Culinary Plating & PresentationIt is true what they say: people eat first with their eyes. Even before a diner tastes your food, he already has made a critical judgment about the quality of the meal, and the skill of the chef with just one look.

First impressions often last throughout the meal. While innovative plating skills will never make up for poorly executed culinary techniques, sloppily presented plates will definitely detract from the enjoyment of the most delicious meal. It is the responsibility of every culinary professional to consistently produce dishes which please the eye as much as the palette. 

To apply proper plating techniques, it is important to understand each aspect of a dish, and the way it contributes to the overall appearance.

Choose the Proper Plate

A great looking dish begins with a solid foundation. Choosing the correct plate is the basis of all good plating techniques. Standard restaurant plates are un-patterned and bone white to provide a clean canvas for a dish. Round, square or rectangle plates are acceptable, but it is important that the plate functions well with the food. A plate should neither be too large where food is spread too thinly, nor too small where the food feels cramped. 

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Ensure Your Dish Has Balance

Creating a balanced look does not mean that the protein must always be placed in the center of a plate. When proteins are stacked on a starch in the center of a plate, especially on a round plate, the resulting designs often start to take on the appearance of a bull’s eye. This does not mean a home-styled plating of one meat and two vegetable split into thirds is acceptable either. Take the time to really compose a plate, and try to incorporate complementary colors, shapes and sizes to plan a well-balanced plating design. You can try using various knife cuts to add interest to your plates. Plating an odd number of components on a plate usually results in creating a more pleasing look. 

Get Saucy

Plating with sauce can be functional, decorative or both. Functional sauces help to add moisture and flavor to a dish; they serve a utilitarian purpose, and therefore may be applied to a plate without much fanfare. A purely decorative sauce adds little in the way of taste to a dish, but will create a beautiful plate. Decorative sauces are used as artistic expressions, and need to be applied carefully. Ideally, a sauce is both decorative, adding visual appeal to a plate, and functional, heightening the flavor of a dish. Keep in mind the function of a sauce when creating a plate. 

Dress It Up

The division among chefs who believe there can never be too much garnish on a plate, and those chefs who value a plate’s empty space is wide. Most chefs choose one side early on in their careers, and rarely cross over to the other side. Whether you believe good food cooked well doesn’t need dressing up with microgreens, or think you can never add too much glam to your grub, it is important to leave a dead space free of garnish and sauces around the rim of the plate.

Serve Your Masterpiece at the Right Temperature

Maintaining the correct temperature for your sauces, proteins, garnishes, and plates is critical for proper plating.  Keeping food outside of the danger zone (40 - 140 degrees Fahrenheit) not only reduces the chance of someone getting sick, it also keeps food looking and tasting great. Chilled plates can help maintain the proper serving temperature for cold food and keep sauces from spreading. To warm a plate without a plate warmer, you can flash it for a minute in a salamander or an oven. Always remember to warn others on the line and wait staff if a plate is hot. 

Mastering plating techniques is only one part of becoming a culinary professional. If you are interested in working as a professional chef, contact ECPI University’s College of Culinary Arts, Culinary Institute of Virginia, TODAY for more information about earning your Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts. It could be the Best Decision You Ever Make!

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