Food Plating Techniques

Food Plating Techniques


Need new food plating techniques? Listen in with executive chef Ned Grieg.

John Maher:  Hi, I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Chef Ned Grieg, executive chef at Woodman’s and the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about plating. Welcome, Ned.

Ned Grieg:  Good afternoon.

Types of Plates to Use

John:  Ned, should you try to use a certain type of dish when plating food like China or any plate would do?

Ned:  Any plate will do if you don’t have a choice. As a catering company, yes, we use specific plates for certain types of things. First of all, you don’t want to have a plate that’s too small, it make your culinary offerings look like they’re all jammed on one plate. You’re much better off having a 12‑inch round charger so you can show your food. You really don’t want each object on the plate touching each other. That’s the first rule of thumb.

If you’re having different stations, you’re going to use smaller plates because people will get sampling at one particular station, they may be searing off scallops at one. Another one, they may be cutting tenderloin in a beef. Another one, maybe a risotto station.

John:  Because you don’t have to have four full‑sized plates at your table, they’re going to be all jammed together.

Ned:  The other thing is, when we’re passing hos d’oeuvres, I use different types of things. We use rectangular different shapes, really nice China.

We’ve been using recently salt blocks and you can serve things on them chilled in or hot. They look really gorgeous, it’s like a Himalayan one is red and there’s different salt blocks that you can get in different colors. They’re resistant to heat and the chilling.

That’s an interesting way to serve things and it’s also a conversation piece.

Food Colors on the Plate

John:  Yeah, that’s very interesting. Speaking of different colors, how should food colors be arranged on the plate?

Ned:  You do eat with your eyes. When you’re plating food it has to be absolutely gorgeous. You should be painting a picture when you put that culinary offering out there, whether it’s a one bite item or whatever. I do like colors, but lots of time if you’re working with your proteins, a piece of meat or a piece of fish, they don’t have much color.

One tip we’ve employed recently is using a lot of different types of microgreens. There are companies all over the country but two in specific I like is one in Long Island and another called Farmer Jones in Huron, Ohio. They have experimental gardens. They have over 275 microgreens that they grow.

John:  This will be like parsley type of thing?

Ned:  There are two leaves, that’s it and then they cut them. The one that I’ve been using recently is, what they call a “Signet Marigold Microgreen.” It tastes just like a tangerine. It’s unbelievable and I’ve been taking the microgreens and making them into pestos also. You can say that I was doing a warm smoked salmon canapé that was going out in a little potato or something. I make a pesto out of that tangerine signet marigold. When it warms up, you pass that order for the dining, it smells like you’re walking through an orange grove. It’s amazing.

John:  You call it tangerine pesto or something like that?

Ned:  Yeah. There are different colors. There’s another one called “Shiso” which is a Japanese herb, that’s a cross between basil and ginger but actually grows wild out in the West quite a bit because when the Asian immigrants were building the railroad, they cooked with it a lot and they would throw the leftovers after the side. It’s also grown wild.

I use a lot of microgreens. They look pretty; they’re just right. I’m not fussing with something else like that. When I’m doing Christmas parties or hos d’oeuvres being passed at Christmas time or Easter or whatever time, I make little posies out of flowers and fresh herb. I always make sure they’re organic and they’re pesticide free.

Food Plating at Home

John:  In terms of plating, can people do this at home if they’re having a dinner party, do you recommend that people set up the plates in the kitchen and then bring the plates out on nice plated to the dinner table, can people do that themselves?

Ned:  Oh yes absolutely! First of all, if you’re serving something hot, make sure you warm your plates in the oven or in your microwave if they don’t have gold on them. If you’re doing salads and things like that, leave them in the refrigerator and freeze it to the last minute. If you want to take it to the nth degree, you put your forks in the freezer also.

You fold the napkins, so it looks like they sit in a little pocket and you bring them out like that, you pass it. It’s just one more step that you’re really showing them you care about what you do. I’m sorry, what was your question again?

John:  Just wondering if people can do this on their own, can people go ahead and plate their food in the kitchen and hand it out to their guests in the dining room just like they would be almost in the restaurant?

Ned:  Absolutely. Many people like to entertain at home, small groups as a rule – anywhere from maybe three to six couples – and that’s very manageable. Who doesn’t like hanging out in the kitchen anyway, there’s always something to go on.

If you planted a garden, always make sure that your herb garden is right next to your doorstep because that’s usually the thing that you run out for more often than not. You don’t want to run down to the lower 40 so to speak to go and pick your garnish for your plates.

It isn’t just growing herbs, make sure you grow a lot of edible flowers.

Plating Clock Arrangement

John:  We were talking about colors before, I want to ask about the clock arrangement of the plate, certain things at two o’clock or six o’clock. Is there a certain way that what food goes at what time of the clock on the plate or where the color should go?

Ned:  Yes, there are. Usually if it’s your dinner, your entree, you want to trilogy on the plate. Your protein or your main party meal should be sitting right at six o’clock because you’re probably cutting that either with a fork and a knife and you want that closest to you. Where you put your starch and where you put your vegetable is up to you, that doesn’t seem to matter to me too much.

When you’re doing salads, it’s hard to figure out what’s the best place. What you want to do is, whatever shows the most color is what you want to show.

I was making the salad for this wedding tastings that we did recently. I made homemade grissini which is homemade bread sticks. I baked them as a triangle and I kept stacking them up so it looked like a tower and then the salad went down into the middle of it. That looked pretty cool, and then we were able to garnish it with some edible flowers sticking out the top. If you can do something out of the box, that’s what you do.

Stacking of Foods on the Plate

John:  I’ve seen a lot of plating at least on TV and at more fancy restaurants where things are maybe just in the center of the plate and they’re stacked quite high. Is that sort of typical thing where you do a lot of stacking of foods?

Ned:  Yeah, that does happen quite a bit, a lot more than you think. I remember, when I was running a restaurant up in Dorset, Vermont, we used to do this ground filet mignon with homemade onion rings. When I used to take the onion rings, they’d be perfect. The biggest one would be on the bottom, I kept stacking the smaller.

It looked like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. That was pretty good. We saw a lot of stake, that’s what it was all about.

Food Plating Portions

John:  What should the portions look like on the plate? Should they fill up the plate or should they leave a lot of empty space? You said you didn’t want to have the food touching each other.

Ned:  It’s best not to have your items touching each other as far as I’m concerned. It lasts more. I’m in my 50s, I’m not 25 anymore. I’m not looking for the great big 22 ounce porter house steak anymore. I would rather eat vegetables than eating meats and things, I eat a lot more fish.

A good size is – you can always go back for seconds. If you’re doing the dinner party yourself.

If you’re doing it for a wedding and all, our portion size is usually about seven ounces for poultry, about eight ounces for filet mignon.

If you use fish like haddock or salmon, if you put out seven ounces of haddock on a plate, it’s going to take up the whole plate. It doesn’t weigh much. The density of salmon or swordfish or tuna is a little bit less but it’s also a lot more rich. You can give a smaller portion there and it’s still appropriate.

Food Plating Garnishing

John:  What are some ways to properly garnish a meal? You were talking about those microgreens, is there any suggestions there?

Ned:  Anytime as fin fish or shellfish, most people like to squirt a little bit lemon on it, you can probably do lemon crown, make it look really pretty like that. I garnish my food with different types of chutneys also. I’ll make a lemon chutney or a lemon glaze. You can do different things of that nature.

John:  What’s the basic ingredients on a chutney?

Ned:  Sugar, vinegar, fruit, onions, and ginger. You can either do with tomatoes, blue plums. I’ve done it with just oranges before. I made a fennel chutney just the other day with pears in it. That was really good. I served that was salmon.

John:  Is it almost like more liquid‑y jam, that kind of thing if we think of it?

Ned:  Imagine having a marmalade without the marmalade bitterness to it and a little bit thinner. That’s what it taste like.

John:  That would make a nice little addition to a plate and it would add some color to it as well?

Ned:  Absolutely.

John:  That’s great information. For more information, you can visit or the Essex Room at Chef Ned Grieg, thanks very much for speaking with me today.

Ned:  Thank you for having me, John.