How to Make Brown Food Gorgeous (Really)

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Do you know of any texts that specifically address the art of presentation of foods? As a home cook, I often find it difficult to create physically attractive plates given the limitations of my home kitchen.

We, along with much of the rest of the American public, used to watch a TV chef who, week after week, spooned mounds of brown food onto serving platters, all the while exclaiming, "Isn't that gorgeous?" Needless to say, it wasn't ever gorgeous. It often looked like good food, but it was never gorgeous. Spraying a handful of chopped parsley across the top didn't make it gorgeous either, although it did dress it up slightly.

Dressing plates has become a requirement — almost a competition — in the restaurant world, and readers of certain food magazines who seldom cook but love to be photographed in their all-stainless-steel-and-granite kitchens seem to put more effort into their presentation than their preparation. We would like to go on record here as putting flavor, nutrition, temperature (hot food served hot, cold food served cold), sanitation, and a happy, healthy family and/or dinner guests above food presentation. But if you can get all those other bits right, why not make it look good, too? As the Italian proverb says, "Our eyes must have their share."

There are a few books on the market that address your desire. For the serious, the career-minded stylist, you might consider Food Photography and Styling/How to Prepare, Light, and Photograph Delectable Food and Drinks (Canada, UK), although it's on the expensive side and a little long in the tooth now.

Another choice is Dishing with Style: Secrets to Great Tastes and Beautiful Presentations (Canada, UK), a cookbook that combines recipes with generally two suggestions for presenting the dishes — one family style, one elegant.

There are also a number of books that will help you take mounds of delicious brown food and dress up the serving platter or individual plates with any number of garnishes: The Book of Garnishes (Canada, UK), Garnishing (Canada, UK), and Food Art: Garnishing Made Easy (Canada, UK).

Other options include watching cooking shows for presentation ideas; these days, no one has a cooking show who doesn't create pretty plates. It simply isn't allowed. You might also see if there are any cooking schools in your area that offer classes on food styling.