It’s that time of year again, Thanksgiving, the Holidays, cocktail parties, celebrations at the office, casual get-togethers, potlucks, and so on. This means LOTS of food and drink. YES! We have all heard the expression: “you taste with your eyes first”. Naturally, besides possibly sound, or smell it is the initial sensorial experience you have with food, even before touching or tasting it. Therefore, it should be on the top of the list to make your food look it’s best. I know this is true as my 3.5 year old son very immediately points out that if something on his plate does not look visually appealing that he is not going to eat it because it is “yucky”…even before tasting it. It doesn’t get any more honest than that. Now I know he is 3.5 and not truly looking at the food as a presentation piece but it does tell me that the way your food looks matters and can make a difference in the way people eat. Although I do this as my career as a Food Stylist you DO NOT have to be a professional to apply some of the fundamentals of Food Styling to your own creations. Food is an art, one that taps into all senses. So go ahead and explore your inner artist and try out some of these tips for “styling” your food. Your family and friends will savor it even more.
--COLOR: This is an easy one. Color is pretty and can add so much to a boring, “blah” looking dish. It is easy to amp up the color in any dish and usually more healthful! If a recipe calls for bell pepper use a variety of different colored ones. If you are doing a green salad add some radicchio. Roasted potatoes use purple, or sweet, or a mixture. A drink, add a colorful garnish. Contrasting colors and a variety of them are good, even different variations on the same color are more appealing than a monotone palate. Adding some fresh chopped tomatoes to your pesto sauce adds color and depth of flavor…win/win!
--TEXTURE: Not only is adding texture to your food going to enhance its visual appeal it will also add flavor and dimension to the mouth feel. This is best achieved by adding complimentary and contrasting ingredients or a variation of ingredients to a dish. Adding toasted nuts or dried fruit to a salad gives it more layers of flavor and aesthetic interest. Serving a smooth soup with a crusty crouton or toasted pumpkin seeds gives you contrast. Or simply cutting things in a different shape can add interest. If you have made a dish with lots of texture as you serve it make sure those things are showing. Things may drop to the bottom or end up hiding under something else. Don’t worry, this time it is O.K. to play with your food, pull some of those things out to the top, make sure that you can see them and they are identifiable.
--ARRANGMENT: Artfully arranging food on a plate or serving vessel is key. Instead of just dumping the food, be mindful of how it is going to end up. Smooth out the top, slice and fan out the meat, mix things in another bowl then pour into the serving dish and clean up the edges. Stack things, lean things on each other, height can be good, and I don’t mean an architectural project just lift things up a bit. Swirl a little extra sauce on top, or start with the sauce on the bottom as a bed for the food to lie on, peeking out around the sides. Odd numbers usually work better than even when arranging larger items. Another way to present is to “compose”. A tossed salad looks like a big jumble, if you artfully arrange each of the components it looks like, well, art and intentional.
DISHWARE: can also play a roll in the beautiful presentation of food. Make sure the vessel “fits” the contents. Use different colors, shapes, and things made of different materials such as glass, ceramic, baskets and wood…mix and match!
--GARNISHING: I worked in lots of restaurants in my life time and back in the day the signature garnish for every plate was chopped parsley and diced red bell pepper sprinkled on the rim of every plate or an orange round twisted into an “S” shape with a sprig of curly parsley. LAME! Garnishing can be as simple as some whole or chopped fresh herbs, topping with an ingredient that already exists in the dish, or adding something to a platter that is just beautiful, like kumquats or figs on a Turkey platter. Beverages almost always benefit from a garnish and can be an essential part of the drink itself.
--GO WITH YOUR INSTINCTS: I have a tendency to overthink things, well… just about everything. Sometimes when I am working I could mess with the food literally forever as I can always see a better way to do it or the more I move things around the more I can see that I can change or improve upon. I have to stop myself sometimes and I have come to realize that sometimes if I just let things happen almost naturally they look better. They may need some tweaks or clean up but the overall effect seems more REAL. And that is what we are talking about here. Real people eating real food, we are just enhancing it a bit or paying a bit more attention to detail. If it doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Lesson here: less is usually more!
GO PLAY WITH YOUR FOOD! IT’S FUN, I KNOW!