Creating food art (i.e. taking responsibility for plating a dish) was once a highly sought after job reserved for a collection of styling experts putting together a glossy magazine spread or a high profile advertising shoot. Now, it’s the cornerstone of your daily newsfeed, and the linchpin for café and restaurant marketing strategies all over the country. Food styling = ‘grammable art and there’s no shying away from it if you consider yourself even a fraction of a ‘foodie’. From drooling over calorific doughnuts to salivating over hybrid desserts topped with edible flowers, just how important is food art when selling a dish? We spoke to some of Australia’s top chefs to find out, and to pick their brains on their #foodinspo, of course.
Bryce Edwards, Head Chef of popular vegetarian restaurant Transformer says the way a dish looks has a real impact on a diner’s first impression. “As the saying goes, you eat with your eyes. Food art has really taken that to the next level, making the presentation of a dish an integral part of the experience, rather than just a precursor to the main event,” he says.
Similarly, Andreas Papadakis, the culinary mastermind behind Tipo 00, believes you don’t have the perfect dish until the composition is right, which, from a dining perspective, stands to reason. You only have to step into a restaurant to find people hovering over their meals, smart phones perfectly poised, ready to capture the ideal flat lay image. “Food art allows chefs to be unique and original, regardless of if the inspiration is drawn by current trends,” he says.
Transformer’s Bryce Edwards recounts “the smear, the splat, negative space, monochrome, foams, airs and dusts” as just some of the trends that have gained prominence in plating over the last few years. “They all offer different layers of visual texture and depth and we have seen some beautiful looking dishes in the process, but it is amazing how quickly once process becomes old hat in favour of another.”
So, let’s take a closer look at food art trends. We lived through the ‘stacked plate’ era of the 90s and have seen more edible flowers on brunch dishes that we can count, but how much has plating up really changed? According to Hayden McFarland from Melbourne’s Woodland House, the answer is a lot. “It’s all about being able to wow guests with the way a dish is served, and growing the interaction between chef and diner by what is presented at the table.”
“Chefs have become more creative with not only how dishes are served, but also what they are served on. There seems to be a lot more freedom for a chef to express themself as opposed to the bygone era, which consisted of meat in the middle of the plate and garnishes encircling the star of the dish,” he says.
Executive Chef of Sydney’s Kensington Street Social, Robert Daniels attributes it to more about nature and keeping things natural. “There are a lot of techniques involved in getting each element onto the plate - gels, foams and spheres all have their place in cooking - but overall, plating is much more natural. Perhaps 'simplified plating’ is actually a trend in itself.”
But regardless of which trend is in, the advent of photo sharing apps like Instagram have forced the restaurant industry to up its game with plate presentation. “Daily uploads are the norm these days and if they aren’t taken and composed properly they can end up misrepresenting the business. Chefs have taken all this on board and invested a great deal of time into ensuring their dishes have a strong artistic approach,” says Edwards.
His favourite technique is applying a minimal approach to plating. “Covering up the main components of a dish with many precisely placed elements like heirloom radish, creates a great visual effect. It portrays simplicity, which is actually not really the case when under the veil you discover a bounty of flavours and textures.”
McFarland adds “Seeing a dish come to fruition – taking a dish from an idea to the end goal is a very satisfying feeling. Creating something impressive that will bring pleasure to the guest is the ultimate goal.”
See below for each chef’s favourite creation.
Dish: Lemongrass creme, mandarin, kalamansi jelly, basil and caramelised white chocolate
Chef: Bryce Edwards, Transformer: 99 Rose St, Fitzroy, VIC
“I really love old fashion cream-based desserts like creme brûlée or creme caramel and was looking to incorporate some of this. When considering how to plate a baked cream style dessert you really have two options, turn out the custard and serve on a plate or serve it in the vessel you have cooked it in. I came across some beakers that we used for a special event and thought I would try baking a lemongrass infused creme in them. After finding it worked I started to build other ingredients on top of the custard. Fruits, jellies, coconut and micro herbs went into the glass. The dish quickly started to resemble a terrarium so I used that as theme by which to finish the plating of the dessert.”
Dish: Ocean Trout Terrine & Horse Radish
Chef: Andreas Papadakis, Tipo 00: 361 Little Bourke St, Melbourne, VIC
“This is one of my favorite dishes to plate up at the moment. The trout is cured then cooked sous side with layers of basil in between - it’s already bright and colourful. We put it on a meteorite black plate with a horseradish dressing, salmon roe and micro herbs. It looks great. I was already working on the terrine and I new if it’d work it would be a cool dish. One Sunday morning I was looking around for new crockery and as soon as I saw the black meteorite plates, the whole dish came together in my head. Sometimes it’s as simple as that.”
Dish: Paroo kangaroo, soured sweet potato puree, wattle seed, pickled pear
Chef: Robert Daniels, Kensington Street Social: 3 Kensington St, Chippendale, NSW
“The inspiration for this dish was to showcase the cooking of the kangaroo loin. Serving kangaroo cooked correctly is very important, as the meat is very lean. It shows the diner we know what we are doing. We keep all our plating simple, but it’s got to be well executed. Simple and precise.”
Chef: Hayden McFarland, Woodland House: 78 Williams Rd, Prahran, VIC
Showcasing the marron as the central ingredient with sympathetic garnishes slightly offset so diners can mix and match tastes as they make their way through the plate.