You get thousands and thousands of books with recipes of all sorts but it’s hard to find anything on how to present your food. I always wondered why there aren’t tons of books avaliable for a topic as important as this. After all, it’s the eye that makes first contact with the food, not the tongue. In my opinion the presentation of the food gives the guest an impression on how much the chef values him. Good food that’s badly presented makes a bad first impression. You know what they say: “You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression”. Some chefs like Thomas Keller handle this topic in their books but mainly for their own specific recipes. I had been looking for a book that explains the basics of plating, the tools, the processes, etc. for ages until I stumbled over this book. Published in 2019, it’s rather new. As far as I know this is so far the only book that concentrates only on the topic of plating. There are chapters on different chefs who explain how they plate their dishes. For each example they give, they explain in detail why they did it the way it was done. This helps to understand plating which is an art of its own. Other chapters deal with the tools that are used for a professional presentation of the food.
There are also chapters on Colour, Texture, Ceramics, Aroma and Shape. What I find very valuable are step by step examples on how to prepare a plate. Even simple meals like just some Asparagus can be presented in a very appealing way.
This is the book I’ve always been looking for. If you’re an ambitious cook, go for it. It doesn’t come cheap but it’s worth every cent. Highly recommended.
To prepare a nice looking plate you need a basic set of tools.
Molds: The most important tools are molds of different shapes and sizes. These help keep the plate tidy. Also, when stacking ingredients, you can use ring molds to define height and structure of your plate.
Squeeze Bottle: Another very important tool is the squeeze bottle. These come cheap and I always have around half a dozen of them in my kitchen. You put your sauces into these bottles and apply them onto your plate at the exact spot and in the exact quantity you want them. Also, you can use them to store a sauce for some time if you don’t need everything for the dish you are preparing at that point in time.
Plating Wedges: You can see these at the bottom right of the picture. Plating Wedges are used to smear sauces or other soft ingredients into a desired shape on your plate.
Tongs: These are needed for placing garnishes or small delicate items. Tongs come in different shapes and sizes. I would recommend two different types: The large 20cm precision tongs The 20cm Sushi-tongs. These are bent as you can see in the picture. You use these to place delicate items onto your plate and there are already items around the area you are working in.
There are several other tools you can use for plating, e.g. pastry bags, brushes, shavers, etc. For a start though, you should be able to cope with the tools listed above.
Many chefs cook brilliantly. Their food is tasty and perfect. For lack of time or simply because they concentrate only on the taste, the presentation of their food often has room for improvement. People eat with their eyes. Creative plating enhances both the taste and the look of the food. If something looks good, we all tend to have a more positive attitude towards it, thus already thinking it tastes good before it’s even touched our tongue. A very simple example will underline this. Both pictures show the same food, prepared by the same chef at the same time and served on the same plate. The meal is pork belly with sweetpotato-dumplings and a tomato salsa. This picture shows the food simply served on a square plate. The pork belly is cut and placed in a semi-symmetric fashion. Next to the meat there are three dumplings, topped by the tomato salsa. Looks ok but not really fancy.
The second picture shows the same meal. It’s far less than in the first picture of course, but if you prepare a six-course meal, portions need to be smaller. This time the tomato salsa was placed at the bottom. On top of this came a slice of dumpling, finally to be topped by a piece of pork belly. Much more appealing, isn’t it? But not only that. It actually also tastes better. The food is arranged in such a way that you can scoop up each of these stacks with your fork and eat it in one single bite. This means that you have all components in your mouth in exactly the right quantity. Eating from the first plate on the other hand, you’ll have problems getting all three components into your mouth in quantities which are balanced in such a way that none of them is too dominant. As you can see from this example, giving some thought to arranging the food on the plate can actually have a great impact on the taste itself.
Taking some time to create a proper presentation will take your cooking to a completely new level if you do it right. I’ll be writing a few blog-posts on this topic in future.