I have often said that my favorite aspect of cooking is plating. I love the creativity that you can infuse, the color palettes, the ability to take your dish from a good plate to a piece of art. It is a blank canvas to explore and mess around with. And trust me, you’ll mess around with it. There are times where I will scrap and re-plate 15 times before I am happy with it, saving the product of course. So today I wanted to talk about my experiences with plating, my opinions on it, and some examples of what I like and dislike. I will be using all plates that I have created for the sake of not critiquing other chefs work. These are just my personal thoughts on it and art is subjective.
I guess the best starting point would be my thoughts on it. For a true dish that I would order in a restaurant it has to be about the food and combination. I don’t care how pretty a dish looks, if the food is terrible and the flavors don’t mesh its not worth it. The difference with photography is a big piece of doing some more stylized food photos is adding components that don’t really have any business being on the dish. Do I want to eat a nice confit duck leg covered in half a cup of flowers, not particularly. Can it make a dish look nice for a photo, of course. I have done this many times, because I want to paint a picture. A lot of times I will plate something two ways, one for the actual way you would eat it, and a second plating for a creative side. My goals moving forward are to find that perfect middle ground. The main focus is the food, and that is what should be showcased. Three ingredients done really well. Protein, starch, and vegetable. The simplicity that comes from that can be staggering, almost a modernistic approach. Of course you can add sauces and garnish, but what I am realizing now is how pure those three parts are and highlighting the balance of the dish.
For the first examples I wanted to show some of my bad plating techniques and where I think things went wrong. Some of this dishes I think look pretty, but from an eating standpoint they don’t make much sense.
Here is an example of some plating of mine from over 10 years ago. First of all, I want to apologize for doing balsamic drizzle on the plate. It is impossible to eat, stains the plate, and is a bitch to clean. This was a salad in a parmesan crisp bowl with random sliced apple? Imagine trying to eat this, if your customer needs to scrape reduction off the plate to taste it that’s a problem.
This is a purple cauliflower and romanseco soup. I love how this looks, however if you were plating this for orders it would be so dumb. I used pastry rings and poured into them. If a chef ever told me this is how they do it I would probably quit. The other aspect of this dish that catches you by surprise is that when you mix it together to eat it the color turns gross rhino grey. Super appetizing. Again, pretty dish, not so pretty pick up.
Here is one more example of fun plating but eating makes no sense. This was a deconstructed lemon meringue tart. There are so many parts to this plate that just make no sense from an eating standpoint. You have to scrape stuff, break up crust, try not to inhale the meringue dust like Tony Montana. It’s a dish that I like the picture but not the dish.
Now lets talk about pretty plates and good food.
This was a collaboration dish me and my friend Luis made. There are a lot of components to this dish, I’m super happy with the plating, and it eats well. A red snapper ceviche with blood orange and champagne reduction. Everything is well incorporated, the sauce can easily be mixed in, and the garnish is edible. The plus is that little Monroe was a mistake drip, but hey sometimes it works!
I feel deserts you can have a bit more range with. Whenever people eat desserts for some reason everything just gets smashed and wiped around like your eating with a brush. Either way, I don’t mind that you have to scrape the plate for this one because it’s supposed to eat messy. The ice cream melts into the pastry, pears get forked and used as a shovel, and the pulled sugar dissolves. I think your plating should be dictated by how the dish should eat to find that prefect middle ground.
Finally I want to show some examples of the direction I want to head. Trying to perfect that happy medium of eating and art. The simplicity of food and the beauty that comes with it.
Braised pork belly, carrot puree, and a rosemary jus. This is an older dish for me and unfortunately I didn’t realize at the time that this is the path I should have focused on, but that’s what time and growing are for. Simple, clean, and good flavors. Also a little interactive with the jus. I think my only gripe with this is the rosemary sprig in the jus. If you can’t eat it, it shouldn’t be on the plate. But for the photo I think its fine.
Roasted butternut squash fettuccine with goat cheese. The simplicity of pasta can be so attractive. What a weird ass statement that was. But its true! For me this is an example that I go back to a lot when I plate as a reminder that it doesn’t need 20 ingredients to look and taste great. Again, I don’t mind lots of ingredients on a dish, I am just trying to compact my personal style and plates.
This was a dish I made last night that kind of hit home for me with what I want to do. The only thing I missed on this plate was probably a sauce under the steak to tie it together. Grilled broccolini, NY strip, and Spanish tortilla. Protein, starch , and vegetable just done well. Just not the steak done well, that’s disgusting. This is the direction I want to take with my plates and photography. I want to refine my flavors and how I plate. Will I still do some crazy shit that looks like it came out of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2: Secret of the Ooze™? Probably.
Thank you guys for checking out today’s blog post. Just wanted to give some insight into my progression of plating and how my thoughts have changed over time. It will be very interesting to see what direction the industry goes in terms of plating and dishes.