I am not a professional by any stretch of the imagination but I do firmly believe that, since we eat with our eyes first, that the presentation of food is essential – even the meals we eat everyday need to look nice. I really enjoy cooking for other people which is why I am frequently inviting people round for meals and one of the things I am always known for is my presentation, even for a simple lunch with friends. Part of this, admitedly, is because I am just a sucker for compliments.
It has become a joke in our family that, whilst they ladle things on to the plate with little regard, I plate up nicely. But presentation is important whether you are enjoying a simple meal with family or friends gathering. With a few simple tricks, final flourishes and just a little time you can make a ordinary plate of food look that little bit special.
Listed below are some secrets I have gleaned over the years from pros in the business and developed myself.
1. The Bare Essentials. Good Home Cooking. You would not be surprised to learn that there are many people who rarely have a good home cooked meal and, so, the simple preparation of a good roast meal or homely shepherds pie is perfectly sufficient for a friends or family gathering. Sure on those extra special occasions you may want to push the boat our and create an elaborate four course meal but, generally, its not essential for every single one!
2. Setting the Scene: A nicely laid out table is essential. For everyday I like to use one of my simple crisp white cotton table clothes. Its been in the family for a long time. On top of this I like to add just a splash of colour with some patterned napkins and place mats (essential if you want to protect your table cloth in my view, but if pretty add a lovely splash of colour). Simple flowers in the center or, when wanting a touch more zaz, a few tea light candles are beautiful.
3. The Table. I frequently write here about my desire for a large oak table at the very center of an old fashioned kitchen. But really in the of box houses so few of us have these to hands. In my view eating at the table is not just for special occasions and so, for me, its one of the most essential pieces in my home. Our own home is quite small but we still manage to have a lovely dining – very similar to the Adorno Dining Table pictured here. The beauty of such a table is its perfect for intimate gatherings and can be extended to accommodate a few more!
4. Dinner Service Sets are not essential unless you really are pushing the boat out as we say here in Yorkshire. Honestly provided they look nice who cares if they dont all match? Sure I hate chipped ugly plates as much as the next person but I absolutely adore my mismatched service with plates of all colours. Its a hand painted set from the small town of Nerja in Spain I brought back a few years ago. Each and every one is decorated with an ornate pattern – they are heavy clay plates but I love their uniqueness – and they always get lovely comments regardless of the stature of the guest! I love my ornate range and rarely use anything else – which is why my table cloth remains white – wouldnt want to affect the eyes of my guests!
5. Lose the Bottles. You can always guarantee you will have someone at your table who wants condiments but, personally, I hate bottles. Lose them. It may be an extra bit of washing up but decanting condiments into small bottles or bowls adds a touch of flair.
6. Go Family Style. Bit platters of food in the center of the table are all the range and its one I have been doing a lot lately. Its informal, social and can look impressive if done correctly with just a little thought for presentation.
7. Be Individual. Family dining may not always be appropriate particularly if you have many guests and a small table. Desserts, for example, I always like to serve in something pretty – even if its just a little homemade ice cream. Serve in a pretty glass – or, as one of my favourites, serve things like chocolate cream or mousse in an expresso cup – very pretty!
8. Presentation. You would be surprised how much difference careful plating and a few fresh herbs can do. A drizzle of olive oil, a trick I picked up from my travels in Spain, can add a beautiful sheen to a salad, pizza or other savoury dish. Look to ensure your main dishes have a touch of colour and contrast, and try to avoid dull lifeless presentation.
9. The small things! Warm your plates (always amazing how quickly hot food gets cold). When having a really special dinner prepare as much as you can in advance so you are not chained to the kitchen serve getting the next course ready – nothing wrong with a previously prepared chilled dessert for example, or cheese and a few crackers.