Perfect presentation: How to plate food like a pro
Since we look before we taste, we are predisposed to like a dish when it is presented attractively. These simple guidelines and will ensure every meal is a feast for the eye as well as the tastebuds.
Small items of food such as canapés, sandwiches or sushi rolls look neat and professional if they are arranged in rows rather than dotted about the serving dish at random. Make each row of one variety, contrasting the colours.
Pâtés and terrines can look flat and colourless. If you want to serve individual portions, instead of one thick slice, cut three thin ones and lay them overlapping, to one side of the plate. Add a few dressed green leaves and the plate becomes colourful and attractive.
If you are serving smoked salmon or gravad lax, lay it on the plate slightly rumpled to give it a little height. Do not sprinkle it with lemon juice in advance as this discolours the fish and makes it spotty.
A bowl of soup can be garnished with a swirl of double cream or crème fraîche just before serving.
Pour a small amount into the centre of the soup bowl and then gently stir it in with a teaspoon. Single cream is too thin and will blend into the soup.
Croutons, crumbled crispy bacon, finely chopped herbs and grated cheese are other suitable garnishes for soup. Remember not to overfill the soup bowl to avoid unattractive slops on the way to the table.
There is a fashion, spurred on by the example set by chefs, for serving main courses on the plate. Remember that chefs have the time, the space and the experience to get it right, and don't attempt too much if you are a novice.
Do not try to serve dishes on the plate for more than six people or the food is likely to get cold. Make sure your plates are hot and smear-free before you begin.
If you are serving roast meat, do not cut the slices too thin. Odd numbers of slices look better than even, and should be overlapped to add height.
Carefully pour the sauce over the meat using a small ladle, pouring away from you and ending in a puddle of sauce and the top of the plate. Have ready some dampened kitchen paper to wipe away spills.
Add the vegetables and any garnish and carry the plates to the table, setting each plate down in the same relative position for each diner.
If you prefer to use serving dishes, consider the needs of individual foods. Sliced meats, chops and steaks look best overlapping evenly, and more will fit comfortably on the serving dish than if placed side by side. Round slices of meat, or chicken breasts, look particularly good laid in concentric circles.
With steaks or cutlets of fish or meat, the side that was grilled or fried first usually looks best and should be laid uppermost.
Think about serving all the food on a single large platter rather than on two or three smaller ones. If you are serving grilled chicken joints with roast vegetables, for example, they will look more dramatic if you pile the vegetables into a large colourful dish and put the chicken on top, with no unsightly bones sticking out and served on its best side.
Pasta only needs simple presentation, but should not look as if you have simply shoved it onto the dish. Get ready by warming your serving dish in advance and mixing the pasta and sauce in the saucepan.
Then, pile it into the warm serving dish, or onto individual plates, creating height in the centre, and arrange one or two of the sauce ingredients on the top so everyone knows what they are about to eat.
Shavings of Parmesan cheese made with a vegetable peeler look better than grated cheese.
Even the most delicious casserole looks off-putting if it is served in a dish with burnt-on spills. Keep a hot cloth to hand to wipe off any dribbles and perhaps sprinkle freshly chopped herbs over the dish before you carry it in.
A dish of vegetables looks at its best if the food is higher in the middle with sides sloping down. Coat carefully with the sauce if there is one. But do not overload the plate, because this makes dishing up the vegetables difficult and, once breached, an over-large pile of food looks unattractive.
Desserts lend themselves to attractive decoration, but you must be careful not to make them look fussy. Plated cold desserts are useful if you have room in your refrigerator as they can be done in advance, leaving only the final garnish to add before serving.
If your dessert has a sauce and you want to flood the plate with it, put a ladleful in the centre of the plate and swirl the sauce towards the edge in an even circle. It is then ready for you to place the dessert on top, remembering that once done it will be difficult to move it, so think where you want to put it first.
Very often it will look better, and be easier to position, if you place it off-centre, with a decoration to the side.
Odd numbers: three strawberries work better than four
Fruit tarts and tartlets look more inviting if they are first glazed with warmed apricot or red currant jam. Alternatively, for a quicker but effective finish that covers a multitude of sins, dust the tart on the serving plate using icing sugar and a fine sieve.
Finally, when setting out a number of items, such as rosettes of cream on a cake, odd numbers look better than even. This is especially true of small numbers: three and five almost always look better than four.