually stunning and pleasing. When food is presented, keep in mind that your diners eat with their eyes first. Plated Food must be pleasantly and appropriately colored, cut, and /or molded. Colors, shape, texture, and arrangement of food must work in harmony to create a plate composition that is not muddy or confused, and in some cases tells a story. Any decorative touches should be done so with careful consideration and should bear resemblance to something on your plate or be suggestive to the overall theme of the plate. The final composition of the composed plate should be clean and elegant. Everything on the plate should be seen and everything should be edible. For extra plate scrutiny, when serving to guests or other diners, keep a rolled up piece of cheesecloth with a dipping bowl of boiling water or white vinegar to wipe the edges of the rims to debris and fingerprints. When considering plating – first make a determination of what the showcase on the plate is. Is it the main ingredient, or is it the plate as a whole?

Salad Plating (First Course):

Traditionally a salad consisted of leafy greens dressed with a vinaigrette, came after the entrée, and was used as a palate cleanser. “Salad” is a reference to a mixture of one or more ingredients – not limited to leafy greens, but also vegetables, meats, nuts, fruits, and grains.

The composition of a salad – for those who have never had one 😊

  • The base – The main ingredient of the salad. Leafy greens are frequently used as the base of a salad.
  • The body – The main ingredient of a salad makeup. The body creates the identity of the salad.
  • The dressing – The sauce that compliments the flavor of the salad and is used as a binder for holding the base and the body together. There are three groups of dressings – each with many subgroups.

1.  Vinaigrettes – A vinaigrette can be made from any combination of flavors, vinegars and oils. The traditional French vinaigrette had a ratio of 1 part vinegar : 2 parts oil. The more contemporary vinaigrette has a ratio of 1 part vinegar : 3 parts oil. Aside from a vinaigrette having any combination of ratios and flavors, there are 3 types of vinaigrettes – as it refers to emulsions. An emulsion is a suspension of one liquid into another that wouldn’t ordinarily go. (oil & vinegar).

  • Full Emulsions – vinaigrettes that will stay suspended.
  • Temporary Emulsions – vinaigrettes that will only stay together for a limited amount of time.
  • Zero Emulsion – vinaigrettes that will always stay separated.

2.  Cream Style Dressings – dressings that contain dairy as a base. Blue Cheese, Ranch, etc. Cream Style dressings are typically full emulsions.

3.  Simple Dressings – oil and vinegar (cruet), flavored oils, lemon juice.

  • The Garnish – The final contributing factor to the salad’s visual appeal. The garnish is also used as a way to incorporate another flavor that isn’t in the body of the salad. The garnish should be something colorful, and most importantly, edible! However, the contributing factor of the garnish is to enhance, not to over-power. The garnish is used as a compliment.

*Not all salads need a dressing or a garnish. Fruit salads are an excellent example.

Enhancing Flavors

Herbs and flowers are a great way to add additional flavors to a salad. If using herbs, make sure the herbs are a compliment to the salad flavors and will not sway your flavors in another direction. If using flowers, (which again is a great way to add flavor, aroma, color, and texture) try one ahead of time to make sure the appearance matches the flavor profiles of your salad.

Types of Salads – Appetizer Salads, Entrée Salads, Simple Salads, Dessert Salads

  • Appetizer Salads – simple salad served before the main course, used to stimulate the appetite. This is usually the first impression you give the guest of your food – it should be visually appealing with a unique flavor and crisp texture.
  • Entrée Salads – A salad that is served as the main meal. The size of the salad should reflect the course size. This is a salad that should be substantial in volume and body. It should be very attractively presented with a mix of ingredients varying in flavor, texture, and color.
  • Simple Salads – Depending on the type of service, this salad could come before or after the entrée. In European dining, the simple salad follows the entrée as a way to cleanse the palate.
  • Dessert Salads – these salads are sweet and usually contain a combination of fruit, nuts, and gelatin.

Larger Preparations: Platters, Mirror, Display

Hors D’oeuvres

Hors D’oeuvres translate to “outside the work”. This term is generally given to the food items served outside of the main part of the meal. Foods in this preparation are used to celebrate the flavors of other cultures and cuisines. Spanish Tapas, Mediterranean Meze, Italian Antipasti, & Chinese Dim Sum are just a few.

  • Tapas – small bites offered through Spain. Traditionally served with sherry. Olives, Serrano Ham, cheese, octopus, almonds are all traditional tapas. See also: pinchos (basque), pintxo (basque)*
  • Meze – the purpose of a meze is to enhance the flavor of the accompanied drinks; ouzo, wine etc. Meze can be served hot or cold, and usually include cheeses (feta, for example), olives, dried or pickled seafood, dips (hummus, baba ganoush).
  • Antipasti – a selection of dried & cured meats, assorted cheeses, olives, pickled or marinated vegetables, olive oil and bread. Mostarda is an excellent accompaniment to Antipasti.
  • Dim Sum – typically consisting of steam buns, egg rolls, dumplings – steamed or fried, filled wontons. Almost a Chinese version of tea sandwiches. Dim Sum is meant to be eaten with tea, or during tea time. Can include hot or cold preparations.

Canapes & Tarts

  • Canapes – very small open-faced sandwiches. The purpose of a canape is to stimulate the taste buds during cocktails or pre-party gatherings. Usually served cold, canapes, the base of the canape is used as a “plate” for topping. Often times canapes are multi layered, geometrically designed and are as visually appealing as they are delicious. Canapes are a great way to lead with color and texture before a meal.
  • Barquettes (tartlets) – small edible shells made from a savory pie crust dough. These can be served hot or cold and can be filled with any combination of ingredients, but the key thing to remember is that you are filling a cooked dough – do not fill too early or the dough will get saturated, limp, and mealy.
  • Vol -au-Vent (or bouche shell) – a shell made out of puff pastry and filled. A vol-au-vent is typically 4 inches in diameter and is served on its own vessel (plate) and is often a course of its own. A bouche shell is smaller 1 ½ - 2 inches and is made to be picked up and eaten with a plate or serving ware.

The Main Plate (Main Course):

plate composition should be balanced and harmonious


The Plate –

  • Choose your plate wisely. The idea of plates having to be round went away years ago. The shape of your plate should support the composition of the plate. Choose plates that are round, square, oval, or other whimsical shapes to further draw stunning eye appeal. Not all of the plate needs to be occupied. Blank space lets the eyes reset briefly between attraction and allows for a more dynamic appeal.
  • Not all plates are white. Glazed china and pottery are now very commonplace and you can use the color of the vessel itself to enhance to slightly mute your dish.

The Plate Arrangement –

  • Color – foods of different colors should be plated together. Too much of the same color in one spot can cause visual confusion and can cause food to get lost or drown into the overall color scheme. If you get to the plating point and realize your food is too similarly colored – add an opposing color in some way to add visual intrigue. Stay away from blue when plating savory food!
  • Texture – texture is very important when plating. Texture add stunning auditory clues about what you are eating. Texture can range from smooth to crunchy and includes everything in between. Nancy  Gloopy would be a texture (not a good one, but a texture). Foods with relative textures look boring together. As a general rule, smooth and grainy and coarse and fluffy work well together. Believe it or not, texture improves flavor.
  • Shape – dramatic presentations rely greatly on shape. ALWAYS AVOID ALL FOODS ON A COMPOSED PLATE BEING THE SAME SHAPE! (or color, refer above). Different shapes provide contrast and character to your composed plate.

How to use the color, texture, and shape for final arrangement –

Use your own personal flair and style to compose your final plate using the three criteria above. Here are more things to keep in mind when balancing the plate harmony-

  • Strike a balance between overcrowding and negative space (negative space plating is a whole different animal – you are actually charging people for nothing). Food should steer clear of the plate rim, and depending on the style of plating should generally stay towards the center of the plate.
  • Choosing a focal point for the plate is key for visual attraction! Architecturally speaking, the eye makes the focal point on the plate the highest point. Manipulating height variances is a great way to provide the guest with a story about what they are about to eat. GENERALLY SPEAKING a hole in the middle of the plate will confuse the eyes, and the eyes will be drawn to gap trying to figure out what’s missing. This is detract from taste – believe me. Height is established by structure so placement is of the upmost importance. Also, as it relates to structure – avoid plating foods that will crumble around the edge closet to the diner. This will hopefully act as a precaution for anything mistakenly ending up in the diners lap when slicing or during consumption. People are generally messy eaters – get ahead of it with plating.
  • Does your plate have a natural flow? Since the focal point of the plate is its highest point, maybe make the focal point to the back to the plate and let your eyes lead up to it. This creates drama! Fanned foods are a great way to incorporate flow.

Dessert Plating (Dessert Course):

Dessert Presentation

There are 4 basic elements to a plated dessert: Main Item, Sauce, Garnish, Crunch. Desserts with a frozen component have a fifth element – Temperature.

  1. Main Item – The focal point of the plate. The weight of the main item should be no more than 5 ounces.
  2. Sauce – Sauces either compliment or contrast the main item. Multiple sauces are often used when doing plated desserts. Sauces total weight should not exceed 2 ounces.
  3. Garnish – The garnish of a dessert ranges from a dusting of cinnamon to intricate design to a thin wafer. Garnishes also either compliment or contract a main item, while providing texture, form, and flavor.
  4. The crunch component comes in many forms. Be creative when finding a crunch factor to finish your dessert. The crunch factor should not be overwhelming but compliment the other 3 components in a unique way.

Contrasts in Dessert Plating

Contrasts in plate design offer a visual wow factor. Remember the eyes eat first! There are many ways that a plate can provide contrast – and most plates feature at least 1-2 of the following:

  • Texture – texture provides different contrasts within itself. Texture can be smooth, creamy, crunchy, gelatinous, velvety. Textures used in combination with each other provide a unique experience and can be visually stunning.
  • Temperature – The contrast of temperatures on a plate can enhance the overall appeal of a dessert. As a general rule – serve hot things hot and cold things cold.
  • Shape – another visual look for enhancing the style of a plate. Shapes can be unique to the ingredient, molded, cut, or formed, but the main item should always be the biggest shape on the plate.
  • Flavor – Use flavors to balance or contrast sweet, bitter, tart, salty, savory. Use complimentary flavors to enhance, not detract from the main item.
  • Colors – another visual eye appeal. Different colors are the easiest way to enhance a plate. The introduction of a color should always mean the introduction of another flavor.

Things to consider when dessert plating-

  • Desserts, in general, but especially when it comes to plating are very time consuming. Desserts, out of any course of the meal, typically have the most elements and contrasts. Do not overcomplicate plating and don’t just add things to a plate to have them there. A properly composed plate should never be confusing, and you should be able to see and identify every component on the plate in some way.
  • Take into consideration the size of the plate you are going to be using. The plate can actually be very useful in your final plating design.
  • Balance the elements on your plate neatly. Plating can be symmetrical, asymmetrical, or whimsical. Remember, composed plates usually travel in some way (kitchen -> table) do not make anything too unstable to move.
  • Use lesser elements such as sauce to create a pathway for the eyes to the main ingredients. This is building suspense.
  • Avoid blue when plating.