Order Satay in a restaurant and you expect the waiter to bring five or six chicken skewers placed on a simple white plate along with peanut sauce served in a small bowl as condiment. But what if the chicken skewers come neatly arranged on a mounted layer of rice with shredded red cabbage to add colour to the dish and presented on a wooden tray? It does add to your dining experience.
Fine-dining restaurants and five-star hotels have always placed emphasis on food presentation, but now chefs at small restaurants are also getting creative while plating their food. And a neat, good presentation always makes a difference when it comes to wooing foodies or getting a high rating on online restaurant guides. However, the taste and quality of food can never be considered secondary to presentation.
We speak to Pune-based chefs to know more about the art of plating and how they are getting more innovative with it.
Talking about the transition that food presentation has undergone over the years, Jeet Walia, owner, The Dream Kitchen, a multi-cuisine restaurant in Magarpatta, Pune, says, “There has been a steady but drastic change in the way food has been presented over the last few decades. Growing competition has led to new concepts not only in food but also with the way it is presented. Earlier, the focus was only on the taste and quality, however with many restaurants offering the same cuisine, it has become essential to present them in a way that they stand out from the rest.”
Meeta Makhecha, owner, The Flour Works, Kalyani Nagar, feels that elaborate plating has always been a part of food service. She says, “If you go back in time, you will see very elaborately-plated banquets, be it the French, the Romans or the Chinese. So there hasn’t really been a transition but people are beginning to notice it now.”
But when it comes to food, how much should one adhere to the ‘please the eyes before the stomach’ philosophy? Walia says, “Food is an experience for all the senses. From the time you order your favourite dish, the anticipation sets in. Right from the visual, to the aroma and down to the taste. If a dish is visually appealing, it adds to the whole experience of the meal. It should thrill the consumer and bring a smile to their face.” Makhecha believes that to some extent plating is done to please the eyes but it cannot come at the cost of compromising the quality of the food.
MAKING SIMPLE FOOD LOOK GOOD
Even in households, people are now experimenting a lot with the way they present food to their guests to make it look more appetising and appealing. Kids especially are more enticed by eye-catching plating. So how can we make simple food look good? Walia explains, “A plate of food looks most appealing when there’s a high level of contrast in colours. For example, garnishing with red and yellow bell peppers and green spring onions is an easy way to add pops of colour to Chilli Chicken.”
He also emphasises that the type of plates or bowls used also make a lot of difference and add that extra appeal to a dish. “For instance, we serve Chilli Chicken in a wheelbarrow serving dish which makes it visually appealing,” says Walia adding, “Rolls cut diagonally in half and placed on top of each other is another example of innovative plating.”
Makhecha, on the other hand, says that adding simple garnishes can often make food more appealing. She says, “For instance, you can garnish scrambled eggs with some chives. That hint of green suddenly makes the dish look more appealing. Or taking mashed potatoes in a piping bag and making swirls makes it look prettier.”
She also mentions that a little height always makes food look nicer. You can take a sandwich, cut it in half and place it at an angle, one on top of the other. “Also, a nice crispy fish skin can be plated on top of mashed potatoes, and the height and crispy skin make it visually appealing,” shares Makhecha.
NEVER COMPROMISE ON TASTE
But in a bid to present Instagram-worthy food, sometimes the quality of the dish is compromised. So where exactly should one draw the line? Walia says, “Though I agree that food should be visually appealing, it is not the top priority. Quality and taste will always take precedence over visuals.” He also feels that plating should never be overdone. There is beauty in simplicity.
Makhecha too agrees that one cannot at any point compromise on quality for pretty plating. That is just not acceptable. She adds, “Don’t overdo garnishes. And when playing with height, don’t make it too tall because then it gets difficult to eat.”