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Artful Plating:
Basic Rules for Beautiful Plates

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For people who love to eat good food, little is better than being served a plate that's gorgeous.

Making food sit gorgeously on the plate is rewarding and easy. Whether your plates are piled high with your own recipe, a cookbook favorite, or a new taste from Bertolli®, you can make it look like it came straight from a restaurant kitchen. Common sense and simple tricks are all it takes to increase your table's visual "wow" factor every night.

Plan the Plate

A good start to approaching a plate is to divide it up. Each part of a dish—protein, starch, vegetables—should have a location.
You can split the plate up in creative ways.
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  • Pie Style: Divide the plate into "slices" for a classic look. Each part has it's own slice. Get creative by getting as close to the center of the plate as possible.
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  • Half & Half: Think of a horizontal line dividing your plate in the middle. The main part of the dish should be the focal point for the dinner, with the supporting side dishes rounding out the plate.
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  • Vertically: You can always build your plate "up". Use a side dish such as spinach, pasta or mashed potatoes as your base and perch proteins and sauces on top.

Garnishes Deliver Big

Garnishes are probably the easiest way to spruce up your plates, and good ones should always reflect an ingredient in your dish. To make this practice a no-brainer, while you're prepping ingredients reserve some pieces for use just before you serve. For example:
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  • Set aside thin lemon slices to rim a plate of Chicken Piccata
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  • Reserve sprigs of fresh basil to top a dish made with herbed red sauce
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  • Save some diced tomatoes to add a fresh flair to Chicken Parmesan

Add a Little Extra

Sometimes, and ingredient pulls double duty as a garnish
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  • Add chopped fresh herbs to piles of vegetables to break up the monotony of the same color and taste. For example, add mint to carrots or fresh oregano to sautéed zucchini
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  • Shredded or shaved Parmesan or Asiago cheese can add a nice touch as well as a salty, sharp flavor to your dish

Serve Up Color and Contrast

"Less is more" is an anthem for creating eye-catching plates, even if you typically serve food family style.

Instead of having your sides or main dish in separate serving dishes, use a single platter for everything, and consider color and placement as you would a floral arrangement: grilled seafood, steaks or chicken can go into the middle while brightly colored vegetables flank all around. This method always looks nice, and will mean a lot less clean up thanks to the fewer bowls.

Think Off the Plate

As important as the plate is the overall tablescape—the settings and cloths, utensils and sundry finishing touches that make setting a table less ho-hum and more "yum" for your diners' eyes.

Let your personal sense of style and fashion set your table's tone by mixing colors and layers as you would what you wear.

Vary the heights of items on the table to give people's eyes different places to look. Use both short and tall candles for a centerpiece or chargers beneath dinner plates.