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Food should be a multisensory experience: a tantalising aroma wafting up to the nose, a play of textures exploding in the mouth, a surprising combination of flavours lingering on the palate. However, in today’s social media-driven, highly visual world, we are constantly interacting with food only through sight. The old aphorism “we eat first with our eyes”, has never felt more accurate.

While the senses of taste, smell, and texture provide the ultimate arbiters of a food’s palatability, visuals make for a big part of our appreciation of food. The natural desire, or urge, to look at food could well be an evolutionary adaption: our brains learnt to enjoy seeing food, since it would likely precede consumption”.

You don’t have to be an expert chef to learn the basics of plating. These tips will help you impress your guests and your families in no time!

The Prep

The old fashioned ‘mise en place ’ is key  – prepare anything you can before you start cooking. Make it enjoyable – put your favourite tunes on, pour yourself a drink and engage! Measure ingredients, peel and trim your produce, boil the water – organise as much as possible. Hone in on those knife skills for even slices, which will make the cooking process easier and more precise. It may be useful writing out your menu including all components to ensure you have everything covered. We asked our very own Head Chef Sam Procel for his expertise on the topic “Food prep doesn’t begin when you don an apron and sharpen your knife. Before any special occasion or big cook off, sit down for 5 minutes and create a prep list prioritising the items that take longer to cook, require extra time to marinade or even cure. A clear mind is the first step to a clean execution.”

The Cook

A key component to plate up is ensuring that all elements are prepared and cooked to perfection.  Set timers throughout the process to avoid over or under cooking. Produce needs to be fresh and great quality – wilted leaves on a plate can really ruin the final result! Chef Sam comments that taste is imperative. “No matter how creative your dish looks, the taste is equally important. Always check the seasoning throughout the cooking process. Never underestimate how everyday ingredients such as vinegars, soy, lemon juice and salt can enhance a dish. Freshly ground black pepper is often more delicious when added to a dish after roasting an item. I often use this technique when searing yellowfin tuna or grilling a classic ribeye steak.”

The Plate

Select the right size, shape and style plate for the dish. A plate can really enhance the colours and textures of a dish. A plain white plate can often provide the perfect ‘blank canvas’ for presentation. If your menu is more rustic, go with earthy coloured plates or perhaps try using a bamboo or wooden board. When choosing your plate, ensure that dish is in proportion to the size of the plate. A plate with too much empty space can be underwhelming but a plate with no space at all can destroy a dish! Make sure it’s just right!

The Plate Up

As Chef Sam calls it – ‘The Grand Finale’. Whilst it’s important that each element of the dish is cooked to perfection, a stand out dish is one where all the elements work in harmony when eaten togethereach element has its place and is there for a reason.

Keep it asymmetrical – nothing is perfect so keep it that way when plating up! Use odd numbers in sides and garnishes, which will give your dish an interesting, natural look.

Garnish – use herbs, nuts, seeds, olive oil, thinly sliced fruit or vegetables to add the finishing touch to your dish. Remember that garnishes still need to compliment the flavours of the dish. Only garnish at the very end to avoid ruining the presentation of the dish.

Height, colour and texture – play around with variations. Create a focal point on the plate. For a dessert, something like your gelato scoop will be the focal point with purees, crumble and garnishes as supporting elements. Use purees and gels to act as a ‘glue’ for accompaniments. A lamb chop could be positioned against sweet potato mash for extra height, stacking your side dish can add depth to your presentation. Create colour contrasts with elements, plates and garnishes. A simple pumpkin soup could be enhanced with the drizzle of coconut cream and olive oil, which not only looks appealing but also balances the flavours perfectly.

Chef Sam takes the time and effort to ensure that each component of a dish stands out. “Whether it’s a vibrant green avocado mousse, a fresh micro herb or that glossy rich red wine jus. Plating is an art and this is your masterclass. Prepare, taste, innovate and create!  Follow Roquette Catering on Instagram and Facebook for more inspiration on food ideas and presentation.

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Get 45mins of expert event planinng guidance, resources and templates to save you time, avoid mistakes and plan the perfect event