Plating is Such Sweet Sorrow

By Melissa Dean – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

Downhome Downtown

Ladies and Gentlemen, your days of Pinterest fails and the deep-rooted sorrow which accompanies such fails are over!

I have come with my love of making beautiful food and the joy of remedying your culinary woes and together we will combat the foe that is plating!

Too dramatic? 

I feel like this issue requires a little drama. It can truly be an excruciatingly painful experience to prepare a beautiful menu only to have it look like an unimaginative pile of “you know what” on a plate.  Am I right?  I mean, I am probably going to get a little backlash from this comment, but it’s to be expected if you tell someone that their food looks like poo.  Just saying….

So, let us begin.

I pride myself on being somewhat of a novice food stylist, hoping to turn pro someday. To me, the plating is almost as exciting as the actual preparing of the food. But I understand where this task could be daunting for some.

Ok, imagine this.

You are cruising through Pinterest. You come across a picture of an amazing plate of food. The picture conjures up emotions, the likes of you have never felt. You research the ingredients, make an impeccably organized grocery list, and brave H-E-B. You make it back to your house so excited to get started. A little of this, a little of that……

And then this incredible smell fills your home!

Your kids come running through the kitchen and inform you that they can’t wait to eat whatever is producing that intoxicating aroma!

Your husband drifts in from work with the obligatory “MMMMMMM, what’s for supper?”

You shyly grin and say, “It’s a secret!,” and giggle, thinking that this time, he really is excited about what you are cooking!

You take everything out of the oven and turn the stovetop settings down to low, I mean we don’t want to burn anything.  Finish preparing a beautiful salad, all the while keeping a watchful on your masterpiece.

Then, that internal dinner bell rings, and everyone in your family runs into the dining room ready to eat!

Your excitement reaches the outer limits and you joyfully begin serving your sweet family members lovingly spooning a little of each element of your menu!  Deep down in your heart, you just know it’s a masterpiece!

Then, you pull up the pic that you screenshot from Pinterest and a lump suddenly appears in your throat because you know that, while it smells delicious and will definitely taste good, IT LOOKS NOTHING LIKE THE PHOTO!!

All of your hard work, and it literally looks like a mess, not a masterpiece.

A train wreck, not a tasty testament to the good cook that you know you are.

And then, you serve it to your family, and they gobble it up and ask for more AND declare that it’s the most delicious thing you have ever made, to which you reply, sadly, I might add, “that it doesn’t look like the picture on Pinterest.”

And they just keep shoveling in their second and third helpings, never even noticing how terribly disappointed you are. 

And while anyone else would be okay with the fact that it doesn’t quiet look the part, simply because it tastes good, you just try to hide your sorrow as best you can.

But let’s face it. Does anything really turn out like the picture? Well, I mean, in my world, it pretty much always does.  But that’s just me. That’s not going to be the case for everyone. It’s just not.

But let me tell you.  Creating a beautiful plate of food doesn’t have to be hard. As a matter of fact, it’s easy!

There is a finite set of rules and techniques that you can follow if you so choose to ensure that your plate is the captivating, fascinating, and stunning masterpiece that you desire it to be.

So, some of you may laugh, but the most important component in plating is, well, the actual plate itself. I know most of you won’t have a bunch of different plates to choose from, but if you do, try to mix it up and match the plate with what you are serving. For example, if you are making club sandwiches or BLTs, the perfect plate for this is a long rectangular shaped plate. Trust me. It makes for a super cute and very much on trend service.

Courtesy photo

When planning your menu, you will want to choose foods of varying colors. For example, you don’t want to serve chicken, mashed potatoes and say, sauteed mushrooms.  While all of these items are in fact different colors, they are in the same color family. Beige chicken, off-white mashed potatoes, and brown mushrooms are not only visually unpleasant, it’s just boring. The way to remedy this plating faux pas is to add a colorful sauce to accompany the chicken, such as a vibrant cherry and mustard glaze and swap the mushrooms for a beautiful side salad with cherry tomatoes and jazzy green cucumbers.

Texture is important, as well. For instance, if you serve creamy, dreamy, mashed potatoes you will want to serve something with a little crunch, or bite, such as a roasted broccoli or asparagus. 

Make sure your presentation matches your theme. For Italian food night, maybe garnish with an impressive chiffonade of fresh basil and an extra avant garde splattering of marinara sauce, just for extra added flair. And to be honest with you, these two accoutrements satisfy another one of my plating rules. ONLY USE GARNISHES THAT CAN BE CONSUMED WITH YOUR MEAL. Let me say that again. ONLY USE GARNISHES THAT CAN BE CONSUMED WITH YOUR MEAL.

There. I feel better now.

Courtesy photo

Seriously, though. You never want to put anything on your plate as a garnish that you wouldn’t want your diners to be able to eat. Like don’t make a wedge of lemon do a job it’s not meant to perform by sticking it next to the broccoli just because its pretty and bright. Let it serve a purpose. A grilled slice of lemon is a wonderful accompaniment to baked fish or pasta. It gives a nice kick of acidity that is needed and wanted by most diners, even if they don’t realize that they need it or want it.

Height.

Always try to add some height to your plate. It makes the presentation more interesting for sure, but it also adds a bit of whimsy. One of my favorite things to eat at Across the Street Bistro downtown is Chef Andreas’ Vertical Pear Salad.  I mean, the name says it all. There is salad and there is a pear that is vertical. And it is utterly amazing.  

Any chef can chop up a pear and put it on a bed of greens, but the fact that there is a whole entire pear, standing up, in the center of plate, I mean, it’s culinary magic! It’s amazing! It’s a feat of plating majesty that is unmatched in our fair town. I would have never thought to do it, for sure. Surprising, I know. I mean, I am the girl who placed a corn muffin topped with mashed potatoes, baked beans, and smoked sausage in the center of plate and then drowned it in gravy! Good stuff. 

Height equals whimsy.

Courtesy photo

But honestly, the main thing to remember is to just have fun. Cooking a meal for your family or friends shouldn’t be something that you dread.  And I know we can’t all be like me. I wake up in the middle of night thinking about food or what I can bake or what I can create with food the next day. It truly is my life’s passion to prepare food that not only tastes good, but that is a work of art! It is my art.

So, let’s review:

  1.  Choose the right plate.
  2. You want to play with textures and use contrasting colors on your plate.
  3. Match your presentation to the theme of your meal, should one exist.
  4. Create height on your plate.
  5. And last but, not least, use only edible garnishes and decorations on your plate. 

I encourage you with your next meal to try out these easy-to-follow guidelines.  I mean, you may not only surprise your family, but you may surprise yourself with how much joy you find in presenting a beautiful plate of food. And it’s just fun!

I hope this offering finds you and your family healthy and happy and staying warm!  As I am typing this, it is currently snowing!

Stay warm, my friends, Downhome Downtown.

Categories: Food, Opinion