Every culinary presentation starts with a creative process.
Here is a sketch by one of the masters of our craft: Grant Achatz of Alinea restaurant in Chicago. He is of course known for his avant-garde cuisine and whimsical presentations. To achieve stunning presentations like this one, chef Achatz starts with an idea, a concept, then brainstorms with his team of chefs, with a professional assigned to create the support (aka the plates), and goes to the drawing board.
The sketch then becomes a reality (see below).
What can I say? Rarely in the history of Gastronomy have we seen such a perfection in the creative process. He really pushed the envellope when it comes to dedicating brain cells to the creation of a dish.
But that should be our process too. Thinking things through. It doesn’t have to be that involved, but each plate coming out of our kitchens must be the result of some kind of carefully thought process.
Among the factors to take into consideration is our target audience. We want to be aware of what our customers are looking for. For instance, the food you see below may be more suitable to sophisticated urban diners in New York than early birds in Lisbon, Portugal.
The importance of FUNCTION is also a serious factor. Dishes must be functional; they must work for us. They must make sense. If we work for a fast casual restaurant for instance, it doesn’t make sense to create a dish that require 7 or 8 plating steps. 3 will be plenty.
Another example would be the purpose of garnish. Are garnishes necessary?.. If so, what
is acceptable to put on a plate?..
These are all good questions to ask during the creative process.
I remember when I started as a chef, I was more worried about the presentation of a dish than its flavor or functionality. It’s important to always remember that when it comes to plating food, that food must taste good, and it must be functional enough. Flavor and function must always overpower the presentation.
As a side note, I found out that most culinary students try to improve their plated food presentations by adding stuff. They try to add because they think that by adding something, anything, like an extravagant garnish for instance, their plate will always look better. They think it can only add to the presentation.
Unfortunately, the overall beauty of a food presentation most often relies on the specific beauty of each of its elements. No need to add anything. In other words, if you want to plate a chicken breast, some mashed potatoes and a few sauteed vegetables, you’d better FIRST pay attention to how the chicken breast, the mashed potatoes and the sauteed vegetables look individually, BEFORE you even pay attention to the overall presentation.
FUNCTION, then, is an important factor.