Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC)
Most people eat with their eyes first. Since the art of plating can
confound many a home chef, we talked to several local chefs who
shared their expert advice:
— Think of how the dish is eaten first, then plate it
the way it should be eaten, says James Beard Award-nominated chef
Justin Carlisle, owner of Ardent and Red Light Ramen. “The further
you put something away on a plate from someone, they’ll be forced to
go through (other ingredients) to get to it,” he explains.
— And don’t put equal amounts of everything on the
plate. “You wouldn’t put a cup of salad with a cup of dressing on
it,” Carlisle points out.
— It’s OK to have some negative space on the plate.
Really. “If you can see some of the plate between the components of
the dish, that’s a good thing,” says Jason Tofte, chef and owner of
Tofte’s Table. “Less is always more.”
— Don’t just pour the sauce over the dish — spoon it
over or use a squeeze or squirt
bottle, which you can pick up at Boelter and other
kitchen supply stores, Tofte says. “Sauce kind of goes everywhere,
so if you use a spoon or a bottle, just pouring a little bit here,
then drizzle it out lighter around the plate, you’d be surprised at
what it looks like,” he adds.
— “Start with your cooking techniques — things like
precise cuts of vegetables, etc. That’s the first thing to making a
plate look good,” says John Reiss, culinary arts instructor at
Milwaukee Area Technical College.
— Then look at the plate as a clock face.
Traditionally, the protein is put at 6 o’clock, then the vegetables
at 3 or 9 o’clock, Reiss says. “That’s pretty standard, but there
are many different ways to plate something,” he continues. “Just
think things through.”
— Don’t be afraid to plate it once, and then re-plate
it because it doesn’t look right. “It rarely works the first time
unless you’ve been doing this a long time,” Reiss says. “Even I
re-plate things. I’m always playing with food.”
— Odd numbers always look better, says Patty
Peterson, manager of Larry’s Market. “Threes and fives always look
better than twos and fours,” she says.
— Add some color to your dish. “Brown tastes
delicious, but doesn’t look delicious,” Carlisle says. For example,
a rich beef dish might be paired with mashed fava beans, which add a
pop of green. Then, those beans are dressed with crème fraiche and
sherry vinaigrette, which add a little bit of white and some
acidity. Then, a bit of fresh tarragon adds a further pop of color.
“Or add a bowl of fresh chutney or sauce on the side to add the
color,” Peterson says.
— Only add herbs and accompaniments that make sense
to the dish. “One of my things is I don’t like putting stuff on the
plate that’s not edible,” Tofte says. “You put a sprig of parsley on
it — are you really going to eat that? Probably not. It’s not a
cohesive part of the dish, and to me, that’s not a garnish. A
garnish is a little something I put on the dish on purpose because
it’s part of the overall flavor components of the dish.”
— But what if the overall dish is monochromatic like
coq au vin? Then use a colorful plate. And even if it is just a
regular, weekday dinner, it’s OK to use the good china. “Most
people’s china sits in a china cabinet or a box in the basement,”
Tofte says. “I think that stuff’s cool, and it totally invites
— Use an appropriate bowl or plate for whatever is
served. “You don’t want a really huge spoon for a small bowl of
soup, nor do you want to try to cut a piece of steak in a pasta
bowl,” Carlisle says.
— Build a little
height into the dish. “When you arrange food on a plate, stack
things up to give the dish a little height,” Tofte says. “The plate
is flat, so make the dish three-dimensional.” For a duck risotto,
Tofte might first pile the risotto high in the middle, then stand
the duck leg up to add height, then add some dried leeks and a tiny
bit of microgreens with vinaigrette to finish the dish, perhaps with
a rosemary-flavored oil, to bring out some of the herbs in the dish.