Top 4 rules to making food look beautiful, from plating to photo.
Restaurants are splashing out on handmade pottery, with chefs and artists collaborating to match plates to particular meals.
As much as they make the big effort, shared images on social media is the key to gain more customers.
And once at home, have you ever wondered how to make your food look better on Instagram?
Sometimes in a restaurant, when my meal is delivered, I touch the plate, not to check if it’s warm but to feel it and its texture. The desire to serve meals on crockery designed for a particular dish is becoming more popular and the past few years have seen a resurgence and interest in handmade ceramic vessels.
Five years ago, when writing about a restaurant, the crockery would be noticed and perhaps mentioned but now close attention is paid not only to the food but to the potter and designer of the plates.
Fifteen years ago, local artists hand-painted plates. “The appeal was in flowery plates but it’s nothing like today, where inconsistency and slight differences in the finished product are what the customers want.”
This is the "one-of-a-kind" momentum for restaurants and home decor enthusiasts.
Never before the "art de table" or plating had been so known, so are you into taking and uploading photos of your meals on Instagram?
4 Rules for Making Food Look Beautiful
There are four rules for plating and plattering food to look its best. These are the rules to internalize; good cooks often just do these automatically when serving up dinner.
1. Choose a neutral dish, not too big or too small.
High-end restaurants put time and thought into the plates they use, and professional photo studios keep dozens, if not hundreds, of different plates, silverware, napkins, and glasses on hand to meet a variety of different situations. This is totally not reality or desirable for a home cook, of course. Most people have one, maybe two, sets of plates.
Here’s how to make the dishes and serving pieces you already have work for the food, not against it. (Many of these tips and rules apply both to plated food and to platters and even casserole dishes, since often home cooks are serving family-style, not plated.)
- Put food on plates (or platters) that make the food feel abundant, but leave a little room between edge and the food. If the plate is too big, the food will feel lost. If the plate’s too small, it will look overstuffed. Therefore, choose a plate (and an amount of food) that makes the dish feel generous, but leave the lip still visible. Plates should have some room around the edges. Bowls should look filled, with food slightly more mounded up. When filling a platter, follow the shape of the platter as you arrange the food, and leave at least a quarter to a third of the plate’s volume empty around the edges.
- Opt for terracotta plates. If you scroll through my Instagram feed (or that of nearly any food media), you’ll notice most of the plates are either terra-cotta, and the rest tend to be natural, muted colors like charcoal or pastel blue. This is because bold, pop colors compete with the food (restaurants know this!). You can’t go wrong with earthen, or off-white colors.
- Choose curved plates and platters. This isn’t a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s often easier to make food look good on rounded plates and platters vs. square or rectangular.
Need to source new plates? If you’re looking at a set of bright-red, square plates in your cupboard and thinking you want something new, a good place to look is Pottery Sol y Tierra store. It’s often easy to find beautiful, simple plates there without having to invest a lot in them.
If you are into eating healthy, please read my last post about the healthy benefits of cooking on earthen vessels
2. Place the food to suggest abundance.
When considering between what is pretty and what is tasty, tasty should win out every time. After all, the point is to make people want to eat. Luckily, those two things are not often at odds. Food is often prettiest when it’s most delicious and looks full and abundant — at peak freshness and cooked well. People respond to caramelized browning, bright green herbs, and fresh, ripe colors. Here are some tips to make the dish look even better (and tastier).
- Pile food up, rather than spreading it out. If you’re serving a couple of slices of meatloaf, for instance, place one partly on top of the other. This helps give a sense of abundance.
- Follow the rule of three. You don’t want everything to look perfectly even, so it helps to include some odd-numbered items. This may mean setting a protein next to two sides, piling three pancakes onto a plate, or only putting the crème fraîche on one piece of French toast, instead of both, as pictured further down in the post.
- Leave room around the edges. Negative space applies here just as it does in the art world. Leaving room around the food helps draw the eye to the actual food.
- Don’t crowd. Similarly, don’t crowd food onto the plate. Leaving a little space helps add context.
3. Wipe the splatter off the rim.
This is one of the simplest and most easily overlooked ways to make a plate, platter, or even casserole dish of food look more presentable. After putting the food on the dish, but before garnishing, give the rims of the actual plate or dish a swipe with a clean dish towel or cloth, just to wipe off any fingerprints or food smudges.
If there’s something stuck on the plate, don’t bust out the soap! A mild solution of white vinegar and water will help, but go easy — you don’t want the plate to smell vinegary.
Also, to go deeper into cooking healthy, you can read about the top 5 eating habits according to ayurveda here.
4. Garnish! (It’s about romance, not parsley.)
What is a garnish? It’s a final touch, a little swipe of shiny butter or a green shimmer of pesto to give a dish a tiny extra pop of romance. It’s woo-woo but true: The garnish is the little sparkle of love, like putting on lipstick or straightening your collar before a date with your adored partner. You don’t have to do it — you’re committed and going to have a great time regardless — but the garnish, the last peek in the mirror, shows that you’re excited for this encounter. You care. You choose to add a touch of romance.
So any dish you love and want to romance can and should be garnished. This goes double (triple!) for family-style food that might otherwise look a little heavy — the enchilada casserole (hit it with some fresh cheddar and cilantro!), the radically simple egg casserole (drizzle on some olive oil!), the platter of rotisserie chicken from the grocery store (girl, that’s what pesto is FOR). The days when every single plate had a pile of curly parsley and a bed of lettuce are gone, but garnishes are eternal to food.
Contrast, contrast, contrast. The key to making most dishes look just a little better, pretty enough to draw a moment of admiration, is contrast. White chicken and dumplings? Pop some pepper on. Creamy risotto with butternut squash? Contrast color and texture with a handful of chopped green pistachios.
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