The saying, “You don’t get a second chance to make a good first impression” is truer than ever in the area of food design. Designing food? It sounds like such a new-age concept, but it has been around for years. Food design has become more popular with the numerous television shows and magazines dedicated to cooking and entertaining. Even weight loss programs emphasize the importance of making healthy food look beautiful to enjoy the experience of eating. This goes along with another saying: “You eat with your eyes well before the food hits your palate.”
So how do you make a plate of food look like a five-star meal when you are anything but a chef?
The easiest way to make a dish look fancy is by starting with the base, literally. The base can be a single serving dinner plate or a platter meant for multiple portions. Either way, your base should be a clean, white dish. Put away that set of favorite multi-colored dishes you purchased on your last vacation; they are distracting from the elegance of your menu. You are devoting your time and energy to a meal and it should have the proper stage to ensure that it captures everyone’s attention. The food, not the plate, should be the star of the show.
Want to make an impressive round of couscous but don’t have a mold to create that elaborate shape? No need to spend big bucks at the kitchen store. Take a can of tuna, remove both the lid and the bottom using your can opener and wash can thoroughly. If the food you’re going to put into it is sticky, a light rubbing of the interior of the can with olive oil will help it come loose. Place the can on the dinner plate. Once it’s packed with your favorite “design style” food, slowly remove the tuna can and voilà! Food with top chef allure! Finish with your favorite sauce or sprinkle a colorful herb over the top.
The amount of effort you put into designing the plate depends on how much time you want to invest. If your family or guests are ready to sit down and you don’t have a lot of time to fuss over the presentation, sprinkle a quick chop of fresh, flat-leafed parsley around each plate and its edges for an upscale bistro presentation. If you have more time to spend on the individual plating, don’t just spoon the food into separate areas on the plate; give your meal some depth by layering. For example, spoon your garlic-mashed potatoes in the middle of the plate and fan three slices of pot roast across the top of the potatoes at an angle. Surround the other edge of the potatoes with roasted vegetables and drizzle a brown sauce over the top. This presents a typical comfort food meal with a chic, new design.
The most impressive effect in food design presentation is the one bite serving. The “amuse bouche,” translated to “happy mouth,” is a bite-sized portion that immediately conveys to your recipient a message of you’re special; I’ve created this just for you to enjoy. Creating a single serving does not have to be difficult. Here are some simple hors d’oeuvres suggestions:
• Spoon store-bought spinach artichoke dip into mushroom caps and bake for 25 minutes at 400 degrees.
• Brush olive oil on pieces of a thinly sliced sourdough baguette and bake. When crisp, top with fresh chopped tomato, basil, and olive oil or an olive tapenade found in a jar at the store.
• Stuff store bought crepes with a couple of tablespoons of chicken salad and roll them for individual, bite-sized portions.
To make individual portions at a meal, invest in circle molds so you can layer servings when putting them on the plate. For example, create a simple salad of cherry tomatoes sliced thinly and laid out for the first layer, followed by a slice of fresh mozzarella and basil leaf. Repeat the layers to your desired height and finish by drizzling with olive oil. Use a shallow item lying around your kitchen, like a small ramekin, and fill with couscous. After it’s packed down, turn it over and unveil it like a child presenting a sand castle. For a cleverly beautiful, yet easy, dessert, fill individual pastry shells purchased from the grocery store with fresh berries and top each portion with whipped cream.
Any meal can be an opportunity to make an ordinary plate of food into an extraordinary event. If you have the right tools, ingredients, and imagination, it will only take a few extra minutes to make a big impact on your guests. Making simple changes in the presentation of your food will leave your friends and family wondering when you attended culinary school!