We really do “eat with our eyes first”. How a dish looks on the plate plays a large role in whether we decide to eat it or not and it also enhances the sensory experience tremendously. Even though I was an artist and illustrator before becoming an innkeeper, you don’t have to be an artist to make beautiful, appealing dishes than invite your guests to taste the food and savor each bite. A colorful garnish that looks special can be so easy to put together. Fresh ingredients are always key, but a few slices here and a twist there can make it look really special. Here are some easy tips on decorating the plate.
Remember three rules for creating an appealing plated dish:
- Taste- when garnishing a plate the first consideration should be, will it taste good? Will the taste of the garnish go well with the rest of the meal? A good garnish is edible! Going to elaborate lengths to create a dramatic look is unnecessary and futile if the eater doesn’t want to consume it.
- Color- a plate needs contrast. If all the dishes are monochromatic you lose an opportunity to create interest. Contrasting colors in a garnish like a red tomato and green herbs or bell peppers work well. Complementary colors are at the opposite sides of a color wheel, like red and green or yellow and blue, but use common sense. Not all colors occur naturally in foods and you do want it to look edible! An organic edible flower may provide the right contrasting color too.
Shape- Pleasing shapes can be created just by how the food is arranged. Fanning a sliced strawberry or avocado creates a harmonious shape. Arranging a few slices of plumb tomato in an arc does the same. Think in threes and curves instead of in straight lines.
For a sweet meal, like our orange stuffed French toast or Peaches with orange sauce in a puff pancake, a sliced orange with a small cut from the middle to the outer edge can be twisted to make a lovely nest for a sliced and splayed strawberry or an organically grown flower. I love to use nasturnum. For the strawberry, wash and hold with the stem side down, then thinly slice without cutting to the stem- just enough that you can smoosh the strawberry to splay the slices.
For a savory meal, slice a tomato and decorate it with contrasting colored sliced peppers and a sprig of fresh curly parsley or a scored cucumber. Wash and cut the cucumber in half, then take a sharp tined fork and run it down the sides of the cucumber making shallow cuts at even intervals. Then thinly slice crosswise and place on top of the tomato slice. A bell pepper can be cut in half lengthwise, from stem to bottom, and then thinly sliced across. You can also create a bell pepper ring by cutting a circle around the stem, removing the center seeds and membrane and then slicing across. Arrange the slices by crossing them or the rings by layering them in threes like an Olympic seal.
If your main dish is a spicy southwestern or Mexican dish you can top your tomato with fresh cilantro. To garnish an Italian main dish, like our Italian Egg Cups with Proscuito de Parma, you can top your tomato with a fresh basil leaf or a Rosemary sprig. We always have plenty of fresh herbs growing in our “kitchen garden”. Parsley, chives, thyme, rosemary and mint are easy to grow and always look fresh and inviting on the plate.
Avocado adds a creamy cooling taste to any spicy dish and is decorative as well. While working at a French Restaurant right out of college I learned how to thinly slice a peeled avocado and then gently push on it to splay the slices on the plate. All it really needs is a touch of salt and fresh ground pepper, but you can also slide slices of tomato between the slices or drizzle with a little balsamic glaze. Top it with a shaving of fresh Parmesan Regianno and it’s heavenly to taste and to look at.