New Zealand-born chef Daniel Wilson on how to plate up like a pro.
THE PLATE AS A CANVAS
Plates are the canvas on which we paint. Interesting plates can really enhance and shape the way a dish looks. Lighter colours stand out on black plates. People see food before they try it, so if it looks good, then our brain gets excited and the juices start flowing.
LOOK AROUND YOU
Chefs' presentation skills take influences from everywhere. Traditionally, we could learn on the job, in books and eating out. Now, people posting pictures of their meals on Twitter and Instagram has made it easier to see what other people are doing. Some chefs really follow trends on plating as they come in and out of fashion.
They say in multicourse degustations, the dish should be enough to make you want just one more mouthful. Deciding on the size of the dish depends on the number of courses, or number of dishes, if sharing.
It also depends on the richness of the protein or main component. Sometimes a dish is better with one less component, rather than one more.
FIX UP, LOOK SHARP
Cleanliness and care are paramount: wipe off errant sauce with a damp paper towel.
The sauce "smear" is a common technique. Place a spoonful of thickish sauce or puree on one side of the plate. Turn the spoon over and place the back of the spoon in the middle of the sauce, then drag to the other side of the plate, or curve it like a comma. Try not to clutter up the plate - it will look busy. Another handy tip is to drizzle oil slowly: just put your thumb over the top of the bottle and release slightly to drizzle a thin stream.
SCALES OF SUCCESS
I really like plating seafood dishes. Fish come in great colours, especially king salmon and tuna. Curing fish reduces moisture and intensifies the colour. One of my favourite dishes is smoked kingfish with horseradish cream and baby beets. The cream is put on the plate using the "smear". The kingfish is twisted, then placed so the cream can be seen. All this white is asking for colour, so the baby beetroot teases the eye. Pear matchsticks add more height again, and a different shape. Red sorrel cress adds a certain cuteness, and shaved kombu an interesting textural look.
The best dishes are always the ones that come back empty.
NOW, TAKE A PHOTO
Now you've learned to plate up, here's how to capture your dishes for posterity on your smartphone. Andrew Scrivani is the photographer for the New York Times dining section. Here are his tips for food snaps good enough to eat.
Use natural light "Never use a flash, ever. The definition of photography is 'the manipulation of light'. You need to train yourself to see great light first; then set out to create or capture it. Using cards (even menus) to reflect and deaden light, and add shadows, is a good start."
Shoot from above "A lot of chefs and stylists like to style plates from an overhead perspective as it gives the food a graphic, symmetrical look."
Use your smartphone to the full "Their quality has become such that even professionals have published pictures taken with smartphones. Remember, they focus close-up pretty well. Don't be afraid to use their features."
Choose the dishes you snap with care "As a professional, I can't say that there are some dishes that never look good. But, that said, dark browns and greens need special attention, because they absorb light and have a tendency to look dull and lifeless."