Food styling and presentation is an art that can elevate your home-cooked meals to the next level. Having written and styled about 5 cookbooks so far, I have had plenty of experience facing down funny-looking food and making it look delicious.
Plate, platter or board selection is crucial when it comes to food presentation. White plates are always a safe choice as they provide a clean canvas for your food to shine. However, fashion has a big influence on what we choose in our kitchens.
More than ever plate styles are changing rapidly as we roll from Scandi to Spanish to Rustic then Modern-Japanese styling over a year. Because of this nonsense, I would recommend thinking of your serving ware like you would art. Choosing only items you really, really love. Also pressing into use the special and inherited items you can’t part with. This can be a conversation starter and it should prevent the perpetual turnover of kitchenware.
When I do buy something new I find function to be the best driver of purchase. I like a dish that goes from the fridge to the oven to the table. This is why you will often see me using cast iron or Spanish Terracotta Cazuela dishes. I prefer soft wood chopping boards as they are the lightest to carry and I refuse to purchase platters that are too heavy or too large for my kitchen sink.
If you know it fits in your sink, then you can guarantee it will be smudge-free, which is equally as important as having the right dish. Ensure your plates and utensils are clean and free of fingerprints or smudges. Wipe the edges of the plates to remove any stray crumbs or sauce. A clean presentation will make your food look more professional. It can help to mix, prepare or dress in a separate bowl, then serve on a clean plate.
When it comes to food placement, avoid the "frame" of the plate or platter. Instead, create visual interest by placing the food off-centre or at an angle. Use the negative space on the plate to balance out the dish and create an appealing composition. Remember, the goal is to make the food look inviting and not just like a pile of ingredients on a plate.
Fresh colours are also important in food presentation. Use colourful fruits and vegetables to add vibrancy and freshness to your dishes. Fresh herbs and edible flowers can also be used to add a pop of colour and flavour. Nasturtiums, flowering herbs, rose petals, calendula and chamomile flowers feature heavily in my garden. A sprinkle of parsley never goes out of fashion, I love a fern of fennel, whole basil leaves or crushed oregano. This usually sees me doing a rove and sweep of my garden just as guests arrive, a great way to greet everyone feeling calm and at my best.
Finally, it's crucial to serve food quickly so that it still looks fresh. There is a sheen to fresh food that dulls as it sits on the bench. Dress salads just before serving to prevent the lettuce from wilting. Cooked dishes should be plated and served immediately to avoid any sogginess or loss of texture. This will ensure that your food looks as good as it tastes.
If you are working ahead of time, think through what will wilt and keep that part back for the last minute. I can easily whip most of a meal out of the warming drawer (yes, I had one installed) and freshen it up with herbs, lettuces and freshly blanched or barbequed vegetables. A slick of olive oil or a spritz of water from a spray bottle will add back a bit of sheen in a pinch. These tricks allow me to greet guests and serve a full meal.
Food styling and presentation are easy ways to impress your guests and make your home-cooked meals look more appealing. By paying attention to plate selection, cleanliness, food placement, fresh colours, and serving quickly, you can elevate even the simplest dishes to a work of art!