The Art of Plate Presentation.

Yesterday we discussed plating desserts. I wanted to mention a great website for borrowing books, and one book in particular I love, “Grand Finales”. This is a wonderful read for pastry chefs, and you can find it here, and actually borrow it for up to 2 weeks virtually! Here is the link. Today we will look at principle dishes. By principle I mean entrees, appetizers, salads and all things savory. I would like to start by making a simple point about presentation. Everything, and I mean everything has to have a garnish component! Even “Pops Diner”, puts parsley or paprika to give the dish “pop”….pardon the pun. We are sensory creatures, and the first impression counts big time! At this time we aren’t discussing flavour composition, just plating….we can investigate that at a later date.

I personally use a fabulous website for reference, even now with the cumulative knowledge of 30+ years to jog my memory. Click the image below to check it out! I also have tons of forms, checklists, excel sheets, etc of my own creation over the years. Email me at if there is something specific you might need, and I will try to help!

Now lets look at plate presentation


A well designed plate will have a sense of balance. “Balance” doesn’t necessarily mean symmetry. A beautiful presentation which appears to be chaotic can actually have balance and a hidden structure, whereas a chaotic mess on the plate is simply that…a mess on the plate…it lacks balance and structure. Balance means that you look at a plate and it makes sense, you understand it, you may even think “wow! that’s nice!”

But a plate that is confusing to the eye, or is distracting because there is either no focal point or too many focal points, are lacking balance. The art of plate presentation can be simple…or very complicated!

Focal Point

The focal point of the dish is the spot which the eye goes to first, the item which draws your attention. Be aware of the way your eye moves around the dish. What does it notice first? Where does it go next? What is the last thing your eye goes to? Know what your focal point of the dish is, and make sure that the focal point is also the item on the dish which you want to highlight. Techniques which create a focal point include color, elevation, and placement. Bright or contrasting colors draw the eye. Elevation draws the eye. And where you place something on the plate either accentuates or “hides” it. Use any or all of these to create the spot you want to be your focal point.

Additionally, we read from left to right, our eyes are used to moving that way, it feels natural to us. So your focal point should usually be either near the center or left of center. This certainly isn’t set in stone, it’s simply a general practice which is easier to work with…however, sometimes the focal point can be on the right, it is just a little more difficult to achieve that sense of balance.

Know the Clock

Chefs will often describe a dish using a clock for placement. The front (bottom) of the plate is 6 o’clock, you can deduce the rest. In the image below the servers would be told, “The front scallop gets placed at 5 o’clock in front of the guest.” Part of the visual appeal is the angle at which the plate is viewed. Placing the plate before the guest with that scallop at 6 o’clock changes the entire presentation!

Negative or White Space

Leave some areas of the plate empty. This helps to “frame” the items you are presenting, drawing the eye to what is important. If the entire plate is filled with food then there is nothing to see, nothing to look at, because it is just one big mass.


Giving items on the plate elevation or height brings visual dimension to the design, making it “3-D” rather than flat. The trick is to plate the elevated element on the plate in such a way that the design flows and it doesn’t hide other elements. The typical spots to place your elevated component are usually in the center or back left. Placing it at the front of the plate (6 o’clock) rarely works because then it hides the rest of the dish.

Similar Colors

Making a dish of completely similar colors can be challenging because if all the colors are the same hue then the dish can become one dimensional and boring. But, adding a small amount of opposing color to an otherwise “same-hued” dish can make it stand-out.

Contrasting Colors

Most of the time you will use contrasting colors to add “pop” to the presentation. With the exception of soups & salads, browns and golds (the colors of seared proteins) dominate most plates. So adding red, green, or purple brings contrast and interest to the design.

Plate Shape

Play with different shaped plates. If you are having difficulty getting an aesthetic design for your dish, try a different shaped plate! Sometimes the same design on a round plate is horrible but on a rectangular plate it’s perfect.

Plate Size

Same as above. Sometimes moving your dish to a larger or smaller plate is all that’s needed to help re-focus the final design.

Plate Color

The general consensus is that white plates tend to work best. Having said that, black plates with bright colored foods look awesome! If you use colored plates just be sure that you can still see the food. Dark food on dark plates is no good. Also, overly designed plates with lots of color, flowers, designs, whatever will detract from your food and make artistic presentations more difficult. These plates would be impossible to do any design on…the plate itself is the presentation.