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Take a look below. It's veal saltimboca with a white wine demiglaze and polenta with a toasted pignoli and mascarpone gremolata. Sounds delicious. It is. Looks awful, though:


Let's analyze. Ignoring the fact that my camera's wrist strap is absorbing the veal sauce:

-It looks like I started overlapping the veal slices towards the top, but that didn't quite work out.

-The veal and polenta are fighting. The veal have sort of backed away, and the parsley that I put afterthoughtedly in the middle is holding the polenta back.

-There's an enormous white spice in the middle of the plate. Is the food afraid of it?

-My attempt to pipe the creamy gremolata into a pleasing shape on top of the polenta resulted in what diners can only assume are the leavings of an albino dog.

This is a problem with my all the time. I've been cooking for years, so you'd think I'd improve, but my meals always come out looking like a bunch of food just globbed onto a plate: the above photo is actually one of my BETTER efforts!

I know that it was the writings of Michael Ruhlman and the inspiration of Thomas Keller that took my cooking to the next level. Who among you have taken your presentation to the next level, and how did you do it???

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I have not looked at this book, but someone on a cooking mailing list I'm on got very interested in presentation a couple of years ago and recommended it:

Christopher Styler, Working the Plate, the Art of Food Presentation, ISBN 0-471-47939-X.

Presentation is something I can generally do fairly well without thinking about it. I'm afraid if I gave too much attention to it, I would overthink it. My guiding principle is to balance colors. I also pay attention to shape and texture, but color is the thing I pay most attention to when composing a plate. I try to get a variety of colors on the plate. On the occasion that everything is shades of one color (say, pork chops, mashed potatoes, and creamed onions), I work with garnishes to add color.

You don't want too much of the plate exposed. In the photo above, you've worked two points on the outside of the plate and left the middle empty, save for the parsley. The effect of that garnish, however, is to draw attention to the center of the plate and to the fact that the center of the plate is empty. Arranging food along the edges in two spots and leaving the remaining edge of the plate empty also draws attention to that open space. Perhaps I would have scattered parsley over the veal, put the polenta off center in the middle of the plate and put some color on the left side: green beans; peas and carrots; a few strips of roasted bell peppers of one or mixed colors; or a small amount of green salad. The veal could be arranged a little more neatly or evenly, but that's not the first thing I would change about the plating.

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Dan, first, the dish looks inviting. You seem to have great talent with sauces (something I keep working on). The gloss is gorgeous.

In general, take notes. Mental notes or written notes on what appeals to your senses. In restaurants, in magazines and mostly on food blogs. There are some food bloggers out there that are literally pros and they can present food porn like a Saveur layout.

I would work on this first, then worry about the technical aspects of lighting. Non-technically relating to lighting;natural lighting is the best, so take advantage of our longer daylight and get your food into the light. Ambient lighting can cast a yellow hue to your photos and the easiest way to edit this out is Picassa by Google.

Specifically related to your plating here, this is what I'd do.

First, the polenta cake is too big and the gremolata on top is heavy. It looks piped on. I would 1) make smaller cakes, place about 2 on top of a thin layer of gremolata, then dot the top of each polenta cake with a small dab of gremolata. Take one leaf of parsely and place in the middle of the dab.

The cross section of the pork is very nice. Since the diameter is relatively short, I would slice the pork on more of a bias to make them more oblong, vs. round. This will give a nicer presentation to the overlap that you did which mimics the rounded plate.

Bring the polenta cakes and arranged pork closer together to get rid of the void in the middle. Drizzle your glaze over the pork and continue to let it come off the spoon along the inner rim of the plate. This invites the diner to "sop up" more if they want. Always a nice option and presentation.

Offset the parsely to one side, on a bias instead of the middle and be more generous with it. More green would really pop.

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Monavano - I was hoping to get a response from you. You have some of the best looking stuff on the boards :lol:

Here's last night's dinner:


I think I have trouble with size. The polenta cake is too short, the short ribs are too thick, the mascarpone quenelle is too big, and the piles of chimichurri look overpowering. I guess I need better balance?

Also, next time instead of chives I'll top the quenelle with something red, maybe some red bell pepper diamonds...

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Dan, did you use Picasa or something, because your white balance is MUCH improved. That alone makes you food look much better. I think your plating looks nice. Quenelle-yeah, a bit too big, but it's a nice plate.

eta: It looks like (from your two plates thus far)you see things symmetrically. Think about asymmetry-it tends to draw in the eye to one focal point first, then to the rest of the plate afterwards.

Think about what you want your focal point to be. What do you want people to be drawn to and notice first?

Check this out for photographic composition. I use it for plating too: Rule of thirds.

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and the piles of chimichurri look overpowering. I guess I need better balance?

Dan, I'm no chef, but I have seen a few work in a professional kitchen. I would recommend using a spoon to smear the chimichurri across the plate instead of globbing it into a few piles, IMHO.

Also, chefs love their toys. From an ice cream machine, to a homemade pasta maker, to a nitrous charged foam thingamajig, they are constantly using things that keep their dishes on the edge of the dining scene. Some of these can be very simple, such as a toothpick to create designs on dessert plates for presentation effect. I saw it posted somewhere, if someone else saw it and can post a link, great, that chefs are now going to great lengths, including using certain kinds of drug paraphernalia to spice up their cooking methods.

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