Have you ever stumbled across a dish “too beautiful to eat”? Something so gorgeously constructed it deserves to be framed and hung in a museum? If you’ve ever dined in one of the 16 restaurants owned by renowned French chef Daniel Boulud, you know exactly what we’re talking about. But did you know that these pieces of edible art can be recreated in your very own kitchen?
“With every dish you plate, keep in mind how you want it to be enjoyed on the tongue; plating is like drawing a map on a plate, to guide the eater without having to utter a word,” explains Ed Scarpone, the executive chef of Boulud’s D.C.-based eatery DBGB Kitchen and Bar. “Each mouthful is meant to provide enjoyment, but also keep them wanting more. Plating isn’t just about arranging food to look good, but also to please the senses and create an experience of eating.” Below, Scarpone gives us his top tips for plating like Picasso.
1. Have Fun with Shapes, Swooshes, and Smears
“Ingredients come in all shapes and sizes, some naturally—the round caps of button mushrooms—and others with basic knife skills—apples diced in small squares; sweet potato cut in triangular wedges. Use these geometric elements to your advantage when plating,” advises Scarpone. “Have fun with dots, lines, swooshes, smears… sometimes you’ll want to let the ingredients lay where they fall, other times you can arrange them perfectly.”
Seared Scallops, Broccoli Rabe, Burdock, Sweet Potato
How to recreate this look:
1. Place a large spoonful of sweet potato puree at one end of the plate, then using the back of the spoon, spread the puree toward the other end.
2. Place seared scallops on top of the puree.
3. Arrange vegetables in alternating order, all staying within the "lines" of the sweet potato puree.
4. Use a wet napkin to clean the white space of the plate.
Let Nature Be Your Guide
“When you’re using fresh, seasonal ingredients very little manipulation or ‘help’ is needed to make them look as beautiful as they taste," Scarpone explains. "Take crudités: peak season vegetables arranged nicely on a plate is the epitome of Mother Nature providing you with all the colors you need. To take it a step further, arrange fruits and vegetables in unexpected ways—we all know cantaloupe is orange and honey dew is green, but slicing the melons thin and folding the flesh into cylinders brings excitement to a familiar fruit.”
"Relish Tray" (a seasonal assortment of fresh and pickled vegetables, with tip of dips, including romesco, spicy housemade ranch, spring pea hummus)
How to recreate this look:
1. On a square or rectangular dish, spread hummus in a rectangular area, leaving some room along the edges for the dips.
2. Start by placing the larger vegetables (cauliflower, cherry tomatoes, beets), then layer in smaller vegetables (snap peas, asparagus), and fill in any "holes" with curly frisee lettuce.
3. Select three dips of varying colors and place alongside the vegetables in individual ramekins.
Tools + Technique = Wow Factor
“Spoiler alert: tools aren’t everything!” says Scarpone. “It takes a combination of ‘chef tools’ and years of honing technique to really hit the ball out of the park when it comes to plating, but there are a few simple instruments that can easily achieve a wow factor.”
Fluke Crudo, Black Sesame, Juniper, Grapefruit, Fried Shallot
A pastry brush: “Simply brush strokes of puree on a plate as you would paint on a wall; it adds a certain ‘how did they do that’ mystique.” ($8; amazon.com)
Squeeze bottles: “These can be purchased at most grocery stores and are the perfect catalyst to draw straight lines or add those fancy dots you see at restaurants and on TV.” ($7; amazon.com)
Small spatulas: “Use these to push, pull, and drag purees across a plate or place items on top of each other to really draw focus to certain areas.” ($6; amazon.com)