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Presentation


It is said that we eat with our eyes more than our palettes

It is said that we eat with our eyes more than our palettes. Well this is true to some extent. If the presentation is as refined and beautiful as possible, but the food tastes like crap, it really doesn’t matter. These extremes however are rarely the case. Invariably, subtle differences in both style and taste are usually the case. It is here that I will make the case that with just a small amount of effort during the plating you can elevate your dish to a more pleasing experience. Now this applies to the home but even more to the restaurant experience.

 

There are basic rules that I will offer and try to show an example of the same dish, presented differently, that yield different appeal. This applies even if you are eating alone. So let’s examine my rules of presentation. This is not an absolute list and you may not even agree, but if you start practicing most of these and add some of your own, you are starting to think at a higher level when it comes to your food and the dining experience


It is said that we eat with our eyes more than our palettes
  1. Never fill the plate more than 75% full and never less than 50% full. The worst looking plate appeal has piles of protein, starch and vegetables all piled together, one on top of the other (unless of course you are having a stew). You certainly don’t want the “army chow line” stereotypical appeal to your food. You spent a long time preparing it (assuming you didn’t open up a can or TV dinner), so why not take a few moments and present it in an appealing way. If your meal has a large quantity of food, either serve some of the items on a separate plate or heaven forbid, serve a smaller portion. Of course you could always get bigger plates. The reverse is also true regarding too little food on the plate. Now this suggests a restaurant experience of mine where I went to a Christmas party at a famous New York City hotel restaurant. I ordered the rack of lamb and out came a dinner plate with 3 smallish chops on what had to be a giant 16 inch plate. Along side of this was a modicum of mashed potatoes – perhaps 3 inches in diameter and a few string beans. When I say a few, I actually mean something like 5 or 6 beans. For a moment, I forgot that I was in a prestigious restaurant and thought I was at some fat farm where I was on a restricted calorie diet. We are speaking of presentation here, so I won’t even mention that the price was in the upper $30 range. The food was completely lost on the plate. In this case, of course, a smaller plate was not the answer – just more food, please. To be fair, the food was delicious and perfectly prepared.

 


It is said that we eat with our eyes more than our palettes
  1. Never add superfluous ornaments, garnishments, condiments either edible or inedible to your dish. How many times have you gone into a restaurant and received an entrée containing a rose flower on the side of the dish. My favorite, and I’m sure many of you might take objection is the sprinkling of parsley around the rim of the dish. My thoughts are if it’s not integral to the dish, don’t add it – period. Now the parsley adds a nice color contrast to the plate which is why it is done. So why not include a green herb to the dish, which is both appropriate and enhances the flavor. The same is true for the sprinkling of parmesan cheese around the edges. It serves no purpose and wastes good food. Sprinkle some on the food where it does some good.

 


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  1. Arrange food items on the plate in an interesting manner. If you look at the two presentations of a sautéed scallop dish you will see what I mean. In the better presentation, the four scallops are placed together on the plate as opposed to one of them hanging around on the rim. The rice on the better presentation is molded using a 1/4 cup measuring cup. The other, is just slapped down in an indiscriminate fashion. Now the molded plate is not perfect, but is serves the point that just taking a few seconds yields more visually appealing results. The spinach sautéed in garlic is lying atop the rice in the worse presentation while it is segregated on the better looking plate. There is symmetry about the food items on the better presentation as opposed to the other.
  


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  1. Don’t drown your dish in sauce or gravy, but instead try placing it underneath the focal point of the dish. I like gravy – a lot. You can however, always serve extra gravy on the side to pour as needed. A popular restaurant trick is to use sauces or gravy to hide cooking mistakes. So if the meat is cooked poorly or burnt in some fashion, pour a sauce on top to hide the mistake. The diner will never notice - maybe. If however the sauce is underneath, then the beauty of the properly cooked item is very apparent and the integration of the sauce is still achieved. Also, if 2 sides have separate sauces, then serve them separately. Otherwise the sauces commingle and you lose the objective of having a complimentary sauce.