As the holidays approach, many of us are scrambling to find new recipes and ideas for dishes that will wow our guests. One thing we all have in common is that most of us are not chefs! But don’t let this stop you from presenting your best at the dinner table. These easy holiday food plating tips will help you fake it ‘til you make it” as a chef.
What is Food Plating?
Food plating is the art of arranging your food on a plate to make it look as appetizing and beautiful as possible. It’s no secret that food presentation matters, especially when you want to impress guests at holiday dinner parties! All of this is good news for us home cooks who have had our share of Pinterest cooking fails.
The Science Behind It
Is there anything that proves food plating works other than your own experience? You better believe it, and there is actually some science behind it. For instance, an Oxford study by psychologist and gastrophysicist Charles Spence showed that diners preferred a salad made to look like abstract art over the typical tossed salads you'd make at home.
Now all those expensive dishes with fancy drizzles, dots and brush strokes combined with micro of food on them chefs prepare start to make a little more sense! The technique makes food that already tastes delicious irresistible and makes us more likely to break out our wallets without complaint at luxurious restaurants.
What are the Rules of Plating?
When it comes to plating rules, they can vary a bit. However, the overall look of your food isn’t nearly as important as the story your plating tells. Photographers get this, and that is why their pictures of the restaurant’s food typically look better than in reality.
Pretend that you are a character in a movie, and present this dish to the camera beautifully! For example, if you are serving steak for dinner, don’t just slap it on a plate with some mashed potatoes— make it look like a chef prepared it for you by garnishing it with some grilled asparagus topped with drizzles of Arlotta’s dark, barrel-aged balsamic vinegar.
You can use a ketchup squirt bottle to really fancy up that drizzle and sprinkle a dash of sesame seeds on top of that to really make the dish look like a professional put it together.
If you want to take it further, this video shows you eight simple ways to manipulate sauces and prepare plates. Before you get intimidated, they use low-tech stuff like ketchup bottles and spoons to apply the sauce in elegant ways.
How to Plate Food for the Holidays
The holidays are all about looking festive, which means you’ll want your garnishes and plating styles to reflect that. For example, you could pick up a prepared honey-baked ham and sides and arrange the food so it looks like something out of an Instagram picture or Martha Stewart magazine.
For instance, use some parsley to create silhouettes around the perimeter of the plate that looks like leaves from a tree. Then, use green beans to create a Christmas-tree shape with the parsley leaves. For extra credit, add some pineapple slices for fruitcakes on top of your ham or sprouts for trees in between them!
If you are more ambitious but still want something that’s relatively effortless and delicious looking, check out this video below that shows how to make a Thanksgiving platter that looks like it took hours, but only takes a few minutes to do.
What are the Best Foods to Plate?
If you want to get all technical about food styling, your protein should be the focal point of your plating because it will be more visually engaging than carbohydrates.
However, you can still put together great-looking plates for pasta and bread if you pay attention to how they’re decorated on their own.
For instance, pasta is typically served in a bowl that is about halfway full with sauce. Then, the pasta is placed in a fan shape around the bowl. To plate it, you could place your serving of fettuccine on top of some parsley leaves and add two or three pieces of diced tomato for color and extra flavor.
Bread can be plated by putting it in a basket with herbs like rosemary sprigs sticking out of it. If you want to get really fancy, add some nuts and olives around the plate for a Mediterranean flair!
Easy Holiday Food Plating Tips if You're Not a Chef
As you can see, creating beautiful food for the holidays doesn’t have to be hard. Here are some other tips and ideas for holiday food plating that will wow your guests:
- Use natural garnishes. Herbs create an inviting look. Ideas include cilantro or parsley leaves as centerpieces or rosemary sprigs to make your food look like it’s growing in a field.
- Layer tastes on the desserts. If you’re going with pies or cakes as desserts this year, choose ones that you can pair with ice cream. For instance, have a baked fruit, pecan pie or pudding and pair it with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream that has Arlotta's citrus-infused olive oil and pink Himalayan salt on top.
- Slice meat horizontally. This will create a bigger surface area which means more room for the garnish. If you are cooking meat that comes with bones, leave them on to allow space for your creative plating ideas. For example, you could take some carrots and turn them into angel wings around the side of your protein or use cucumber slices as clouds in between your wings.
- Use colors and texture. Contrasting colors and texture can really elevate your plating. For example, if you are doing a grilled tuna steak, try some fresh raspberry sauce with Arlotta's lemon olive oil for the glaze and serve it with wild rice (for contrast) and snow peas (for color).
- Serve smaller portion sizes. Take a page from the luxurious restaurant's book and serve smaller portions at parties. You can still offer the same amount of food that you would normally serve, but just present it in a fancy way so guests feel like they’re getting more to eat than usual!
- Choose the proper art pallet. Plateware can make a huge difference in how your food looks when it’s presented. For example, you don’t want to use plates that are too big or small for the dish because then there won’t be enough room around your food to add garnishes and other items on top of the plate.