Plate Like a Pro

Try these expert techniques to up your food presentation game.
Published April 23, 2017

Beautifully plated food is everywhere. Whether scrolling through your Instagram feed or eating at a restaurant, it’s hard to deny the impact presentation has on what we eat. Despite the popularity of lovely looking food, many home cooks feel unqualified to attempt creating their own works of culinary art. Lisa Bolton, blogger and creator of the very visually satisfying blog Food Well Said, knows all about making food look gorgeous. As a columnist specializing in food styling and photography for Food Bloggers of Canada she gives out advice that is both practical and inspiring, making food styling a fun activity for anyone interested in plating like a pro.

Keep your accessories inexpensive and inspired

Creating a fabulous plating look doesn’t have to be an expensive endeavour. In fact, some of Bolton’s most inspired looks come from everyday kitchen objects that have been reinvented as dishes and backdrops. She suggests that home cooks should “think outside the plate: small boards, half size baking sheets, parchment paper [and] plastic fry baskets from the dollar store all make great serving vessels.” Thrift shops and estate sales are also valuable sources for dishware, cutlery, barware and table linens.

Add a touch of green

Certain foods - and comfort foods are notorious culprits - are difficult to make aesthetically pleasing. Stews, curries, and green smoothies that have turned an unpleasant shade of brown are all infamous and it can be difficult to know how to improve on their appearance. When in doubt, Bolton suggests using fresh green herbs to beautify a meal, “Even the flattest, goopiest dish looks better with a sprinkling of fresh herbs on top. With leafy herbs, pick and tear the leaves off and sprinkle - don’t finely mince. Let them float down to the dish and fall naturally.” She also adds that edible flowers such as pansies and begonias can make an average meal exquisite – just ensure that they are intended to be eaten, as commercial flowers (even edible ones) can be sprayed with harmful pesticides.  

Practice prep as a mindfulness technique

Taking the time to prep your ingredients is an essential part of food plating and can also be used as an opportunity to practice mindfulness while preparing a meal. Bolton stresses the importance of trying new techniques and playing with texture. Knife skills are a dynamic part of plating; julienning, dicing, spiralizing, and slicing vegetables are all excellent ways to create variation and contrast. Box graters and mandolines are efficient and inexpensive tools to add to your arsenal and can drastically cut down on prep when time is of importance.

Get everyone involved

Perhaps most importantly, plating food should be an activity that brings joy into your meal planning and preparation. Taking the time to specially plate meals can become an activity for the entire family or an entertaining dinner party theme. Instead of plating the food before serving, bring all of the ingredients to the table so that everyone can artfully arrange the food on their plates. Not only does this cut down on your work in the kitchen, it also facilitates mindfulness and conversation for everyone at the table. Bolton explains “Think of how beautiful a Buddha bowl is - presented separately but meant to be combined and eaten together. If you are serving a family dinner, consider serving a complete meal all on one board.  Bring the one large board to the table and then again, mindfully and with intention, let everyone at the table build their own plate.”