Tony Tobin on how to make your food look as good as it tastes
PUBLISHED: 16:29 14 September 2010 | UPDATED: 16:18 20 February 2013
Our celeb chef Tony Tobin reveals all about the importance of presentation
Last month, I spoke about the importance of ambience when youre entertaining. This month, I move on to the next level: presentation.
Any chef worth their salt knows that people eat half their meal with their eyes before it even hits their taste buds. They also know that the more keen that guests are to dig into the beautiful dish in front of them, the more likely they are to enjoy it. Guided by this principle, the simple rule is that great food has to look great. It needs colour, shape, texture and style.
Give it some colour!
Do you recall any wonderful grey paintings? No? Well, thats because
hardly anyone does! You might, however, remember David Attenborough on tropical islands telling us how the beautiful humming birds are attracted to the vivid reds and yellows of nectar-rich plants. Its the same with what we put on our plates. Two or three bright primary colours on a plate can lift it from the bland to the sublime and usually those colours will come from the ingredients you add in after the main event. Meats and fish are rarely colourful (although the pink in a piece of perfectly cooked lamb or steak is a succulent exception) but if you add in roasted red peppers, raw yellow peppers, grilled aubergine, chorizo, drizzled green pesto, bright salad leaves, redcurrants and rich shiny gravy thats what Im talking about!
Get in shape
This is a slightly more artistic skill but alongside vibrant colours, a well-presented dish will usually juxtapose a variety of different shapes. Long fine beans or steamed asparagus will sit alongside a circular ramekin shaped accompaniment of rice or mash. Never present a collection of lines or a herd of spheres on a plate. Cut your vegetables into shapes that will add art to your craft: julienne carrots, spaghetti strands of cucumber, crescent runner beans, crinkly lollo rosso and so on.
Add a little texture
Texture is a more complex presentational skill but it can be as integral to the beauty of your dish as your choice of shapes and colours. It has also been made much easier to plan texture thanks to the amazing range of mixers and blitzers on the market. I like to place streaks of rich pures alongside more robust ingredients. Think of a swish of pured Jerusalem artichoke snuggling up between a fillet steak and a Portobello mushroom baked with butter and balsamic vinegar.
Some of you might detect a chef getting somewhat carried away here and youd be right. The vision of a perfect dish can set a chef of 25 years salivating like a hungry child and it is this excitement that I would urge you to try and capture on the plate. Or, in fact, on the plates plural because another extremely important presentation tip is the correct match and contrast of portions and serving plates.
Like text and pictures on a page, ingredients need both a frame and some space to breath. A crowded plate might look like good value for money but thats a look for a chef who believes that eating is just a means for his or her diners to stay alive rather than one who wants to thrill them. Having said that, food should never look lost on a plate or appear messy, jumbled or fighting for space. Im not alone in favouring plates of different shapes and sizes, either, if it helps to enhance the look of a fantastic dish.
Finally, before you try my ultra-good-looking recipe of the month opposite, Ill leave you with a top tip. I know that balsamic glaze is a little bit overdone these days but a really good one in a squeezy container provides you with a great paintbrush to use on your crockery. A squiggle here, a dot there. Quick, easy and highly effective.
Oh, and for any of you who would like to see me put my cooking where my mouth is, dont forget the Croydon Food Festival where Ill be doing demonstrations on Sunday October 4. Hope to see you there!
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine October 2009
Our celebritychef Tony Tobin on how to make sure your cooking looks as good as it tastes