Why Food Presentation Is So Important
One of the most fun things you’ll learn in culinary school is plating and presentation. Your food’s appearance is as much a part of the culinary experience as taste. Being able to make appealing, colorful dishes that entices the eyes as well as the palate is a hallmark of every great chef.
Why Appearance Matters
If you ask the average diner, the visual aspect of food is much less important than the actual taste and texture. No dish that pleases the eye is ever going to be ordered a second time if it tastes like cardboard, but an unappealing dish might be selected time and time again if it tastes unexpectedly amazing.
But the truth is, you rarely go to culinary school to appeal to the average diner. The entire purpose of food artistry is finding a way to combine bright, flavorful ingredients in a way that makes everyone—gourmand or not—stop and take a look.
This can be done through garnishes, strategically placed sauces, specialty cuts of meat, sculpted vegetables, or even such techniques as keeping the food item whole (a roast suckling pig, for example). In many cases, this is done to give the ingredients a fresh look, with bright colors and clean cuts most often signifying the desirability of the food.
Food artistry also occurs on other levels beyond just the kitchen. Restaurants take special care to create a mood and setting that is in keeping with the food being served, whether it’s through techniques like low lighting or table-side cooking. Food manufacturers do it, too, adding dyes and thickeners to substances to increase their appeal right out of the box (or can, as the case may be).
Food presentation has long been a part of the culinary experience, dating back to the earliest days of life in Japan, Greece, and other cradles of civilization. It was brought into the modern mode beginning in the eighteenth century, when much of the focus of the modern culinary experience arose from fashionable French tables.
Food carving, however, is a much more specialized practice dating to Thailand, Japan, and China over 1000 years ago. It involves carving fruits and vegetables into works of art, either to be eaten or as part of a tablescape. Including such things as flowers made from carrots and birds of paradise crafted from melons, these can range from simple to incredibly detailed. They are popular at banquets and weddings, or any meal that is part of a larger ceremony setting.
Learning the Art of Presentation
For many culinary students, food presentation is where the real “artistry” part of the culinary arts comes into play—especially if you’re able to take things to the next level with the ancient art of food carving. Plating is taught in almost every culinary program in the country, but the more elaborate settings might require specialty courses.
Whether you intend to become a chef or a food artist, there is much to learn about the visual aspect of dining. Food can be beautiful and delicious—and it takes true talent to master both!