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Plating food

post #1 of 29
Thread Starter 
Hey there,
I want to learn to cook better... but one thing i struggle with is once i've made the food... I'm not very good at the presentation, as i've never been trained, and i was wondering if you guys had any basic tips and guidlines as to how to plate and present food?
Thankyou so much!
post #2 of 29

re: plating tips

traditionally speaking, many people tend to lean the meat or protein portions off the starch with veggies bordering the opposite end of the plate. the sauce is drizzled along the meat and onto the plate.
the fun way is to thing of the plate as a canvas and the food is your medium. cooking is an art form and the more you play with the presentation the more people enjoy your work. if it is for a small dinner for a few friends play with the presentation. don't think about it too much, just feel it and trust your instincts on it. if every plate comes out with a different presentation it will amaze everyone.
the most important thing is to have fun with your creation and be proud of it.
I hope this helps.
post #3 of 29
Thread Starter 
thankyou soo much. that really helped me
post #4 of 29
Avoid what we call TV Dinner presentation... meat on 1/3 of the plate, starch on another 1/3, and veg on the last 1/3
post #5 of 29
I don't bother too much with plating because I usually serve my dishes family style for a dinner party. It's my way of saying "help yourselves, take as much of one thing and as little of the other as you wish, and arrange it in your own way."

Often times this is not possible, especially when I've cooked a special sauce that I want to feature that may be ignored during family style serving. I like to play with the idea of stacking. Lay down the starch, layer it with the veggies, and place the protein on top. For example, a bed of rice, layered with spinach, and ontop goes the salmon, sauce drizzled on it and around the plate.

A nice touch is finely chop parsley and scatter it over the whole dish.
Another form of decoration is to take an herb or flavor that you have incorporated into the dish like lemon or mint and use it as a garnish.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #6 of 29
One foolproof method is to leave off the veggies and starch. Put a big piece of meat in the center and sauce around.
post #7 of 29
I agree on the meat-leaned-on-the-starch method... it's tried and true. One thing that I like to do with ravioli or other pasta items is arrange them geometrically in a slightly deconstructed manner around the plate, with the sauce in the center and ever-so-slightly overlapping the pasta. This works best when the pasta has been tossed in a small amount of olive oil prior to plating. Dress the bare spots around the outer edge of the plate with tiny dots of high-quality olive oil (or another aromatic, flavored oil like sesame or white truffle, if the dish incorporates those flavors) and complementary herbs.

I've never worked in a dinner establishment, and my family laughs at me for making "pretty" food, but I love to cook and it's fun, so... there.
For the best cakes in Spokane (and all the "weird" designs that other bakers won't do) visit www.cakes-by-sarah.com !
For the best cakes in Spokane (and all the "weird" designs that other bakers won't do) visit www.cakes-by-sarah.com !
post #8 of 29
Tried posting to this earlier but it didn't take.

Something to consider is vertical placement. I don't mean those humongous towers---thank God that fad has passed. But raising things up adds visual texture and interest.

For instance, let's say you were serving shrimp, mashed sweet potatoes, and petit peas. You could plate them in what RAS calls the TV Dinner presentation; i.e., shrimp on a third of the plate, potatoes on a third, peas on a third. But one alternative would be to make a mound of the sweet potatoes, slightly off center. Stand the shrimp on their heads, leaning against the potatoes. Then spoon the peas in a crescent, partially outlining the shrimp mountain.

Keep in mind, whether vertical or not, that equal things are static, and unequal things have movement and excitment. For example, let's say you made an eggroll. You could lay in on the plate, like a log. Pretty boring. Or you could slice it in half, and stand each half upright like a tree trunk. Better, but still a little static. So, try slicing it on the bias, with one half longer than the other, and then stand them upright. Makes a big difference.

In a similar way, even numbers are static while odd numbers connote action. Nobody says you have to serve just one egg roll, right? So cut the first one as described, then cut a third piece (also on the bias) from a second eggrole, even shorter than the one you have.

Another possibility is to preslice things. For instance, you could broil a boneless porkchop and slap it on the plate. Or you could preslice it, and fan it out, with each slice slightly overlapping the next. The whole front of the fan could slightly overlap some micro-greens, and the starch placed at the point of the fan.

The whole trick is, as JP says, to think of the plate as a canvas, and the food as your paints. Once you have that mindset you'll find it much easier to arrange food in a pleasant, appealing manner.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #9 of 29

There's a lot of good advice in this thread. Let's see if we can come up with some basic rules that put it all together.

It's a true cliche, "We eat with our eyes." So making food visually appealing is part of what a good cook does. You already know this, it's why you started the thread. But it's a good idea to start with first principles anyway. Since a plate is a visual composition, it seems logical that the basic rules of visual composition apply. The plate sets a mood and a style, The plate identifies what's important.

But before we get into specifics Good plating starts with attractive food. Most attractive food starts with good knife work. It's important to be able to portion, trim and slice food neatly. If, as in most home kitchens, the sharpest knife in your kitchen is a serrated steak knife, and your "go to" knife is a dull paring knife -- you're starting at a distinct disadvantage. Not nagging, just sayin' is all.

Sometimes, it's best not to plate. Most family meals are better served "family style."' That is, the main course(s) and side dishes are placed in large bowls, and appropriately garnished. The serving bowls are brought to the table with appropriate serving pieces, they're passed, and each diner helps her or himself. This works very well with large portions, or when different diners want different sized portions. A filled plate, family style, is generous. A filled plate, "plated," is sloppy. A small portion for a small eater, family style, is appropriate and thoughtful. A small portion to a big eater, plated, is stingy and careless. Why deal with it? Let them serve themselves.

Large parties are generally best served buffet style. A good rule of thumb: If you have more than twice as many diners as courses -- buffet. The idea is to get the food out hot, and allow the diners the freedom of portioning their own food. Buffets tend to be less formal, so that's another consideration. So called "silver service," involves carrying serving dishes and serving pieces to each diner and either allowing them to serve themselves from the held dish, or serving them. Without waiters, silver service doesn't work too well.

Plating large quantities onto platters or into bowls is usually done as follows:

Small pieces, such as canapes, are arranged more or less regularly onto large platters allowing some space between them creating an impression of elegance; or are mounded creating an impression of abundance. When using a platter for this or any other purpose, it's important not to overcrowd. There must always be space along the edges.

Slices are either "shingled," or "fanned." An large, unsliced piece may be plattered with the slices. For instance, 2/3 of a pate de campagne (meatloaf, OK?) may be sliced, shingled, and leaned against the remainder -- as though the whole magically sliced itself. No matter whether shingled or fanned (shingled in an arc) the slices should run through the center of the platter.

Portions, as in portions of fish, are arranged more or less regularly and geometrically, each appropriately garnished. Arrangement focuses around the center of the platter. The center of the platter should be filled with the main.

Accompaniments, if served alongside a main on a platter, should be arranged along side. It's more attractive not to completely fill the sides of the platter, but to leave some space

When sauced with a thick sauce or gravy, slices or portions are somewhat under-sauced, with the sauce running as a ribbon down the middle of the slices. The remainder of the sauce is presented alongside in a boat. When sauced with a thin sauce, the portions or sauces are served on top of the sauce. Again, the remainder of the sauce is presented alongside in a boat.

Certain dishes determine their own plating on a platter. Take turkey: The drumsticks are placed at one end of an oval or rectangular platter, angled to a make a V, with the handle end extending out beyond the rim of the platter and the meaty portion facing in; the wings are placed at the other end, in a similar placement. The breast meat is sliced neatly and shingled down the center of the platter. The thigh meat is sliced as neatly as possible (usually not very) and mounded along side the breast meat.

Dishes in which liquid is an integral part, such as braises and stews, are usually served in bowls. Accompaniments such as veg and starch are also typically served in bowls. Bowls are served well filled. Garnish is kept to a minimum. For instance, a sprinkling of an appropriate minced herb, or a dusting of a colorful seasoning such as paprika.

Appropriate serving spoons, forks, ladles, tongs, etc., create ease and elegance.

On to the main course -- Plating individual plates

Learn from the masters and the chumps. Martha Stewart can plate. Cat Cora can plate. Emeril Lagassie can cook. He can cook the other two into the ground. Separately or together. But he can't plate to save his life.

I. First rule: Keep it Tidy. Don't Overcrowd the Plate.

A. Always leave a little room around the edge.
B. Negative space means something. An almost filled plate means "comfort." An under-filled plate means elegance. An overfilled plate means "messy." A plate with one small thing on it, means STAR POWER -- you better produce.

II. Second Rule: The main dominates the center, but does not need to be exactly centered.

A. The less you have on the plate, the closer to the center your subject should be.

III. Third Rule: Sauce visually. Pass extra sauce, if needed. No, that's not right. Let me rephrase. Pass extra sauce, or else.

A. Don't hide the meat in the sauce.
B. Don't drown the plate.
C. Lots of different things work, don't obsess.
D. Nap thick sauces -- a ribbon trail just slightly off center, oozing to a small puddle next to the main.
E. Pool thin sauces -- beneath the main; or pass them separately. Pooled sauces mean very small and appropriate accompaniments. For instance two or three baby carrots, and a two tablespoon sized portion of cauliflower puree.

IV. Fourth Rule: Styles change.

A. The current trendy style, whatever it is, sends a "fine dining" message. The most recent trend is vertical plating.
B. Older styles are fine too. Often your food will dictate a flat presentation. You can't put a thick pork chop or slice of roast beef on top of or leaned against mashed potatoes and still have it looked good.
C. Don't worry about TV dinner presentation. As long as the highlighted portion of the plate dominates the center, you'll be fine.

V. Fifth Rule: Keep things tidy. Don't overcrowd.

VI. Sixth Rule: Garnish minimally and appropriately. Keep things tidy.

A. Use fresh herbs. If the main or one of the sides is herbed, use only that herb, and only enough to "refresh" the herbs already there. Although parsley is (more or less neutral), too much is too much. Keep a light hand.

B. Colored salts such as pink Hawaiian or Gray Breton are very nice. Adjust the dish's seasoning appropriately.

C. Paprika and chili powders.

D. Only use diced pepper, etc., as garnish if you can cut a mini-brunois (a regular cube of about 1/16" square per side, or you can make decorative cuts. Otherwise it just looks sloppy.

E. Chive stalks are very nice.

VII. Seventh Rule. Accompaniments in Small Portions. Don't Overcrowd the Plate.

A. Doesn't need much explanation.

VIII. Eighth Rule. Keep things tidy. Don't Overcrowd the Plate.

IX and X. Same as Eight

A. Sensing a theme here?

Let's step outside these rules for a second and look at a few examples:

1. Imagine a stemmed champagne glass (coupe) filled with chocolate mousse garnished with chocolate shavings. Taken by itself it's a good looking dessert. Put the martini glass in the center of black dinner plate, and it's elegance incarnate. Push the glass off to the side of the plate, and it's ridiculous.

2. A slice of rib roast, mashed potatoes, creamed spinach, pieces of Yorkshire pudding cut from a large pudding, "au jus" gravy. How? The roast is plated with the curved top facing the outside of the plate -- curve echoing curve. The 1/3 line of the beef covers the center of the plate, so the beef is center stage. An appropriately sized portion of potatoes is spooned into the center of the remaining space -- the potatoes do NOT impinge on the plate's edge, they do NOT touch the beef. The spinach is placed alongside the potatoes, so that as it puddles (creamed, remember?) it barely impinge on both the potatoes and the beef. The Yorkshire pudding is portioned and passed, family style. The gravy is served similarly. Or, the Yorkshire pudding is placed on top of the beef, and gravy poured generously over all. Why? It's prime rib, that's why. If the plating is less than perfect, the food is simple, satisfying and deliriously glorious. Don't beat yourself up. Oh, and don't forget a bowl of unsweetened whipped cream flavored with horseradish.

3. (a). A small beef steak and sauteed spinach. Mound the spinach in the center of the plate. Lean the steak against the spinach.
(b) A small beef steak with a pan reduction sauce, and sauteed spinach. Beef covering the center, but not centered. Sauce napping the beef, flowing towards and puddled in the emptiest part of the plate. Spinach, not touching the beef or sauce.
(c) Medium beef steak with mushroom sauce, and sauteed spinach. Steak in the center of the plate. Mushrooms mounded on top. Spinach, wherever.

Note how using different parts of the plate changes focus to accommodating the focus changes between fundamentally similar but slightly different dishes. The steak is always featured, but as the nature of the supporting cast changes, so does the composition.

Every plate tells a story. The story dictates the plating. Keep it simple. One star on the plate, everything else is a supporting player. In a star turn, the star gets the center. In an ensemble, it still dominates. Don't overcrowd it draws attention away. Leave some empty space, it draws attention to the main. Get it?

post #10 of 29
"Poor presentation is a dead give away that other things are not quite right in a kitchen, too."

Agreed. Whenever a server comes to the table and has to ask "who has the steak?" and then places it in front of me in such a way that the steak is at 12o'clock then I know there are problems in the kitchen too.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #11 of 29
Can't elaborate on what has already been said here other than this. Take a look at some restaurant websites, most of them have images of their dishes and they will be their best presentations from a visual point of view. Also have a browse through the photo gallery on this site, you will see comments from chefs on the presentations shown.
post #12 of 29
".....then I know there are problems in the kitchen too."

I'd have to say that's an unfair generalization. Front of house is a totally different management structure than back of house, and the chef usually has no control over how the wait staff is trained. Poor servers can easily spoil the dining experience even when the food is 4-star.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #13 of 29
>Take a look at some restaurant websites, most of them have images of their dishes..... <

And just to expand on that thought, look at any modern upscale cookbooks. Almost all of them are lavishly illustrated. Studying what was done by the stylist is the easiest way of learning plating techniques.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #14 of 29
Thread Starter 
I've got just 2 more questions...
What does shingled mean?
And do you have any cook books you could especially reccomend for the way they present their food in the photographs?
post #15 of 29
"Shingled" means the edge of each piece overlapping (and on top of) the edge of the piece before it -- the same way roofing shingles are laid. Or, if you've ever played the game of Klondike solitaire, the cards are shingled as you add them to each column.

It's embarrassing actually, but over the last few years my kids have marauded through my library. I don't have anything still in print with that kind of photography. I'm sure someone else must, though.

post #16 of 29
Look in the photo gallery under plate presentations.

Plate Presentations - ChefTalk Photo Gallery
post #17 of 29
Don't discount the power of presentation for a family style dinner.

Two or three items attactively placed on a large platter can add a lot of "wow" to your dinner.

Shop the thrift stores for serving pieces, large platters, unique shaped bowls for sauces that can sit at the edge of the platter, etc.

A large collection means that you can take a minute and determine which colors, shapes will complement the food and the table.

One of my most treasured complements was from a friend who told me, "You've always been able to take a 10.00 meal and make it look like a feast."
post #18 of 29
Flossy, it would probably be easier to list books that are not helpful in that regard.

About 90% of modern cookbooks follow a similar format. The recipe is faced by a full- or almost-full page photo, showing the dish laid out. Virtually all chef-created books follow this format, and most others come close.

Let me suggest that you go over to the book review section, and check any of the recent reviews. Pick one whose subject appeals to you, and order the book. You'll accomplish two things: 1. You'll expand your knowledge in an area of interest, and, 2. you'll learn a little about plating.

Keep several things in mind. A food stylist laid out the photo food, and it might even be different from how the chef, himself, plates it. And there's nothing sacred about the lay-out. It's just one way, albiet a really fancy way, of doing it. Also keep in mind that garnishing is a controversial topic. Stylists are big on garnishes, because their major concern is the visual aspect of the dish. But many chefs have gotten away from garnishes that do not contribute to the dish.

The trick is to take from the photos what you find useful and interesting, and apply it to your own service.
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
They have taken the oath of the brother in blood, in leavened bread and salt. Rudyard Kipling
post #19 of 29
i'm with you on that one ky, especially 'knowing that there are problems in the kitchen'...no matter how wonderful your plate looks leaving the kitchen a server can screw up the whole deal in two seconds just by putting the plate down wrong and why are they asking who gets what anyway? a good server knows where the food goes!...as a chef, i am always reminding the waitstaff which way to place the plate in front of the customer for the best effect..sometimes i am amazed when interviewing waitstaff, what they think the proper way to serve is and how long they have been getting away with it...its unbelievable really.. i work very hard to make evey plate a thing to behold as well as taste, even through the evenings main rush..to have it misrepresented to the cutomer(the one who pays my electric bill) reallyreally ticks me off..but for the chap who was asking about presentation, the gallery pics from this site are absolutely awesome..something to aspire to for sure..skies the limit..i totally agree with not doing it the tv dinner tray way, or the denny's way! god, do they still make tv dinners?..thought they were banned, or if not they should be!

food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne


food is like love...it should be entered into with abandon or not at all        Harriet Van Horne

post #20 of 29
The meat piled in the center of the plate method

post #21 of 29
I believe that if you have 4 star food then you should have 4 star service. Anyone running a restaurant will know how to train the wait staff to provide a well rounded experience for the diner. As said, delicious food doesn't seem so delicious if it is placed in front of the wrong person, or is handled with very little care. Front of house and back of house are connected hopefully with leadership by someone who has personal interest in the success of the restaurant.

Another thing to consider while plating is portion size. Gone are the days when you could place a heaping amount of food on to someone's plate. Going over my inlaws house can be torturous at times because nothing is served family style which means I can't choose what I'm going to eat in any sense. Forget it if you want less protein and more vegetables - the decision has already been made for you and NO SECONDS! I am usually told exactly where to sit, and then presented with a huge plate of... whatever they want me to eat. It's not a pleasurable experience downing all that food to tell the truth.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."


"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

post #22 of 29
The French Laundry Cookbook by Thomas Keller will stand you on your head....The ultimate blend of technique and "natural" feeling presentations. KY was right on about odd and even numbers. Look for symmetry and balance when possible...sometimes I think I have a great idea, then it hits the plate and my eye is not comfortable with it...It's usually a balance thing. STAY FAR AWAY FROM THE RIM OF THE PLATE! The blank space acts like a "frame" for your "picture".
Keep those fires burnin'
Keep those fires burnin'
post #23 of 29
Hah hah! Best presentation I've seen all week! :D
post #24 of 29
What style of plate should be used for what?

square, oval, rectangle, round, etc.

someone mentioned pooling sauces for thin sauces....

when do you let food "run into" each other....for instance, with my shortribs and rice I'm making tonight...

how would I present that if it were 40$ a plate in a Michelin stared place...

I am a plate whore, I'm always picking up plates, so I have oval, square, and big round plates.
post #25 of 29
BBQ isn't exactly high class food :lol: and I was feeding myself after 12 hours taking care of my wood fired pit!
post #26 of 29
I made that plate for myself after catering for 150 people. Was a long day, drive to the location, setup, prep, cook 12 hours, get everyone through the serving line, grab a plate for myself, tear down and drive home. 20 hours total and that doesn't count the prep I did at home leading up to that day. Cooking solo is a killer :eek:
post #27 of 29
Square and round are merely styles. Depending on the design and type of pottery, one might say "bauhaus" and the other rustic.

someone mentioned pooling sauces for thin sauces....

Your short ribs are my new vocation, apparently. You mentioned "pooling sauces," as part of the question. So you infer that part of plating is controlling the sauce and how it's eaten.

Whenever a sauce is as thin as that for your short ribs, you want to think about a deep plate or shallow bowl -- if there's a difference -- to make sure enough sauce stays with the meat.

The French divided the world into four types of cuisine; regional, bourgeois, haute and impromptu. Most regional cuisines would serve them in separate bowls. True bourgeois would be served family style. The dish really is buorgeois, btw. Impromptu is to your whim. If you put the beef on top of the rice, you're asking the diner to mush the sauce into the rice. If you put them so they just touch, you're giving the diner the choice of mush, eat the border, or eat the sides. Since it's not haute cuisine a starred restaurant would serve at the chef's whim.

In the case of my braised short ribs, if I were plating at a starred restaurant, I'd use a low bowl like a pasta bowl and arc the rice to one side of the ribs with a fair bit of herb garnish.

However, with your short ribs in particular, I'd want to serve them separately, with the short ribs alone on a plate, and the rice in a separate bowl. Yours appeared to be more of a stew than a braise, and that would dictate.

Oval for long food -- and there's a lot of it. Otherwise, it depends on the plate itself and the feeling you're trying to convey. The first principle of modern plating is plenty of empty space -- especially around the rim. This conveys the idea that you're serious about both the food and its appearance. While appearance is part of the message, it's not the major part. A poorly made hot dog on Limoges is a poorly made hot dog. A perfect Chicken Archduke (it's all about the truffles) on melamine is a perfect Chicken Archduke. The picture is more important than the frame.

post #28 of 29
you haven't hit my Rice post yet :D
post #29 of 29
Disagree. Many great restaurants serve messy food. They supply whatever's necessary -- bibs, finger bowls, moist towels -- to keep the diner's clean and comfortable.

People who won't pick up a piece of chicken on the bone, or suck the meat out of a crab claw are denying themselves pleasures for their own reasons -- not the dictates of good manners. High end dining is hedonism, not Calvinism.

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