This Food Practice is an excerpt from the list of practices shared in the book, Summer, Embrace Pleasure In Food, an installment in the Food Practice through The Seasons series. Each season contains a practice for each week of the seasons. 13 total. CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFORMATION.
“…the latest research proves something even more important-the pleasurable environment surrounding a meal has objective benefits as well as subjective ones. For example, the body absorbs more nutrients when the meal is served in pleasurable surroundings than when the same foods are eaten in a neutral or unpleasant environment. One study done in a hospital setting showed that patients who were served their meals in a pleasurable manner healed more quickly and were discharged from the hospital sooner than patients who received the exact same food in an institutional setting.” –
By now you know that your food must be enjoyed in order to be nutritious. And you also know that you have more than your sense of taste. Your entire environment can be set up in such a way to cultivate the optimal situation for the most pleasure and most nourishment.
In Spring we talked about this as well – Cultivating a space at the dinner table or wherever you’re eating so that you are free from stressors, distractions and undo rush.
Taking It Further
The environment you eat in as well as the people you eat with impact the pleasure you take from a meal. But what about the visual? Our sight is such a source of pleasure for us.
To fully attend to the whole of your eating experience, to elevate the quality of the meal and the nourishment you are receiving, you must attend to the entire eating experience. And this includes and necessitates plating your food for visual pleasure.
By taking care to plate our dishes in a manner that is aesthetically pleasing we are also enhancing the pleasure we receive from food.
The Power Of Beauty
In my personal spiritual studies, beauty is a huge factor in creating and practicing presence. Beauty has a way of arresting our attention to the point that for at least a few long seconds our minds are captivated. We are not in the past or the future, but fully present to the magnificence before us.
Beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder in this way. Because you can find so many things beautiful and it’s such a personal thing. However, there are forms of design, color, spaciousness that tend to appeal to most people. This is the path towards finding beauty in how you plate your food.
Plating food is an art form. But I don’t want this to be intimidating. You don’t have to be a world class chef to plate food well. Nor do you have to come up with a masterpiece or a plate that looks like one of those found in a 3 Michelin star restaurant.
Plating Food 101
Here are 8 tips to lovely food plating:
- Keep It Simple – Clutter distracts. Focus on one main ingredient on the plate, using the other side dishes or items as accessories. It’s good to leave space on the plate open.
- Color – While keeping it simple, do make sure that the dish is not monochromatic, unless it’s an artistic statement. A balanced variety of textures and colors brings the plate alive.
- Balance Portions – Is there enough of a side dish or ingredient to compliment the main dish? This isn’t about adding more so much as it is about you thinking through how the dish will be eaten.How do you want the dish to come across, what flavors need to compliment one another? This tip is about creating a visual balance, yes, but it is also about orchestrating an experience of flavors that bring out the best in the meal you are serving. Balance in this sense might not be about equal portions of each dish, rather the right portions to compliment the flavor experience you are trying to provide.
- Highlight The Key Ingredient – (or dish) This can easily be done by adding garnishes, chopped herbs or sauces over this portion of the plate. This is true of a plate that has both main and side dishes on it, or if you are setting a communal table where each dish has it’s own bowl or plate. Another way to highlight the key ingredient or main dish is to stack the plate with the main dish or ingredient on top, as in a bowl where you layer your food.
- Garnishes – Use them to highlight the main ingredient by placing on top of the dish. Or you can also use them to create shapes as in a circle around the outer edge of the plate. Garnishes should always be edible.
- One Dish Meals – Starch on the bottom/center, protein on top and veggies on the side. Garnish can be sprinkled on top or added to the side as well. This last one is my favorite. I love one dish meals and they are especially great when eating alone. Consider color contrast between your starch/base, which can also be a bed of greens, your protein which can be meat/fish, tofu or lentils/beans of some sort and then your veggies which come in such an abundant range of colors you’ll surely have a masterpiece. This formula works for just about any type of cuisine.
- Odds Rule – Use groupings of three, five or seven. It appeals to the eye in that lack of balance creates visual interest. Consider this both with the different types of foods on a plate as well as how many of a thing you are adding to the dish such as 5 carrots or 3 scallops.
- Clean Plates – Keep the canvas clean. After plating your food carefully use a napkin to clean off any splotches of sauce of smears of food. Complete the presentation with a clean plate around the food being served.
I encourage you to do some research online to read further about plating. A simple search for Food Plating will get you all sorts of resources and YouTube videos that can help give you a visual idea of things you can do.
I also want you to play with this. Just the mere act of turning your attention to how you present your food on your plate will open up an entirely new world of interaction with your food. I promise you.
The point of this is beauty and pleasure, yes, but also fun. There is no right or wrong here, it’s just a matter of increasing aesthetics as you can. Experiment this week with how you serve yourself and others. You can practice with one plate meals, which I personally love and move from there.
While you experiment and play this week, also pay attention to how you like it. Does it make your meal more pleasurable to plate in a beautiful way. Note that it takes you longer to actually sit down to eat when you are paying such close attention to how you present your food. What does this bring up? How does time play a factor in the pleasure you derive from your eating?
Journal about the experience this week and also for bonus points, take pictures of your plates and post them to the Food Practice Gathering Circle Group on Facebook. We’d love to see! (Must join group to share.)