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How to Present Food like a Chef: Plating Basics and Tips

by Praveen Kumar

The art of food presentation has less to do with food and more to do with the skill of invoking sensory delight. Plating food i.e. the manner in which you lay food on a plate must be such that it appeals to all your senses, not just the palate. You don’t have to train as a chef to get food presentation right though. Some basic rules, a bit of design sense, and a truck load of creativity is all you need to serve a delectable fare!

Here are 10 food presentation rules to follow to present your meals like a pro:

Chefs Plating Up

#1 Lay your plate like it’s a clock: This is an old rule that says you should imagine your plate like a clock and lay specific food items at specific times.

  • At 11, set carbohydrates like chapattis, rice, potatoes, pasta, etc.
  • At 2, set vegetables including all the reds, greens, and yellows
  • At 6, set the proteins and the main meal like chicken, fish, dal, prawns, etc.

The advantage of such presentation is that it helps limit portion size, promotes healthy eating, and reduces food wastage.

#2 More the colour, merrier the presentation: To make a plate of food stand out, make sure its high on colour contrast.  No, we don’t mean that your plate should look like a rainbow at every meal but you can set that as a benchmark to challenge yourself to add maximum colour.  Adding fruits and vegetables such as carrots, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, oranges is a sure fire way to add pops of delightful colour to your plate. If you are serving seafood or grilled chicken, even garnishing with lime slices makes for a good colour addition. If you can think of no ways to add colour in a day’s menu, simply add a contrast paper napkin/tablecloth/cutlery to get the colour factor right.

Tip: The way you cook vegetables has a significant impact on their colour when served – always make sure to lightly steam vegetables instead of boiling them or alternatively, roast or sauté them with a little oil or butter to bring out their brightest colour.

#3 Exercise caution when frying: Over or under-fried food items look unappealing. Remember that even after you remove them from the pan, fired foods continue top brown for some minutes, so be cautious of when to remove from heat. Also, handle fried foods gently so you don’t break them before serving. For fried meat, you can use a meat thermometer and stick it into a piece to check its internal temperature.

#4 Food texture is just as important as the colour: No matter how well you bring out the colour, if the food on the plate is too oily, dry, soggy, watery, or difficult to chew, the joy is all but gone. Here it’s important to handle the food well in the period after cooking till serving. For instance, pasta tends to clump together, so after cooking you should toss it in a bit of oil to prevent clamping. Similarly, wrapping fried food in tight cloth/foil or putting the same in air-tight containers makes it soggy, so avoid that.

#5 It’s good to be odd: As a general rule, food items generally look better when served in odd numbers and not even. So when laying out momos, tikkis, or anything else that can be counted, make it odd.

#6 White rules at the table: Most chefs choose white cutlery and restaurants lay white tablecloths to make the food stand out. You can do the same at home, though it doesn’t hurt to add some variety – say if you have a white tablecloth, you could try yellow coloured dishes to still make the food colour pop and break the monotony.

#7 Play on the height factor: Ever wondered why restaurants often serve rice like a high mound or dosa as a high triangle? That’s because playing with height on a plate ups the visual appeal of food significantly.  So if you are serving chicken, rice, vegetables, and boiled peas in today’s menu – cut the chicken pieces diagonally and space them out, place the stir-fried/sautéed vegetables beside the mound of rice and the peas/mashed potatoes in the front on a low/mid height.  A good way to layer the food to create height is to serve the protein on a bed of starch. For instance, serve a piece of kebab/paneer on a heap of rice or mashed potatoes.

#8 Portion size matters: Over or under loading the plate with food is sure to make it look unappealing. As a rule, food should be centered in the middle of the plate and only about two thirds of each plate should be laden with food, the rest left empty. The empty space helps provide the much-needed contrast with the food, increasing its visual appeal.

Vegetables should comprise half of the food on the plate, meat, paneer or other proteins should take up one-fourth, and the rest one fourth should comprise starch in the form of rice/roti/pasta/breads.

#9 Sauce it up, but be cautious: Controlling the amount of sauce/gravy is important to retain the attractiveness of a dish. If you are serving a curry dish such as paneer kofta, place the koftas first in the serving dish and afterwards, pour just the right amount of gravy on top. That way, you avoid making the dish too watery or dry.

 #10 Master the shapes: This rule holds true especially for kids’ food. Try cutting sandwiches, paranthas, cookies in the shapes of their favourite cartoons, add fruits such as grapes/berries for eyes and tomato slices for mouth and see them gobble their meal up in no time! Get innovative to get the results with kids.

Be it a simple meal or an elaborate one, good plating can make any food special. So what’s your plate strategy today?

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