5 Tips For Meaningful Food Presentation

Presentation is all about creating an appealing visual setup for your dishes, using color, spacing and symmetry, among other techniques. 

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December 15, 2016 3 min read

As a chef in culinary academy, you may be focused on the fundamentals of cooking. While elements like taste, texture and consistency appeal most readily to happy patrons, you must also remember the value of meaningful presentation.

Presentation is displaying your dishes in a way that is visually appealing to ensure the ultimate dining experience for future patrons.  Oftentimes, it’s about adding in elements of art or design into your meals, and expressing yourself outside of well-cooked food.

To improve your presentation technique, pay heed to these five helpful tips:

“Art and design elements are crucial to presentation.”

1. Rely on odd numbers
One unofficial rule of cooking is to rely on odd over even numbers. For instance, you’d want to serve five shrimp instead of six, as is the rule in many kitchens across the world. So, just why the preference for odd numbers? While there’s no definitive guide, many chefs feel odd numbers result in a cleaner and more appealing overall plate design. The same can be said for height, and having something like a mound of rice or mashed potatoes slightly “larger” than other items is appealing to the eye.

2. Consider the clock rule
Another rule is that chefs should look at each plate like a clock. Six is where you set the main dish, like steak or fish. Vegetables, meanwhile, should be placed at 2. Carbohydrates like pasta and rice always go at 11. Again, there is some debate regarding this rule, though it may be more than just visually pleasant. Some chefs depend on the clock rule as a form of portion control and to prevent needless food waste.

3. Remember the rule of thirds
In photography, there is such a thing as the rule of thirds. It says that every photo should be divided into nine sections, with the most important subjects or elements standing where the horizontal and vertical lines meet. Fine Dining Lovers argued that a similar rule should apply in cooking. If it helps, you can practice drawing out the lines to know where you need to highlight the meal’s most essential elements. And just what are those exactly? That’s designated for the meat, specifically the cook and the sear. That way, people can see the quality and detail that went into the meal.

4. Emphasize colors and symmetry 
A properly presented meal isn’t just about positioning; it’s also about the colors. On the one hand, bright, lively colors look appealing and help draw in the diner’s eyes. But you also want to play around with things like symmetry and contrast, pairing different, albeit complementary, foods together to add a sense of energy and liveliness to the dish. Even a few gentle splashes of color – like with peppercorns and various herbs – can go a long way to making it look more engaging.

5. Flex your creative muscles 
As Eatwell101 explained, perhaps the biggest part of effective presentation is how the plate will look at the very end. You have to think long term as you cook and organize a plate so everything works together or complements the rest. Some of that is preparation; Eatwell mentioned one chef who makes collage cut-outs with every new dish. It’s also about trial and error, and experimenting with ideas. This whole process is a way to give chefs a new outlet to express their personal creativity, so don’t feel like you have to hold back.

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