You don’t have to work in a restaurant to give your food the four-star treatment. Get creative with easy plating ideas that dress up your dinners! “Not only does [seeing a plate of food as a thing of beauty] give interest, atmosphere and pleasure to the meal,” according to author Edith Schaeffer, “but it gives dignity and fulfillment to the one who prepared it.”
“A man does not have to be the greatest chef in the world in order to enjoy the artistic fulfillment of cooking and serving a meal,” says Schaeffer in her book about finding beauty and order in the details of everyday life, Hidden Art. Indeed, in her view, a normal Tuesday night is the perfect time to make dinner feel like fine dining. How? On those evenings when you’ve got a few minutes to spare, rethink the way you arrange your plates and treat food like art.
Schaeffer on Making Meals More Artful
Artful plating ideas are less about the expense of the meal and more about the thought behind it. According to Schaeffer, the smallest little steps of intentionality can go a long way towards a special experience:
“Meals can be very small indeed, very inexpensive, short times taken in the midst of a push of work, but they should be always more than just food … we should be just as careful to make the meal interesting and appealing when the day is grey and the news is disappointing … Food cannot take care of spiritual, psychological and emotional problems, but the feeling of being loved and cared for, the actual comfort of the beauty and flavor of the food, the increase of blood sugar and physical well-being, help one to go on during the next hours better equipped to meet the problems.”
So when you’re preparing a meal you’ve made a million times before, why not dress it up by playing with plating? Spur someone to smile with the sight of it, even if that someone is just you.
Here are seven easy plating ideas to try. If you’re in a rut or looking for a creative outlet, get inspired with these simple, doable techniques!
Plating Ideas #1: Leave white space.
Think of the plate like an empty canvas, and be intentional about how you decorate it. In other words, let the negative space be as important as the food. So, rather than filling the plate end to end, position all your food within certain constraints (say the middle third, for example). Choose a larger plate than you need, one that creates more empty space around your subject.
Plating Ideas #2: Arrange food in a half-moon.
Swishes and swirls of sauces are so akin to fine plating that these flourishes are now what most people think of with dressing up a plate. To try this technique, concentrate your food into a half-moon shape on your plate, swooshing any accompanying sauce in a way that completes the circle. Alternatively, swoosh the sauce in a half moon and delicately layer food atop it.
Plating Ideas #3: Make everything the same size.
Take a page from Ilana Freddye and deconstruct a dish into its key components, but then shape them into identical sizes. In her 2012 Summer Salad, she took cubes of avocado, feta, watermelon and radishes, for example, and arranged them like a patchwork quilt. Topped by herbs and salt, the resulting dish is completely eye-catching.
Plating Ideas #4: Use scaling to create a pattern.
At first glance, this on-trend plating idea may seem pretty extra, but consider the ways you might work this pretty pattern-making into your meal. Instead of layering “Gold band snapper cured in kombu, creme fraiche, caper, tegan blue plum & pickled thyme,” the way Sydney-based chef Clayton Wells did in the below image from TheArtofPlating.com, for example, what about layers of fruit on toast? Could you pattern firm sautéed mushrooms atop a bed of spinach or mashed potatoes?
Plating Ideas #5: Arrange up, not out.
In keeping with the principle of negative space, allow for a wide border on your plate by piling food up, instead of out. Start with a pilaf, grain or mash, and layer ingredients on top of that. For an even more cohesive look, shape the bottom layer in a mold and shape the next layers in the exact same size.
Plating Ideas #6: Set the sauce on the bottom.
If you’re used to topping a dish with sauce, try flipping this around, setting sauce in a pool on the bottom of the plate instead. You might top tomato sauce with your favorite meatballs, for example. Use the marinara, aioli or other spread to lay the background for your plating.
“Variety makes food more interesting to cook, as well as to serve and eat,” says Schaeffer. The idea is to have fun, both in preparing and eating–so try starting with the ideas in this post!
For even more plating ideas and inspiration, check out Instagrammers @TheArtofPlating, @GourmetArtistry and @_artofplating_! You may also enjoy Schaeffer’s book, linked throughout this post via Amazon affiliate links: read more about Hidden Art.