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How to Present Food That Looks as Good as It Tastes

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If you’ve ever eaten at a really nice restaurant, you’ve probably noticed something different about the food. It’s not just the way the food tastes—it’s the way the food looks. Nice restaurants plate, or artistically arrange, food on a plate so dishes are as much of a treat for the eye as for the tongue. Plating is one of those extra little touches that makes eating out at a nice restaurant such a special experience. And it’s a surprisingly easy extra touch to add to the food you serve in your home.

There are many reasons you should consider plating food.

  • It makes eating into dining. All animals eat, but only humans dine. Taking a few minutes to artistically plate food invites your family or guests to enjoy a special time together.
  • It regulates portions. Family-style meals—meals where you put the food on the table in serving dishes—encourage thoughtless second helpings. Plate food in small portions so guests can decide whether they really want more or not.
  • It encourages leisure. It doesn’t make a lot of sense, but people tend to eat more quickly when there is more food on their plates. Small, artistic portions encourage people to savor what they have.

By following a few simple principles, you can plate food artistically in your own kitchen:

  1. Set the table beautifully. Check out our post on how to set a formal table for help. Candles, flowers, table runners, or placemats are all great and easy ways to add color and elegance to your dining table.

    The simple, beautiful plate shows off the boschetta at Platina Back Street's Italian Restaurant.

    This dish from the Armia Grand Hotel Japan roughly follows the 2-6-11 rule.

  2. Choose the right dinnerware. For plated food to look really nice, you want the plate to be a plain canvas. Select larger plates that are either all plain or plain in the center with a nice border. Select plates big enough that the food stands out, but not so big the portions look skimpy. (Bonus points if you registered for these kinds of plates.)
  3. Do the math. For “meat and two sides” meals, the vegetables should cover about half the plate, while meat and starches (potatoes, rice, etc.) should both cover a fourth. If the plate were a clock, you would place vegetables at 2 o’clock, the meat at 6 o’clock, and the starch at 11 o’clock.
  4. Be odd. Foods look more interesting in sets of odd numbers. Serve foods in three, fives, and sevens instead of fours, sixes, and eights.
  5. Measure up. Adding a little elevation makes plates look a lot more interesting. For example, lean meats gently against small stacks of vegetables or starch.
  6. Get your hands dirty.

    These vertically-stacked profiteroles at Annie Smither's Bistrot look truly elegant.

    Clean hands won’t do food any harm. Use your hands to shape the food and give it that extra dimension or pleasant disorder.
  7. Drizzle, don’t pour. If your food involves sauce, drizzle it on rather than pouring it over the whole dish.
  8. Practice, practice, practice. Plating food is an art. If you do it often, preparing artistic meals that encourage your family and guests to dine will be second nature.

How do you make every-day dinners a little special?

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