Components of an artistic plate design

art of plate design infographicToday’s most successful chefs are multi-talented. And I’m not just talking about TV or world famous chefs. Our industry has changed massively over the past few decades. Today’s best chefs are successful businessmen with the financial savvy to manage their food costs, control operational expenses, train staff how to repeat what they themselves do, interact with socially adept guests, and produce quality cuisine. But it is cooking great food and practicing the art of plate presentation which most of us enjoy the most.

Of all the work that we do, the art of plate presentation is one of the most intriguing. Creating a visually stunning “picture on the plate” and hearing “Wow! That’s beautiful!” brings a great sense of creative satisfaction…so long as the next comment is “It tastes even better than it looks!” Visual beauty without fantastic flavor is garbage.

Today’s chefs are so talented, so artistic, so visually creative that presentations run the full gamut of super simple to very complex. And each restaurant will have it’s own creative style which is often defined by it’s cuisine. For instance, many of the presentations below are geared toward the high-end establishment and are too complex for the average restaurant, but perhaps would still work for the chef’s special, the one place where a chef can truly highlight his/her talents and train staff the etiquette of plate design.

So, what makes for a great presentation? How do you go about designing a plate? What are the do’s and don’ts? Here are things which I’ve found helpful. The first step is to try to visualize the plate in your mind. What do you want it to look like? Is there a design idea you want to use as a template. Have you seen a presentation you’d like to mimic using your food instead? For me, it usually starts with the concept of lines, arcs, circles and/or triangles.

Download and share the infographic on the right…just share a link back to this site!

The Art of Plate Presentation – Lines, Arcs, Circles and Triangles

Simple geometric shapes are the “skeleton” of plate design, the base upon which the flesh is added. Consider all the images which follow and how all plate presentations can be defined by simple geometric shapes: lines, arcs, circles, etc. Being able to “see” the underlying patterns (skeleton) of a layout make it easier to visualize the end result, and to play with variations of design before you ever put food to plate.

I always start my plates by thinking of the lines, arcs and patterns that may work, often using my hands to draw an imaginary design on an empty plate to help me visualize it before I even start adding food.

Geometric shapes are the basis of plate designBasic Lines, Arcs & Circles are the skeleton of Plate Presentation

 

Single Line Single Line

These presentations takes full advantage of white space.

Single Line plate design Chef Stephanie Alexander

Single Line plate presentation Chef Alan Murchison

 

Two Lines Multiple Lines

Two lines can be used in a variety of ways to create stunning presentations. Sometimes used as 2 parallel lines, somes crossing each other to form an “X”.

Two Vertical Lines

Plate Presentation: 2 Lines Chef David Buchanan

Plate Presentation: 2 Lines francinezaslow.com

 

Horizontal Lines Horizontal Lines

Horizontal lines on the plate are a great way to really feature the full details of what you are displaying because this perspective gives the fullest view of what’s being presented.

Horizontal LinesChef Daniel Humm

Plate Presentation: Horizontal LinesCanlis, Seattle

 

Two Lines – Crossing (like an X) Crossing Lines

What’s interesting about this design matrix is that it is more interesting, more visually appealing, if the crossing point is off-center, especially if the starting and ending points of each line is also random (i.e. not side by side).

2 Lines forming an XChef Alain Ducasse

Plate Presentation: 2 Lines forming an XChef Sven Elverfeld

 

Three Vertical Lines

This style works especially well if you are plating a trio.

3 Vertical Lines Éric Gonzalez – Ivan Apostolov

Plate Presentation: 3 Vertical LinesChef David Buchanan

 

Arcs Arcs

Arcs (affectionately called a “swoosh”) add fluidity and a sense of motion to a presentation. If your design looks too “hard” or too “blocky” try adding an arc or two.

plating with Arcs notice the 4 arcs

Arcs in plate designChef Elie K

 

Arc & Line Line and Arc

A single arc and a single line. This design brings both fluidity (the arc) and stability or strength (the line) to a presentation. The center image is a horizontal line inside an arc.

Arc and Line Chef Kelly Liken

Arc and horizontal Line Chef George Tannock

Plate Design: Arc and Line Chef David Buchanan

 

Circle and Line Line and Circle

Similar to Arc & Line, this offers both a soft and a hard component to the plate. Typically the circle is off-center to the left.

Art of Plate Design: Circle and Line Chef Chris Nugent

Circle and Line Chef Chris Nugent

Circle and Line design Chef Peter Michael L

 

Structured Chaos

Some plates look like chaos, but a closer look reveals structure. This is one of the hardest plating styles to successfully pull off…if its wrong then all you have is a mess on a plate. Balance, white space, and a focal point is the key.

Structured Chaos design Chef Jan Verhelst
the vertical line on the left anchors this design.
Structured Chaos plate design Chef Yann Bernard Lejard
the master of artistic “splat”
Structured Chaos design Eat a Duck I Must

 

Triangle Triangle

The classic 3 component (starch, veg, protein) design: 10 o’clock, 2 o’clock, 6 o’clock. But also used for more avante garde presentations.

traditional triangle designChef David Buchanan

avante garde triangle design photo by Debora Smail

 

Centered Circle Circle

A classic presentation is to center everything, making a tower in the center of the plate, stacking all the components, and then putting a “mote” of sauce around it all. This presentation style also gives great height (elevation) to the design.

Centered, stacked plate layoutChef Dean Shinagawa

Centered design Chef Dean Shinagawa
via Seattle PI

 

Off-Center

A more modern approach is to place items slightly off-center. Being a little off-center creates tension and interest for the eye.

Off center plate layout Chef Yann Bernard Lejard

Off center plate design Chef Thomas Keller

Off center Chef Ahmed Fatheen

 

Complexity

The plate design below is beautifully intricate yet somehow appearing to be simple. Complex plate designs are difficult to pull off for multiple reasons. First, too much on the plate can quickly turn into confusion. It takes a skilled eye to make complexity aesthetically balanced. Second, intricacy takes time to plate correctly…do you have time to plate this dish correctly during service? Third, very few people have the eye and the hand to plate complex designs correctly…so you will probably have to create every plate yourself during service.

Complex plate designChef Gianfranco Chiarini

 

Breaking the Rules – Decorating the Rim

The old rule of plating was to keep everything off the rim. The rim acted as a frame for the plate and the Chef would yell at you if you had even a speckle on the rim. Today, the rim is often still considered to be a border…but it is a border to be played with!

Plating on the plate edgeRestaurante 100 Maneiras

Plating on the rim Chef Vicky Lau
via TheArtof Plating.com

 

Other Components of Plate Design

Balance

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!

Knowing the clock positionsChef David Buchanan

 

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.

Using white spaceChef David Buchanan

Using negative space Chef Vicky Lau
via Four-Magazine.com

 

Elevation

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.

Using Height or ElevationUnknown

Using ElevationChef Ram

 

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 such as this one by Chef Alain Ducasse.

Knowing the clock positionsChef Alain Ducasse

 

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.

using contrasting colorsUnknown

 

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.

choose the correct plate color

 

Garnishes

Small, subtle garnishes can really bring a plate to life.

Take a Photo

I’ve found that if I take a photo of a dish that I can then evaluate it from a more objective perspective. It’s easier to look at a photo and see how you can tweak the presentation to add more balance. You’ll see where you need more or less white space, where a splash of color is needed, or what components are distracting.

In a busy kitchen we usually don’t have the luxury to spend that additional time to photograph a dish when developing a presentation. But if you have a very special dish you’re working on then taking a photo can help finalize your plate design. It is one of the “secret tools” in the art of plate presentation.

Visual Texture

By visual texture I mean different shapes, textures, heights, densities. In this image you have the denseness of the lobster, the green puree is soft yet stable enough to mound, the orange foam is light and airy. The pea shoots add a certain whimsicalness to the plate, and the morels offer visual complexity. Lastly, the small granules on the right add a finishing touch of finesse and a sense of “crunch” to the plate.

art of plate presentation - using Visual TextureChef Daniel Humm
Eleven Madison Park

 

Inspirational Sources for Plate Presentation

The internet provides access to a host of inspirational sites for plating ideas. Here are a few of my favorites:

What are your favorite sources of plating inspiration?
Who are some of your favorite artistic chefs?
What are your thoughts on the art of plate presentation?



 

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Eating In Translation

For the centered-circle presentation, I trust that you’d surround the tower with a “moat”; a “mote” of sauce might leave the dish high and dry! That aside, thanks for an article that offers much to consider, not just for chefs but for photographers, too.

ChefsResources

Glad you enjoyed the article @disqus_987sgGpb9W:disqus . You mentioned photographers and it reminded me that when I photograph a dish that I often get additional insights into a slightly better presentation when I look at the photo. I’ll have to add that to the article!

ronan talbot

hello david i find your web site in linkedin, is very interesting. i am a gourmet restaurant but i dont know au to pass the next level . cant you advise me for the presentation of the plate. the link with reduction of balsamico vinaigar or with reduc of mango ? or creme. do you use a brush? or a pipette. une need to move on specialy for the maine course, my dish doesnt look modern enought no fashionable the main course. my dish doesnt look fasi joins you some of them if you can tell me what do you… Read more »

ronan talbot

david i send you some of my dish for you to comment it. ronan talbot

Deedra

The art of plate presentation just blew me away. I have the kind of dishs that don’t allow me to do this because they have a busy pattern. I am drawn to the Know your clock and the off center presentations because I feel the more fuller the plate looks the more satisfied the person.
I found your post from the Gordon Ramsay Masterclass.

Vince B.

I found it in Gordon Ramsay’s Master Class as well. Very helpful. Plate presentation is probably where I need to strengthen my skills the most so this was truly helpful. It was in the class work book listed in the paragraph below. Thank you!

• Plating and presentation are paramount. Read this article https://www.chefs-resources.com/kitchen-management-tools/fond-tidbits-for-chefs/the-art-of-plate-presentation/
for rules and tips on visually stunning contemporary food
presentation.

Brian96797

I also found this page from Gordon’s MasterClass. It’s a class being taught by Gordon Ramsey on http://www.masterclass.com. There’s a workbook that goes along with each session and the workbook linked to this page.

Tanya Paterson

I too found your page through the Gordon Ramsay Masterclass. I loved your hints and tips on making a beautiful plate! I have much to learn!

Heather Stugen

Hello, I found this article incredibly helpful and will be useful for the future. I am currently doing Gordon Ramsay’s Masterclass which is how I came to your webpage. I would love to send you some images of food I have prepared to get your feedback on it. Do you have an email or some other way for me to send these. Thank you!

Brenda Merriman

Hello, I too found your article through the link on Gordon Ramsay’s Masterclass. Thank you for the great tips. Maybe one day I will be able to make my dishes look as beautiful.

Janice Germani

hi, thanks for such a great article. I am a chef and a university student and i need to use this article for a reference in my final research, Is it possible to know who wrote this article and the year please? thanks again and if you please have similar articles please let me know

Janice Germani

Thanks alot will do if i have the authorizations from the university once its finished

Emily Klunk

Hello,
This is a great resource! I am working on a webinar on plate presentation and would love to have the permission to use some of these images. Who would I need to contact for this permission? Thanks.

David Buchanan

@emilyklunk:disqus so glad you find the page useful! I only can give permission for the images by chef David Buchanan and the first image of lines, arcs, circles. All the rest you would need to follow the links on each image to the original page and seek approval from there.

For the images from David the only requirement is that you give a credit link back to this page. I’d love to see your final work!

Emily Klunk

Thank you David!

Selaine Jommo

Good article. Thanks.

Sophie

Can you recommend a book on the art of plate presentation which has the information on this webpage?

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