Plating Like a Pro

These days a lot of people are talking about ‘food porn’ and ‘food photography’, or for the more casual ones, ‘Instagrammable.’ To be honest, I’m one of them. It’s pretty addictive to want to decorate a dish of food and then decorate the table with placemats and things that look nice, all for that one perfect photo. But for me, it has grown to become more than that now. I think I just enjoy making the table and my dinner look nice, photo or not. 

To take that perfect Instagrammable photo of your food, you’ll need to work on your food photo skills and learn to plate your food in a way that’s visually appealing and appetising. 

Here are 5 tips for you. 

1. Plate your food in odd numbers

Our mind is tricky – it perceives things in odd numbers and the lack of balance as more visually interesting than those in even numbers, even if they are exactly the same things! So, try counting your food. When you serve your main dish such as shrimp or scallops, or even vegetables like asparagus and pearl onions, serve them in 3 or 5 instead of 4 or 6. 

 Plating Like a Pro | Daily Teaspoon

2. Choose the appropriate dinnerware

Your plate should be clean, as any tiny dirt, crack, or stain will break the rest of the staging. Size also matters, as too big of a plate will make the portion look tiny, while too small will cramp the foods you put on it. 

Consider matching the colours of both your ingredients and table decor. The use of placemats (oh I love them!) or napkins with bold colours and textures will also complement your food and often create a different look to your dish. For example, when serving a dish with a lot of green, consider pairing it with something red or even serving it next to red napkins. 

 Plating Like a Pro | Daily Teaspoon

3. Use the clock rule

The most classic approach to food plating has to be the ‘clock method,’ and it’s the easiest way for aspiring foodies to try at home. By dividing the plate into 3 sections, you are creating balance on the plate, making your food more presentable and helping to guide you in portion control. 

Treat each plate like a clock and place a specific food item on a corresponding time. The main dish such as steak or fish is usually placed at the 6 o’clock position, vegetables at the 2 o’clock position, carbohydrates like pasta, rice, potatoes and bread to be placed at the 11 o’clock position of the plate. 

4. Garnish appropriately

Garnishes should always be appealing to the eyes and also add to the flavour of the dish. Foods with bland colours can look more exciting and tasty with the addition of bright garnishes. For example, a simple sunny-side-up egg can be made more interesting with some freshly cut fruits on the side. You can play around with garnishing but when in doubt, parsley usually does the trick!

For smooth foods, consider garnishing with something that adds texture. Fresh herbs and infused oils not only add a touch of texture to your dish but also enhance the aroma. Other commonly used garnishes include citrus zest or wedges, cream or sauce and even whole spices. 

5. Experiment with layers and height

Having layers and different heights when plating your food adds excitement and dimension to your dishes, and also makes food look bigger without increasing the portions. Proteins on top of starches are a popular layering method — think steak over mashed potatoes or sliced chicken on top of rice. Just make sure you don’t make it too high, or your friends may be intimidated and not know where or how to begin!

Always keep these 3 essential layers in mind as you plate:

The bottom layer of your dish usually helps the other layers stay together, and also add texture and colour. Think — a dollop of puree spread across the plate with the back of a spoon, a leaf of lettuce or other greens or a few dots of different oils strategically placed around your plate. Food can also be spread out or fanned across the plate to create a low layer.

The middle layer works best with piles or little piles of food such as rice, pasta or potatoes, you can even place noodles in a neat, round pile or mould rice into a mound. Keep in mind that a little bit of the bottom layer should show through the middle layer.

Plating Like a Pro | Daily Teaspoon

The top layer of your dish may consist of your protein or longer items like asparagus spears or potato wedges. You can stack your food items on top of each other, or lean them against the middle layer. Lighter items work best for being stacked or leaned. 

A final note is…cleanliness counts! After you have so carefully plated your food, don’t forget to use a clean kitchen towel to wipe away stray crumbs or dribbles of sauce. Such outliers will distract from the focal point and create a less polished look to your plate.

Happy plating!

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