The name alone conjures the ambiance of high art. The Art of Plating, LLC has a mission to promote culinary art, featuring high quality photography of plated dishes on its website, Facebook, and Instagram pages.
With over 560,000 followers on Instagram alone, The Art of Plating serves as a celebration of food as an art, and showcases the importance of color, balance, and plating.
David Wynne, an instructor at the Culinary Institute at Seattle, revealed in an interview that he emphasizes the importance of presentation with students. In fact, students are even delegated time to visual plating, sometimes with the unconventional methods of using play-dough, before cooking.
And while presentation and proper plating is integral to a personal or private chef appearing professional and for attracting clients (see our full article on plating methods here), chefs can make a colossal mistake.
Spending too much time and resources on the plating and presentation itself, at the expense of well executed and flavorful dishes.
Where do chefs draw the line, and how can they balance the need for professional presentation and developing flavor and unique dishes?
Here are three of the most common red flags that personal and private chefs need to focus a little less on their plating methods and a little more on the food itself.
Red Flag One: Your Clients seem more Excited at the Start of the Meal than During or after it
While chefs cannot rely on reactions alone, how clients respond to meals can be a tell tale sign if expectations are being met. Ever seem like clients are complementary of the meal as it’s being plated, but either complain or simply say little during or after the meal? If this happens on a consistent basis, and for multiple clients, chances are it means something.
What’s Happening: More likely than not, your plating technique is either exceeding the quality of the flavor of the meal, or raising false expectations.
Recognize it: If meat is dry after cooking, covering it with an attractive sauce only obscures the appearance, not the flavor: meat should be browned in its natural drippings, at medium to low heat. Cirrus garnishes over meat or seafood should be accompanied with the expectation being raised: a fresh and juicy flavor. At the same time, bright and colorful plating raises the expectation of bold and contrasting flavors. Herbs and other garnishes must be accompanied with plenty of flavor: salt, acid, and heat.
Red Flag Two: You Keep Cooking the Same Meals
In a rut? Finding yourself sticking with tried and true methods or dishes that have become so routine you barely think about the preparation? It’s possible that there’s so much energy being spent on presentation and plating that creativity and innovation go out the door when it comes time to menu planning. You might stick with “safe” dishes because you are concerned about how the end product will look.
What’s Happening: Make no mistake about it: it’s always good to try out recipes and plating methods before offering them to a client. What’s not good is when the need for comfort overtakes innovation.
Recognize it: Have the skill for building flavor in baked goods but are Intimidated by delicate pastries like the Mille-Feuille? Enroll in a class and don’t sweat it as much. Focused on the perfectly plated meal? Focus on basic principles and make sure the main component of the dish is attractively garnished and centered: in in a chicken dish, clients will mostly notice the chicken. Don’t sweat the smaller elements of plating and embrace dishes that are not meant to be as beautiful but more organic in appearance. If you find yourself hesitant to branch out, challenge that idea and see how different meals can have a beauty of their own, conventions aside.
Red Flag Three: You’re Always Short on Time
This is the easiest to spot because it’s the most objective. If you are constantly struggling to finish meals on time, especially meals you have made in the past, it’s possible your concern with beautiful plating and presentation has become too large of a focus.
What’s Happening: Most chefs with this issue have taken to heart the idea that proper presentation skills with help them both attract and retain clients. In reality, though, the very most important thing one you’re hired is to perform on the key reasons he or she was seeking a personal or private chef in the first place. If you plate beautifully but are late, or forget important considerations like dietary needs, you won’t retain that client anyway.
Recognize It: Make sure you properly budget time for the four stages of cooking for clients: preparation, cooking, plating, and clean up. As a rule of thumb, plating should take the least amount of time and no more than a quarter of your total allotment (much less if you’re cooking for one person). To save time, you should always be multitasking. If appropriate, for instance, you can plate as your prepare, so long as hot and cold foods are kept at safe temperature ranges.