The Art of Plating

Over the past four years that I have been blogging, traveling, working in kitchens, and crafting new recipes, I’ve found plating to be the most difficult culinary skill to master.  The typical artist’s (if I can call myself that) mentality acts as a roadblock for me: the feeling that my own work is never visually appealing enough. Even when I serve a dish to diners and receive genuinely positive reactions (“Woah! This sunchoke quiche is just beautiful!”), I fail to look at my creation with the same admiration.

Orata Preparation

Branzino with Ricotta and Caramelized Red Onion

Branzino with Ricotta and Caramelized Red Onion

Along the way, I’ve followed a few helpful guidelines to improve my plating technique. These have certainly improved the “wow” factor of my dishes, yet I don’t believe I will see great improvement until I can start looking at my culinary paintings with pride. I do encourage you to try putting the extra effort into plating now and then. It can go a long way at dinner parties, and it is one of the most exciting parts of the cooking process!

Here’s some helpful tips and tricks for plating:

  • Carefully select your dishware. The dish you use is your canvas, and can have a bigger effect on the diner’s impression and experience than appearance of the food. You must think about both the practicality and aesthetic appeal of your dish, and ask yourself questions while selecting a dish. Should the plate be pure white to have dark colors in the food pop? Would it be more exciting to serve finger food in a paper cone? How will a mellow green ceramic bowl interact with the colors on my plate?
The yellow bowl in this BenGusto™ recipe for a sunchoke salad brings out the bright white of the yogurt sauce.

The yellow bowl in this BenGusto™ recipe for a sunchoke salad brings out the bright white of the yogurt sauce.

Bosc Pear and Apple Sauce

Baked pear and apple is made more comfortable and inviting in this mug.

The blue doesn't really work with the green here. They're both too dark and too similar. But the scallop looks good.

The blue doesn’t really work with the green here. They’re both too dark and too similar. But the scallop looks good.

This looks a lot better, allowing the green watercress puree to pop. The placement of the leek, however, is strange and impractical for the diner. I have to say that while this dish may look good, it tasted absolutely terrible.

This looks a lot better, allowing the green watercress puree to pop. The placement of the leek, however, is strange and impractical for the diner. I have to say that while this dish may look good, it tasted absolutely terrible.

  • Leave empty space. Not only is this more comfortable for the diner (nobody wants their beans to overflow out the bowl), but it also centers the diner’s attention on the small details and vibrant colors in the food. The eye tends to gravitate towards empty space, so let it do so.
Although I like the plating job of this Dijon Branzino with Fennel, it is too clustered and not enough space on the plate was left free.

Although I like the plating job of this Dijon Branzino with Fennel, it is too clustered and not enough space on the plate was left free.

The spacing here is a little better. Notice how the red beet sauce pops out at you. This is a recipe I never posted because it was too complex and I didn't document it accurately. It consists of mushroom, endive, beet, and green bean puree.

The spacing here is a little better. Notice how the red beet sauce pops out at you. This is a recipe I never posted because it was too complex and I didn’t document it accurately. It consists of mushroom, endive, beet, and green bean puree.

  • Mind the height. Stacked food towers are difficult to manage with a fork and knife, and they often appear overwhelming. It’s nice to have some features on the plate pop out in a 3D effect, but do not go overboard.
Height can be obtained by centering the food in one small location on the canvas (plate).

Height can be obtained by centering the food in one small location on the canvas (plate).

  • Prepare decoration tools and ingredients beforehand. Draft a design of your plate in your head or on paper beforehand, and set aside ingredients used in creating the dish for plating. You cannot go wrong garnishing a dish with an ingredient used during the cooking process.
For this crema di asparagi (cream of asparagus), I kept asparagus tips aside to garnish the dish later on.

For this crema di asparagi (cream of asparagus), I kept asparagus tips aside to garnish the dish later on.

  • Experiment with plating your food. Try out some of these techniques:
    • The Quenelle Technique
    •  
      The quenelle technique. Scoop (the gnudi) from one spoon to the other about six or seven times over.

      The quenelle technique. Scoop (the gnudi) from one spoon to the other about six or seven times over.

      Gnudi

    • Drops (use a pipette) 
    • Notice the small green dots near the fennel leaf on the side. That was done using a pipette. You can find them at most groceries or craft stores.

      Notice the small green dots near the fennel leaf on the side. That was done using a pipette. You can find them at most groceries or craft stores.

    • Spoon Smear
    • Plating Food: Sunchoke and Roasted Eggplant Salad with Buttermilk Dressing

      Place a spoonful of sauce on the plate, and smear it using the backside of the spoon.

    • Paintbrush 
    • Painting, Pasta with Black Squid Ink
    • Pasta with Black Squid Ink
    • Sauces on the side (use a spoon to drop) 
    • Ravioli with Eggplant, Mozzarella, Basil

      • Spaghetti Nest
To make a spaghetti nest, twist the pasta using a large steak fork in a large ladle.

To make a spaghetti nest, twist the pasta using a large steak fork in a large ladle.

Layering Your Plate: Deconstruction of the making of a Gelato Dessert

The photos here illustrate the layering of a dessert dish I made: Vanilla Bean Gelato with Burnt Caramel, Golden Berries, and Cactus Fruit Juice. Everything tasted really good except for the cactus fruit, which didn’t compliment the rest of the dish flavor wise.

Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry

Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry

Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry

Deconstruction of Plating: Vanilla Gelato with Caramel and Golden Berry

I hope that helps. This is most of what I’ve learned and noticed over the years. Good luck, and happy plating!

– Ben

2 responses on “The Art of Plating

  1. Greetings Mr. Ben,

    Eccellente! Your Blogposts and writing through the years have been most enjoyable to me(though I must confess I have not read them all!). This was very well done as usual and I’m sure quite helpful to those with in interest in such things. When you eat like a T-Rex like me, you concentrate less on the canvas than on the the centerpiece of that canvas! Also, when you discuss “plating”, in my business that refers more to “Chrome” or “Brass”.

    You are a wonderfully perceptive young man with a truly bright future and wish you all the best at Stanford in the fall. Go get ’em Ben!

    David Rowan

    • Greetings Mr. Rowan,

      I cannot thank you enough for all the support you have given to BenGusto and me over the past few years! You never fail to smile, and give the gift of hearty chuckles! In my business, plating isn’t considered a noun.
      Keep in touch!

      -Ben

Comments are wonderful!