After almost a year at home, even reluctant cooks like me have started to venture more into the world of cooking for ourselves. And of course, if you’ve cooked something and didn’t post it on Instagram, did it ever really exist? To get the likes in, you need food plating tips for home cooks.
I’ve been cooking more over the last couple of months and posting my efforts online. I’ve also had a lot of questions land in my inbox asking for help in making food look fancy. While I’m certainly no Michelin chef, I have picked up a few plating tricks from all my time eating in restaurants.
Food Plating Tips For Home Cooks
Give Yourself A Break
This isn’t really a plating tip, more of a sanity tip. Remember that you are just taking pictures for fun, not rival a professional chef. Don’t stress yourself out or spend so long rearranging slices of carrot that your dinner goes cold. There are guides out there that recommend buying all sorts of bits of kit to help you attractively plate things. If you want to use a piping bag to get mashed potato on your plate, you crack on, but if we’re talking special tongs or tweezers to put individual green beans on the plate, then really, who has the time?
If you can’t get something to look good, forget it. As long as it tastes good, right? Some foods are really hard to make look attractive in photographs, so sometimes it’s better to just give up. Personally, I find wet foods like curry or chilli a challenge to style nicely, so I just don’t bother.
Keep It Clean
You can artfully arrange your peas with tweezers all you like, but if you do it on a dirty plate, it’s never going to look good. After you’ve finished dishing up, give the plate a quick check for things like fingerprints, splashes of sauce, or other marks. You can use a cloth, a bit of kitchen roll, or your fingers, to quickly wipe away any marks. If you’re taking pictures, make sure the surface under your plate is clean too.
Choose The Right Plate
You want your plate to be big enough to fit everything on comfortably and to let your food stand out, but not so huge that your portion size looks sad.
You can use light or dark plates to make your food stand out. White is popular as it’s a good neutral background for food to stand out against, which is why most restaurants use white plates. Dark plates can make light-coloured foods really pop too.
Use The Rule Of Thirds
Image your plate has been divided into three sections. Instead of plonking it right in the middle, place the main focal point of the dish off to the left or right. Think of the rim of the plate as a frame, and use that highlight your plate’s best bits.
Don’t Overcrowd Your Plate
Don’t keep piling more stuff on in the hopes it will fancy things up. Keep things simple. Focus on one main ingredient, such as the meat, and arrange any accompanying items to best show that off.
Place Moist Ingredients First
Put wetter things, like mashed vegetables, onto the plate first. You can then use other food, like slices of meat, up against them to stop them from running.
Mix Your Textures
Contrast smooth food, like creamy mashed potato, with a different texture, like crunchy onions straws. The contrast in texture looks very appealing. Other good examples of this are croutons on soup, or blue cheese crumbled over steak.
If you can, choose plenty of colourful ingredients. When we see lots of colours on the plate, we expect a flavourful, interesting dish. Vegetables or fruit are great ways of adding some more colour to the plate. You can add colour with some well-placed garnishes too. If everything is the same colour, we expect it to all taste the same, which isn’t very interesting.
Try To Create Visual Balance
Don’t just put everything flat on the plate. Spend a bit of time trying to create balance by leaning long, flat foods against taller things. For example, lean spears of asparagus at an angle across your rack of lamb.
This one can take a bit of practice. Just play around, moving things about on the plate until it looks pleasing to you.
These are just very simple plating tips for home cooks. If you want to get really fancy, there are fab YouTube videos out there about classic plating, using all the tweezers you could possibly want.