Plating 101: Contrast and Balance in Food Presentation

The art of plating is all about contrast. JWU Providence Chef Branden Lewis recently led a master class in plating and presentation for College of Culinary Arts students of all experience levels. Here’s some of what they learned:

1) Plating requires the balancing of multiple elements on a single plate:

  • flavor
  • color
  • texture
  • shape
  • complexity
  • symmetry and asymmetry

2) Vibrant and contrasting colors naturally attract.

Contasting textures and flavors also help avoid tasting boredom. You want diners to anticipate every bite, and engineering the plate in such a way that complementary textures and flavors enliven each bite ensures that element of surprise.

(Think of how bored you’d be if you were faced with a totally beige plate. We eat first with our eyes and the rest of our senses follow.)

3) Plating styles are infuenced by current trends in cuisine and culture. There are countless plating styles in use today, and it takes serious focus and practice to create or define your own plating style. (But it can be done!)

Luckily, social media allows us to see a dish someone is eating in Spain almost simultaneously. That kind of unprecedented access means that you can track food trends and styles in real time.

4) The complexity of your plate should suit your restaurants clientele. There are many different levels of formality — and plating to match!

5) Think about the negative space on the plate as much as the positive space (ie, where the food sits). Guide food into place, and don’t try too hard — you want things to look naturally artful, but not overdone.

Chef Lewis recommended students start by mapping out their plates ahead of time while they built up a stronger comfort level with plating. He and his teaching assistants, Natalie Kehlbeck and Apoorva Prakash, then demonstrated three of the most common plating styles:

  • TRADITIONAL: Think family dinner: veggies at 2 o’clock, main at 6 o’clock and starch at 10 o’clock.
  • TRIO: Quite popular, especially in small plate/tapas restaurants.
  • LINEAR AND CONTROLLED RANDOMIZATION: Where your food aligns to an imaginary grid line or curve, with some of the food artfully breaking out of the grid at seemingly random intervals.

Keep in mind that there are many different plating styles, and it’s important for students to find their own favorites through trial and error.