The Recipe Rock Star is a cooking tutorial series meant to make you a better home cook. It's essentially kitchen hacking.
So far, we've covered one focused minute, mise en place, the importance of quality, the proper tools for the task and details that make a big impact and organizing under pressure. These aren't necessarily ordered, so feel free to read, review, skim or skip. Now then...
A gorgeous little appetizer from Soto in the West Village, NYC. Note the color contrast, the vertical rise, and the shiso flowers: A beautiful, delicious garnish.
Recipe Rock Star #7: Perfect Your Presentation
What's a major differences between your delicious home-cooked delights and those you find in a restaurant? Setting aside tab, tax and tip, tablecloth, menu, crumb-scraper, cook, dishwasher and waitstaff for a moment... it's presentation. Restaurants endeavor to feed your eyes as well as your mouth.
Professional cooks have a bag of tricks that make food look real purty. You can snatch up one or two and make a big difference in the number of oohs and ahhs you rack up at any given dinner party or special occasion.
In Edition 5, I mentioned the Last-Minute Herb Attack... a staple of any mid-level kitchen environment.
Ever notice how restaurant chefs often toss a pinch of fresh-chopped parsley, cilantro, basil, chervil, rosemary, chives or mint on top of your dinner entrée? It's not just garnish (although fresh herbs do generally make any dish look a little more swanky.) The vibrant, verdant flavors of the last-minute herb sprinkle (or citrus squeeze) have a big flavor impact... particularly in heavy dishes that benefit from the contrast.
Let's expand on that a little. Japanese food, just for example, is often presented with a great deal of attention paid to eye-appeal. Consider: Dark seaweed wrapped around white rice. Interesting, varied shapes. Striking color contrasts. Geometric plates. Dramatic, edible garnishes.
Metal rings in action as the veggies await the fanned slices of meat, a drizzle of sauce and an herb attack at the chef's station.
Restaurants will often use metal rings when plating starches or vegetables. Meats are sliced and fanned across. Plastic squeeze bottles are sometimes used to distribute the sauce just so... here in a pool, there in a drizzle.
And then, of course, there are garnishes: Edible flowers. Micro-greens. A chiffonade of herbs. One lovely shiso leaf. A perfectly placed pile of roe. A sprinkle of fleur de sel. A tiny flake of sparkling gold leaf.
In culinary school, plate presentation was so key, we were asked to make drawings to plan out all the meals we were to cook. Food elements were to be arranged in odd numbers and triangles. Attention had to be paid to height, color balance and distribution on the plate, with focus at the center.
The next time you're planning a special meal (perhaps in say... a month from now around Valentine's Day?), consider thinking past the grocery list and the clean fold of the napkins. A little attention paid to how a plate looks makes a big difference in how it's received.