I’m still working on my “Eight ways to make a plate look better” project, thanks to Louis Eguaras and the 101 things he learned in culinary school (read another tip here). Tip #6 suggests varying the shapes, colors, textures, and arrangements on a plate such that “each food makes the others more appealing.” Eguaras gives the example of asparagus because “a long green vegetable […] is a dependable counterpoint to many foods.” I suppose this is why at nicer restaurants you often get a couple spears of asparagus gently laid across the top of your steak and mashed potatoes, rather than in a small pile on the side.
But it’s not asparagus season here, so I opted to experiment with other shapes and textures in order to make the humble mashed turnips look good:
I guess I tried to use the chicken breast as the counterpoint…I sliced it into large bites and then carefully transferred the entire thing to the plate, one end resting on the turnips and the other end on the plate with the middle pieces curving gently to slope off of the turnip pile. This created a nice little niche in which to nestle my sauteed mushrooms. The lemon wedge adds an additional counterpoint and helps guide the eye to each element – each layer of the plate.
But to be totally honest, I have no clue if this is an effective use of counterpoint. When presenting a dish, I like it to flow nicely; I don’t really want it to look too interrupted on one plane because then I risk having it look like super-post-modern abstract art (which can sometimes jar you when you look at it, right?). To me, this tip was more about becoming aware of the varying textures, colors, and shapes of the food on the plate and arranging them in such a way that is both interesting and satisfying to look at. I like how the proscuitto wrapped around the chicken adds a rich reddish color and the mushrooms a bright brown; this makes the bland, boring mashed turnips (which don’t exactly look super appetizing on their own) seem to glow with a white purity and really stand out, right? They’re almost glistening! Like snow! Who knew turnips could become so attractive?
Well, I’m almost halfway through, working my way through Eguaras’s eight tips. I’m curious–have you tried any? Do you pay attention to the way you put food on a plate? Have you made any homely foods suddenly fit for the queen just by pairing them with another food? Or do you prefer to go family style and have everybody help themselves from larger serving bowls? Surely you’re going to some holiday parties; have a look at how the food is presented and see what you notice. Tell me what you’re seeing and what ideas you have about making food look better on the plate.