A restaurant experience should be about more than the smell and taste of the food; diners are also expecting a visual feast when they go out to eat.
“We eat with our eyes first,” says David Wynne, Culinary Arts instructor at The Art Institute of Seattle, about food presentation and food plating.
Teaching the Next Generation about Food Plating
To teach his students the importance of food presentation and the skills necessary for food plating, Wynne has incorporated some slightly unorthodox methods. Wynne, a sculptor and painter before he moved his focus to cooking, has his students use Play-Doh to sculpt food for their Art Culinaire five-course practical exam.
“We’ve taken a preschool concept and taken it to the college level.” Wynne says.
Wynne found that students were unable to visualize the finished product, and with hot food in front of them, they were having a hard time making good decisions, so he took a lot of the variable out of play – including the color of the Play-Doh.
“Color actually got in the way,” Wynne says.
These white, faux-food masterpieces – known collectively as the White Album – help students construct a visual strategy that they can then use when they actually have to cook the food they’ve built out of Play-Doh for their final exam.
“When they get to cooking the food, they have a plan in mind,” Wynne says.
And although some students are skeptical of the unorthodox methods, the project is usually a success.
“What starts as trepidations becomes one of the most memorable times in culinary school,” Wynne says.
The Art of Food Presentation
Although Wynne’s teaching methods might be out of the ordinary, his ideas about art and food presentation are widely held in the restaurant industry.
One such artistic chef is Alyson Crispin, who took her creative upbringing into the kitchen with her when she began her career in restaurants.
Crispin’s father had been a food photographer, and while growing up, food and the visual arts were always a part of her family’s life.
“That art background made it on the plate,” says Crispin, who has worked as a sous chef at both Mama’s Fish House in Hawaii and The Hartwood Restaurant in Pittsburgh.
“When you are plating food, you want to balance out the tastes, colors, and textures,” Crispin says. “Make it like a painter’s pallet.”
She believes that the diner’s experience is heavily tied to what they see on the plate, and that this visual presentation will actually change the restaurant-goers’ opinions of the taste of the food.
“If it’s not visually appealing, it can affect how [the diners] feel it tastes,” Crispin says. “How it appears to [the diner] determines how it’s going to taste.”
To get this desired affect, chefs like Crispin incorporate a number of visual techniques and strategies.
“I tend to like to add some elements of surprise,” Crispin says.
“Adding just a little more color to anything will make the plate more appealing,” she adds.
Although a little color can go a long way, it takes more than a strategically placed garnish to make a good meal; the food still has to taste good.
“It’s planned out to look appealing, and sometimes it’s backed up and sometimes it isn’t,” Crispin says about chefs who believe they can make up for sub par food with exquisite presentation.
Achieving both a superior look and taste is the Holy Grail in the kitchen, and the goal of anyone who dons kitchen whites.
“That’s a masterpiece when you can get the balance between taste and aesthetics,” Crispin says.
To reach this level of balance, Wynne believes that good teaching techniques can really help young chefs hone their skills, but at the end of the day, just like most culinary techniques, practice makes perfect.
“In the teaching we can always do more,” Wynne says. “As you practice, you gain the facility to do it better.”
To ask question about Wynne’s White Album email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributing writer for EDMC.