Kitchen Confidence: Dress up dishes for a restaurant-quality flair
Editor’s note: Kitchen Confidence is a new column running once a month, focused on finding ease and skill in the kitchen for the home chef.
Who doesn’t enjoy going out and sitting down for a great meal? There are so many different factors that play a part in the experience. Getting away from routine and immersing yourself in place fully devoted to your pleasure is, well, a feast for the senses. It all leads up to that one moment when your meal finally arrives at the table.
Certainly the décor and atmosphere of the restaurant is one factor. Together with the architecture of the building, artwork on the walls — all the way down to those tiny vases of flowers on the table — create an environment that really lets you put your cares aside for a while.
The attention of your server is another factor. Having someone there to tend to our desires can make each of us feel special. Perhaps they make you laugh with their jokes or compliment you on your clothing. Even if all they do is take your order and make the food magically appear, they have done their job by helping you put your burdens aside while you have something to eat.
Then of course there is the menu. The prospect of terrific food is why you came here to begin with, isn’t it? Maybe there are some of your favorites to choose from; maybe there is something new to try. But whatever you choose it all comes down to that one spectacular moment when the dish is presented there in front of you in all its glory. What makes the plate look so good? So inviting? So delectable?
Plate presentation is a skill taught to chefs during training and many say it is second only to the actual preparation of the food. How many times have you said, “I wish my meals looked like this”? Well, the good news is they can.
From salads to entrees to desserts, there a few simple tips and tricks you can use to give your dishes that extra flair.
Let’s start with salads. Try moving away from the standard “tossed salad,” where everything is tossed together, and all the “goodies” inevitably end up in a heap at the bottom, and allow the arrangement of the salad to have a unique look each time.
“How I assemble them is about how I’m feeling at the time,” says Andrew Brule, sous chef at The Boatyard in Frisco. “I like to play with the colors of the food on the plate and let an artistic style flow. This all goes back to my culinary training.”
To give them a special appeal, try grouping some of the ingredients together along the edge of the plate. Cucumber slices, for example, look more interesting laid in a row then lost under a pile of greens. One way to group an item is to make a centerpiece for your salad out of it. Fan out carrot slices and set them on end in the middle of the salad to give it some extra height.
Finally, apply dressing strategically by pouring it so it flows underneath all those beautiful colorful veggies. You wouldn’t want to hide everything under a blanket of white dressing. For a finishing touch Brule will sprinkle fresh herbs over the top and apply dressings using a deli squirt bottle to make designs on the edge of the plate.
When it comes to entrees, Cordell Balcolm over at Ridge Street Kitchen in Breckenridge will often overlap and stack food items to give the plate height.
“I like to arrange the plate so you can still clearly see each item, yet the impression is of one unified dish,” he said.
Balcolm is careful to put sauced items at the bottom of the pile so they don’t overwhelm the others. Using fresh green onions or whole sprigs of herbs on end on the center of the plate is another of his ways to create height.
The last course of the meal is not to be overlooked. Nothing begs more for decoration than dessert. For the at-home chef, a simple sprinkle of colored powder is the easiest way to bump the plate up a notch.
Cocoa powder, confectioner sugar, or cinnamon each offer a different shade to use depending on the color of the dessert and the plate itself. Think contrasting colors so the powder doesn’t get lost.
Fresh berries are always really nice, but in the end, items that are easy to keep on hand are often the best choice. Candies wrapped in shiny foil or tubes of cake gel fit the bill here. The gel makes it easy to personalize the dessert to your audience.
So the next time you are putting food on a plate, set an intention to make it look so great you’ll want to show it off to all your friends. Try some new tricks. I can assure you anything you do will only make the plate look better. With a little practice, you just might create something spectacular.
Tom Castrigno from Frisco, Colorado, cooks and writes about food. Tom has several of his books on Amazon and writes a blog called The Confidence Diet, at theconfidencediet.com. Send comments to Tom@AmobilechefCO.com
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