Food Plating And Its Importance
When most people think of food they think of the ingredients, or the taste. Maybe if it is vegetarian or gluten free should they have restrictions. However what seems to be quite unremembered is how the food looks. Fancy looking food was thought to be something reserved for high end or Michelin starred restaurants, not for at home parties, or family dinners. Yet, food plating seems to be making a statement in importance these days, most likely do to social media culture.
It used to be the only time a picture was taken of food was for a cookbook. Maybe a picture of a holiday feast surrounded by loved ones, but that’s less about the food and more about the family. These days it’s hard to go to even a mid range restaurant and not see someone with their phone out taking a picture (or 10) of their meal. I’ll admit, I used to judge…hard.
Now though, I think it is great. I love seeing pictures of food on Instagram, or Facebook. Whether homemade or from a restaurant, I see these pictures and it makes my mind race with recipe ideas. I do not even care if it is food I do not think I would enjoy, the fact that it looks pretty makes all the difference.
What Impact Is Social Media Having On How Food Looks?
“Fancy” restaurants have always cared about how their food was presented. That has never changed. Yet now the “Instagramability” factor seems to play a large part in even the food truck scene. They say the first thing we eat with is our eyes, and pretty food is a huge selling point. Take a look at the video below, showing the most obtuse way to add sugar to your coffee.
Now I’m not one to normally sweeten my coffee, but I’ll be the first to admit I’d order that drink just for the picture. Is that vain? Sure. But it’s 2019 and social media value is derived from how many people find your pictures interesting.
What About Actual Plates?
It recently came to my attention that I spend just as much if not more on ceramic ware than I actually do on ingredients. Anyone who takes pictures of their food understands how important appearance is. Yet, are we taking it over the top? If you’ve seen my Fried Goat Cheese Balls you may think, wow those look delicious. What you’re probably not realizing is that the plate underneath costs almost $400.
That’s absolutely ridiculous right!? Or is it? I throw 1-2 dinner parties a week, and have used that plate to serve appetizers on for almost 2 years. It makes the food look pretty, and is a great way to showcase the dish in a subtle and clean way.
The Rules Of Food Plating
You wouldn’t serve a steak on a teacup saucer, or soup on a plate, but are there hard and fast rules for what food belongs where? Other than the fairly obvious facetious examples just stated, I would say no. There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to plating. Many things can look good many different ways. It is up to you to decide how you want it to look.
Unofficial Guide To Food Plating Techniques
1. If the dish will involve heavy use of a knife, the flatter the plate the better.
2. Personal salads should be served in a shallow bowl, instead of on a plate or in a regular bowl. Salads to share should be on a presentation dish.
3. If you are going for an artistic food plating design, nothing beats a large flat white plate.
4. Neutral colored foods can go on colorful or patterned ceramic ware, and vice versa.
5. Droplets of infused oils can make any dish look more professional.
6. Never overcrowd the plate.
7. Clear or translucent soups look great in deep bowls, while opaque or creamy soups look good in shallow bowls.
8. Everything should be garnished. Chopped herbs are classic but don’t be afraid to use edible flowers.
9. Gold leaf is overrated.
10. Pre-slicing meat makes for better presentation, but also cools it down. Don’t sacrifice taste for looks.
11. Salads should rarely need a knife. The iceberg wedge is an abomination. The Caprese Salad (pictured above) is an acception
12. Powdered sugar is your friend when it comes to desserts.
13. Pasta should always be mixed with the sauce before serving. None of this lukewarm noodles with sauce ladled atop. This isn’t the 80’s.
14. Speaking of the 80’s, wide rimmed plates should not have cracked black pepper on them. It isn’t artistic, it’s tacky. Keep it clean.
15. It’s okay to serve food in the cooking dish with a ladle as long as everyone has their own plate that matches. eg. Bœuf Bourguignon in a cocotte.
16. Steak does not need a garnish, but if you do want one, a piece of thyme lit on fire is a classic.
Items To Help With Food Plating
These items can be used to help make your food plating goals easier. From adding infused oil to a dish, to creating swooping patterns of gels or sauces.
How Much Should You Spend
How much you want to spend on your food plating budget is entirely up to you. I’ve found beautiful plates from Home Goods for $3-$8, and ones for $100’s from designer ceramic companies. Go to your local craft fair and find a potter or someone artistic who can make beautiful one of a kind pieces. Or sign up to learn ceramics yourself at the learning annex or through your city.
Food Plating Final Thoughts
At the end of the day the real focus should be on the taste of the food. I’ve had ugly gross looking street-food that ended up being some of the best tasting food I’ve ever had. I’ve had pretty looking food that was pretty terrible. I’ll always say don’t sacrifice taste for appearance. But, if you can, it doesn’t hurt to style your food a little fancier.