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Q&A: Plating and Presentation


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WHAT? YOU DON'T LIKE MY ANTIQUE ROYAL WORCESTER!!!  :shock:

LOL, actually I went to Ikea and bought some 99 cent simple white plates last week and the food does look better on them. I guess our hand painted reticulated Dresden is totally out of the question!? Seriously though, since my first profession is really an antiques dealer, how do you make food look good on plates like these? At about $500 each it's a shame to put them in storage.

Good points about antiques. I'm not a dealer and I don't have any $500.00 plates (that I know of!?! :biggrin: ), but I love antiques, too. I buy single plates, except for accumulating a "set" of pink depression glass. Usually when we have company for dinner, and sometimes for ourselves, I use all different ones for plating. It can make for a "too busy" presentation if garnishes are overdone or there is too much vertical placing of food, etc. When I use antique plates, I go for a more simple plating of the food on those. Also, neither the depression glass nor the plates with patterns are very photogenic!

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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I loved the class and the photos, Chef Tony. Thanks for taking the time.

Are there any good books with plating inspiration that you could recommend? What do you use in culinary school to "teach" plating techniques?

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I struggle with the plating. I did just fine yesterday, after pilfering my mother's cupboard for appropriate dishes, and making sure everything looked right, which was served "family style" for Easter.

But, I would really like to plate dinners for my family. Surely, I'm not the only person who cooks great food, but has a crowd of 4 clammoring for food. Dinner with the kids and Paul is different than what you are showing. It is a different experience.

So, for example, tonight, we had a frittata, salad, beautifully roasted asparagus, and a baguette. So, just what should I do?

With a crowd like mine, it is not about courses. It is about getting plates ready for everyone, getting caught up on everything. Or, do I just wait until they are all gone and it returns to the two of us?

What so puzzled me tonight was wedges of food.

I guess Diana and I just need to play around with this more. And, we both agreed tonight that I need some square plates.

Some examples of plates with all courses on them would be helpful.

Susan Fahning aka "snowangel"
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gallery_8590_366_45661.jpg

I made this ahi tataki a few weeks ago. One of my better platings, though it still feels a tad sloppy.

Bacon starts its life inside a piglet-shaped cocoon, in which it receives all the nutrients it needs to grow healthy and tasty.

-baconwhores.com

Bacon, the Food of Joy....

-Sarah Vowell

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Hopefully this won't be considered changing the subject but I often serve 'family style' and it is a little bit of a challenge to make it look sexy. Here are a couple of my 'family style' plates

This is called 'Berner Plate' it is a Swiss regional dish made from smoked pork shoulder, smoked sausages, dried green beans and potatoes.DSCF0003.33.JPG

And this is just a chicken and roasted potatoes.

1234.22.jpg

I would love to see how the rest of you do 'family style'.

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gallery_8590_366_45661.jpg

I made this ahi tataki a few weeks ago.  One of my better platings, though it still feels a tad sloppy.

IM very humble O, japanese plating demands more geometric precision than your typical plate. If I were you, I would have paid very careful attention while cutting to make sure that the pieces stuck together while cutting so you could deposit an entire filet onto the plate at once.

Also, I don't know if you've experimented with this but I like the little dome of rice you get from inverting a rice bowl onto a plate.

PS: I am a guy.

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... Seriously though, since my first profession is really an antiques dealer, how do you make food look good on plates like these? At about $500 each it's a shame to put them in storage.

PS: I think the cauliflower tastes better really dark.

Chef,

This is very challenging, I have never had to deal with such patterened china, and while these plates are beautiful, it is a really tough quandry. If you read below, Jensen had a great idea, using the expensive china as a charger, which would allow the guests to see the patterns in their full beauty, rather than being somewhat covered by food. Great job Jensen!! As far as the cauliflower is concerned, you could char it until it was total carbon, and as long as it looked appetizing to you, that would be fine!! The food police don't live here, or near you, so you won't be arrested any time soon, I promise!! :biggrin:

Are there any good books with plating inspiration that you could recommend? What do you use in culinary school to "teach" plating techniques?

Whatsup1,

I love all of Charlie Trotter's books, they are amazing. Of course, two staples of mine are also French Laundry, and Bouchon by Thomas Keller. Two that I have been using of late as well are The Art of Aureole by Charlie Palmer, and Amuse Bouch by Rick Tramonto.

As far as culinary school teaching a course like this, I have never heard of a class being offered at a culinary school. I haven't researched whether or not Art schools would do anything regarding food or not. The one thing that I have been taught about presentation was regarding Garde Manger platters that had been poured with aspic and had inlay and all of that. But as far as individual plates, I have never seen anything in an academic setting.

But, I would really like to plate dinners for my family.  Surely, I'm not the only person who cooks great food, but has a crowd of 4 clammoring for food. Dinner with the kids and Paul is different than what you are showing.  It is a different experience.

.... What so puzzled me tonight was wedges of food.

.... Some examples of plates with all courses on them would be helpful.

Snowangel,

When cooking for family, the biggest concerns that I have is that it is cooked properly and safely (no foodborne illness please..... :raz:), and that it is plated simply and quickly. In my house, the food isnt' on the plates for very long, so even "smiley facing" is acceptable (starch and veg on top, protein coming across the bottom), as long as the food tastes good, and looks appetizing.

As far as the wedge, I will try to make some fritata this week, and take a pic of some plating techniques for that....

I made this ahi tataki a few weeks ago.  One of my better platings, though it still feels a tad sloppy.

Placebo,

I think this looks very nice, simple, but you are correct in my eyes, a little bit sloppy, just be carefull about slice order and keep the edges very lined up when going for presentation points.

I generally eat average-sized food.

What plate size would you recommend?

Fifty,

I too, eat average sized food. I find that a good 10-12" plate is fine for entree plates.

Tonyy13

Owner, Big Wheel Provisions

tony_adams@mac.com

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But, I would really like to plate dinners for my family.  Surely, I'm not the only person who cooks great food, but has a crowd of 4 clammoring for food. Dinner with the kids and Paul is different than what you are showing.  It is a different experience.

[...]

Some examples of plates with all courses on them would be helpful.

Ditto from me.

I guess Diana and I just need to play around with this more.  And, we both agreed tonight that I need some square plates.

Corningware makes an everyday tableware set called "Just White"; the plates are square. The only thing I don't like about it is the shape of the bowl; they're more like rice bowls than soup bowls. That's fine for some things but so that I'd have a shallow bowl as well, I picked up some Motto bowls from IKEA.

And another note for Swiss Chef, if you put a small napkin underneath the top plate, it will protect your good china.

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Just a little clarification here guys, when you say that you want pictures with all courses, are you refering to a home dinner featuring salad, entree and dessert?

Tonyy13

Owner, Big Wheel Provisions

tony_adams@mac.com

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Just a little clarification here guys, when you say that you want pictures with all courses, are you refering to a home dinner featuring salad, entree and dessert?

Speaking only for myself, I'm talking about a home dinner with starch, protein, and vegetable(s) all on the same plate. I thought that was what snowangel meant but I could be wrong.

I have decided that I'm going to try plating tonight's dinner "restaurant-style", just for the experience. Of course, then I'll have to transfer it to a different plate to serve it... :laugh:

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Here's my attempt. Grilled flank steak with a chipotle-jalapeno rub and a salad, served family-style. I had to be hip like you all, so went out and bought the square white serving platter from Target yesterday - $10, not a bad deal. It's a perfect size for a 2-course dinner for 2-3 people, or one larger course.

It turned out OK, I think. The meat could be fanned out a bit more, and for the life of me I couldn't get the salad greens to stand up straight, but I was happy with it. Beats the hell out of my lazy-day platings, which consist of "grab a beer and help yourself off of the stove."

flanksteak.jpg

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That's pretty! I'm glad you guys brought this up about family-style. On the rare occasions that I serve family-style instead of plating, I haven't really been concerned about the presentation. I just put the foods in bowls and/or plates and set them in the middle of the table. Next time I do serve family-style, which might be this weekend or next when we have company for a belated Easter dinner, I will be keeping all this in mind!

Life is short; eat the cheese course first.

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Perhaps if some of you are having probs with plating of "family style" plating, in stead of looking to the plate and the arragment of the foods on the plates or platters...... some may want to look at the way the food is initially cut?

For Example, instaed of just roasting potatos that were randomly and obviously unevenly cut, try using a cut that would present them as uniform as possiable, like with a melon baller? they would present better, cook more evenly and add that extra touch!

Don't worry about the waste...save all the extra bits in water in the fridge , then fine chop for hash browns.

I'm sorry if I butted in, but some times it's the little touches, the simple things, before you start to cook that can make or break a presentation.

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Okay, I tried it out tonight and I bow low to anyone who can pull off an attractive plating. It is a lot harder than I expected (and I didn't think it would be a walk in the park).

I think I succeeded with my salad:

salad.jpg

The main course was a lot harder to pull off though. I made cups of chicken steamed in red chard with a mustard-yogurt sauce and roasted potato coins.

I'd tried doing the tadpole thing on a practice plate but was hopeless at it. So, I thought maybe I'd just do a smear of sauce.

Initially, I thought I'd place the potatoes on the plate in two rows and then put the chicken cup on top of that. Well, that looked like shite so I put the chicken cup at one edge and sort of ringed the potatoes around one side of it. When I put the sauce on, it looked like a bloody happy face--not exactly the look I was going for.

So, I globbed more sauce on top of my unsuccessful smear, plopped the chicken cup on top of it, and then arranged the potatoes from there. Because of the change of plans, the dish was quite off-centre.

chicken.cups.jpg

On the upside, even though my plating sucked, the food was good!

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Today, for lunch, I decided to put plating theory into practise:

gallery_18727_1022_34706.jpg

This is a chicken, mushroom & leek risotto.

Instead of just dumping everything in as I usually do, I decided to reserve some of the larger chicken chunks, deep fry the leeks and shave the parmesan to serve as garnishing elements.

I'm not very happy with the final plating but I guess I have a lot to learn.

In retrospect, I think a soup style bowl would have worked better than a deep bowl since it gives me more room to work. The chicken was obscured by the other garnishes and, unfortunately, my pan wasn't hot enough to brown it well enough. Perhaps next time, I would have grilled an entire breast and fanned it on top. The resting worked wonders though, virtually no juice leaked out.

I didn't really know what would work best for the parm shavings, I just sort of dropped them down at random but I get the feeling that larger shavings would give you more freedom with placement.

I think with plating, I just need to take a deep breath and calm down. Usually, during cooking, I'm so frantic doing everything at once that I tend to try and plate as fast as possible. An extra minute or so to arrange things piece by piece could have worked better.

PS: I am a guy.

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It occurs to me that one of the problems with home-plating is that we just don't have the resources around that a restaurant kitchen would. Some of those we can remedy - a sprinkle of fresh herbs, for example, adds a bit of color that brightens things up quite a bit. I was lucky with my flank steak - I'd bought an extra jalepeno, and had a half a shallot left over. I hadn't even thought of a garnish for the meat until I plated it and said to myself "wow, that looks boring." A few chops of the knife and I at least had some color to add to the plate.

I think deblar had a point when she (he?) said that sometimes the problem is the raw ingredients. Some of you pros can correct me if I'm wrong, but I have to think that sauces, vegetable choices, and garnishes are often chosen with the final plating in mind. Take your simple meat-n-potatoes dish - brown, brown, and more brown. Often with a brown sauce. What's it need? A few carrots, beets, anything with color. A sprinkle of a fresh green herb on top. Shalmanese's risotto looks as if it would taste fabulous, but I'm thinking in a restaurant it might be topped with a whole piece of chicken, or even better - squab or some other small bird. And more color. But if Shalmanese is anything like me, 9 times out of 10, cooking at home, I'm not going to go out of my way to perfectly roast a squab breast just for prettiness. (I don't want to pick on Shalmanese - it's just the most recent post with pictures, and I can so relate to the feeling of "I'm so frantic doing everything at once that I tend to try and plate as fast as possible"!)

So what's my point? I guess I'm just wondering if it's just a losing proposition to get a casual dinner to look as good as a finely-plated course served in a good restaurant. Hell, even most restaurants don't work too hard on plating - when's the last time you had a gracefully plated burger and fries? Some recipes - the big, the bright - take well to a good plating. Others? meh. Last night I roasted a chicken and served it with cauliflower in a quick cheese sauce. Tasted great. Looked like crap, and I'm not sure if anything that I could do quickly on a weeknight would make it look better.

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Obviously, with all things, you need to step back and ask what's the point of all this.

For restaurants, its "So we can make more money", so obviously, there is an incentive for pretty plates.

At home, its "Because we can, and we want to". Plating is something we do because we find it fun, or relaxing, or a challenge, or to impress. Ultimately, if you don't see the point of good plating, then that's perfectly okay. Nobody is going to ostracise you because of it. Like any other hobby, if it ceases to be enjoyable, then why bother doing it.

PS: I am a guy.

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I was looking through an old cookbook and I found a couple of nice pics where they plated on antique porcelain and did a really nice job. Infact in the book I don't think they ever used white plates! Maybe there is hope for us antique buffs yet!

MSplate1.jpg

MSplate2.jpg

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Obviously, with all things, you need to step back and ask what's the point of all this.

For restaurants, its "So we can make more money", so obviously, there is an incentive for pretty plates.

At home, its "Because we can, and we want to". Plating is something we do because we find it fun, or relaxing, or a challenge, or to impress. Ultimately, if you don't see the point of good plating, then that's perfectly okay. Nobody is going to ostracise you because of it. Like any other hobby, if it ceases to be enjoyable, then why bother doing it.

Shalmanese,

I would like to stsress what you said, and say that I agree with you. I would like to kind of quell the idea that I make my food look good and present it accordingly becuase I "have to" even in a restaurant. I do this, and I feel that many others do it, because there is a sense of accomplishment that is within us when we do a great job making our food look great. When I cook dinner at home, I will admit, that I do not go crazy making great platings. I do make sure that I cook my food correctly, a major obsticle that is in the way of many amateur cooks, and a reason why I concentrated so much effort of the lecture notes regarding proper cooking. Your absolutely right, if you don't find this fun, or you don't like to do this, than don't do it. Don't waste your time, or your effort. Hell, if you throw a dinner party, order out, and concentrate on making some cocktails or something like that that you will enjoy. Life is short, don't sweat the small stuff....

Tonyy13

Owner, Big Wheel Provisions

tony_adams@mac.com

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Swiss Chef,

I am glad that you found a usefull resource for your antique plates. Those pics look good, but are very old school (I guess antiques are kind of "old school" too, arent they?...:biggrin:). I think that the name of this course should have been contemporary plating and presentation, that would have been more appropriate to both my knowledge, and the help that I am able to assist with.

Tonyy13

Owner, Big Wheel Provisions

tony_adams@mac.com

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