-By Chitra Chandrasiri –

Visual appeal is an essential part of the dining experience as much as the taste of the food itself. Food presentation is truly an art form and professional chefs pay great attention to everything from the arrangement of the food and garnishes to the shape, size and colour of the plate. As with any art form, there is no right or wrong way to plating food, but few helpful tips can get you started and let your creativity guide you as you arrange your dish.

So what makes an appetizing plate? One that appears not sloppy or overblown, has varied spacing and height for interest, without being overly contrived, and includes complementary colors and textures, rather than a boring monotone. Bottom line? A plate that is carefully composed is just more appealing than one that is slapped together.

Of course food needs to be cooked properly if it is to be presented beautifully. That means your steak needs to be seared nicely, with a beautiful brown crust on the outside. Your grilled pork tenderloin needs to have nice grill marks on it and your roasted whole chicken should be golden brown with crispy rendered skin.

When it comes to cooking vegetables, you want them to be beautifully cooked retaining it’s colour as changing pigments of overcooked vegetables can affect the look and taste of your dishes drastically.

Some form of garnish is a nice touch adding texture and color to the dish. I like the idea of functional garnish, which is a garnish that somehow ties into a dish or it can have some other function on the plate (as a salad, for example). I find that micro-greens are awesome for this purpose, because they come in so many different varieties and colors. From micro-chives to micro-arugula, micro-beet greens to micro cilantro, you can add your color, complimenting flavors, and texture to a dish and the guests will eat it, unlike a sprig of rosemary that is going to be picked out and thrown away. By the way, edible flower garnishing is the new rage and many restaurant chefs garnish their creations with flower blossoms for a touch of elegance.

Aspics and gelees have become extremely popular of late. Their ability to present a liquid as a solid, melting in your mouth without feeling like it can bounce off of the wall adds an extra dimension to the overall dining experience.

Froth and foams add a modern twist to a dish. Culinary foams are often created with stock, fruit juices, vegetable purees and even soups. Liquid is combined with an stabilizing agent such as agar agar and soy lecithin and the air is introduced in the form of whipping. In professional kitchens, “espuma” or air, which is dense foam comparable to mousse is created with a nitrous-oxide charged whipper. Foams made with the use of a hand held immersion blender results in a delicate froth similar to cappuccino. These modern cuisine froth and foams can be made either sweet or savoury and they can be served in a range of temperatures from cold to hot.

To present your food like a pro, you need some simple tools and equipment in addition to the essentials like kitchen knives, chopping boards and plates. On top of the list is a hand blender not only for plating, but for your home cooking in general. It can be used as a great emulsifier making your soups, sauces and dressings ultra-smooth and attractive.

You will also need a food stacker. Even though the trend is now to use more natural ways of plating than a decade ago, home cooks can use the food stacking technique to bring height and creativity to their food presentations. A food stacker is a small, inexpensive ring of metal (cut-out PVC pipes work very well too!) that you put on the plate before plating, and layer the different elements of your dish. When all elements are stacked, remove the ring and you have a “tower of food” adding height and elegance to your plate.

For saucing, professional chefs use spatulas, spoons, ladles and pastry brushes to get colourful tadpoles, cordons and brush strokes on the plate. Little squeeze bottles  can be very versatile as they make precise artistic lines and colourful sphere or dots to a presentation.

When it comes to saucing, you want to remember, it is there to maintain the moisture of the dish, primarily of the protein, as well as to provide a concentrated flavor that will balance a dish. You have endless options for saucing a plate: brushing a thick sauce on with a pastry brush, making a cordon of sauce with a spoon or ladle, the tadpole look, which is quite popular in modern cuisine today, and even the age-old pool of sauce on the bottom of the plate.

It may seem like a lot of things to consider, but your plates will improve if you think ahead and keep these points in mind as you plan what to cook and how to present it. Simple consideration of balance in nutrition, taste, texture, color and styling will help you put together a more beautiful plate. Always remember the goal is invoking the sensual experience of eating not just in the way of taste and smell, but also sight.  Beautifully presented food is a true feast for the eyes and turns a simple meal in to a memorable dining experience.