July 2004 Edition
Presenting with Panache

People eat with their eyes - so tempting their tastebuds means that you'll have to win them over first with a visually pleasing plate presentation. In fact, some chefs give equal weight to presentation when it comes to creating palate-pleasing dishes. They admit that though a dish must taste good to be enjoyed and to ensure repeat customers, the visual presentation must be equally as good to ensure the customer is set up to enjoy the dining experience. Think of the oooh's and aah's that a delightfully prepared dish may be greeted with when it is placed on the table - visually pleasing plates create that immediate "buzz".

Plate presentation is an art, and the plate or serving dish is in effect a blank canvas. But what type of serving dish should you choose? These days chefs often use inventive serving dishes to enhance presentation. Things like cooking utensils and slabs of wood have become plates - the key to using these more inventive serving dishes is to ensure that it enhances the dining experience and does not detract from the food or make the food more difficult to eat.

Begin by choosing the correct plate for the food being served, and keep an eye out for oversize plates that may give your food a lost look, or undersized plates that will make it difficult to eat the food without spills. The perfect canvas will complement the food and become part of the presentation without upstaging the food.

When it comes to the food itself, presentation should be dictated by some of the common standards of food presentation: The food should look fresh and appealing, the food should have a tidy neat appearance, and an appropriate garnish should be used.

Beyond these basics, creating a superlative plate presentation will require some advance planning. Designing the end result before you create the dish will ensure that you are not left with too many ingredients of the same colour, texture, shape or size for your arrangement.

Presentations do not have to be complicated to be considered unique or interesting. Create contrast by using colour or texture to set the stage for a pleasing plate presentation. Shape also plays a part in the overall design of the plated dish, and can be controlled easily by cutting food into a variety of shapes. Foods such as rice and mashed potatoes can also be 'shaped' using a mold.

Height can also create visual appeal, though pay careful attention to the 'eatability' of the dish - you would not want to serve something that was piled high but collapsed into a mess when eaten.

Sauces allow you to drizzle and decorate, and using a squeeze bottle will allow you greater flexibility to create wavy lines or signature curves on the plate. Or for a quick and easy decoration sprinkle herbs on an entrée, or cocoa sauce or confectioner's sugar on a dessert plate.

Good plate presentation also reinforces the notion that you maintain high standards when it comes to food quality, and food preparation. If you slap down a AAA sirloin steak without a thought to its visual appeal on the plate, it is likely to be perceived as a more inferior cut of beef. Similarly, if a customer sees drips on the edge of a glass or down the side of a plate they are likely to think that the meal was prepared in haste and that it may not be clean. However, a beautiful plate presentation reinforces the belief that you have a clean kitchen and that you have used the finest ingredients in your food preparation.

It's time to try something new! Experiment with colour, texture, and shape to present with panache and tempt their tastebuds at the start of the meal. ¨

Garnishes

Do not decorate with anything inedible - it does not excite the tastebuds and may be dangerous if eaten.

Garnishes should match the underlying dish. For example a dish of lemon chicken can be garnished with lemon curls.

Garnishes should be simple if the dish is complex, and may be more complex if the dish is simple.

Garnishes such as fruits or vegetables should be cut into pleasing geometric shapes. Slice ends on the diagonal to avoid blunt ends.

Garnishes should add colour or texture. Yogurt atop carrot soup will provide a colour contrast and add a creamy texture.

Don't overdo it, though you may be tempted to use more than one garnish it is best to choose just one complementary garnish per dish.