The way we present food after cooking can be just as important as the way we prepare it during cooking. The many creative ideas that can be used to arrange food are part of what makes food such a fun and enjoyable part of our lives. Whether we are preparing a romantic dinner for a partner or decorating a cake for a friend’s birthday, the presentation of food has always been part and parcel with the creation and consumption of food.
Even throughout history, decorative food presentations have existed as methods for including food as a celebratory part of any event. During medieval times, banquets were held as a way to entertain guests while simultaneously displaying one’s wealth and status. Many wealthy medieval aristocrats would take hold of banquets as an opportunity to hire artisans that would transform food into extravagant displays, creating sculptures from food that would amaze guests. One of the popular ways that aristocrats would use their banquets and the food served to create exciting aesthetic experiences for guests was in the creation of pies and cakes that were made to release a live bird from within once it was cut open.
While you may not be prepared to hide live animals within your decorative food displays, we can still look to many parts of the world today that continue the tradition of decorative food presentations in many ways. In contemporary culinary culture, the importance of the way one decides to arrange food can be seen in the French styles of cooking, cuisine classique and nouvelle cuisine. In both of these cooking styles, the presentation of the food is emphasized and importance is placed on the styling and appearance of each dish, not merely on the preparation itself.
Cuisine classique put weight upon the creation of dishes that were complex and styled to appear grandiose; this school of thought in regards to cooking emphasized the value in creating tantalizing dishes that looked just as decadent as they tasted. To take inspiration from this style of cooking when preparing your own decorative food displays, you might want to imagine your dish will be served to the most important person in the country who will judge it partially on appearance alone. Based on the cooking philosophy of cuisine classique, you might decide to create a more elaborate appearance with food, such as putting different food items together to create an entire food sculpture and using tools like toothpicks to utilize height in the way you arrange food. Using height as a tool for creating interesting food presentations is an important tip that will take your decorative food displays to the next level. Instead of laying all the food items flat, try to build upwards, as it can be more eye-catching and will add an interesting aspect of dimension to your display.
Nouvelle cuisine is a culinary style that came after the period of cuisine classique that brought an interesting change in food styling with it. With this philosophy of food preparation, a “less is more” approach is the foundation. The nouvelle cuisine era was a response to the extravagance of the cuisine classique style of food preparation; it sought to do away with unnecessary excess and instead emphasize the beauty of minimalism. In creating your own decorative food presentations, the best way to take a page out of the nouvelle cuisine playbook is to go the route of minimalism by letting a few main pieces of food play the major roles in your presentation. Choose a focal point that will draw a viewer’s eye into the display and let this point take most of the space in your presentation. You can also utilize some of the same decorative food strategies from the nouvelle cuisine school of thought by using sauces as a sort of paint; instead of simply placing a sauce into a bowl, use some of the sauce to draw an abstract form like long elegant lines or circles. These markings made with a sauce are reminiscent of a painter’s brush strokes and create a beautiful minimalistic aspect to any decorative food display.
Another creative idea that can be employed when you arrange food to create an appealing presentation is the element of sculpture. Considering the method that medieval aristocrats employed when hosting banquets, the sculpting of food into different shapes, whether abstract or figurative, is a tried and true way to create a memorable decorative food display. A major trend that is occurring now is the shaping of food like fruit into images like flowers or animals. One can create eye-catching decorative food presentations by sculpting pieces of fruit or vegetables into various shapes and then layering those slices upon different pieces of food; in this way, people have created images of butterflies, ladybugs, flowers, and birds. Sculpting food to create beautiful displays can entail the use of as many shapes as one can create, leaving plenty of room for creative ideas.
When creating a decorative food display, it’s also useful to remember the most basic principles of art. While cooking itself may be more of a science, the manner in which you arrange food to create an eye-catching display is most certainly an art. Considering art, some of the most effective principles of art to employ in creating decorative food presentations are those of pattern and rhythm. When using a pattern, you are creating a repetition of elements; this can be done by repeating the placement of food items in the same way over and over on a surface. Using a pattern is an excellent way to create an interesting and eye-catching food presentation. Pattern is also one of the easier techniques to use when arranging food. Simply think of a creative idea for who you will arrange the food items you have and then repeat that arrangement with all the necessary food items. You can create patterns that utilize both the food item itself, the shape of the food, and the color of the food.
When using rhythm to create your decorative food display, you’ll be utilizing a principle of art similar to pattern, yet with rhythm, you will repeat items in a variable way. By adding some different colors, shapes, or food items into the display, you’ll create a sense of movement that draws the eye in. Rhythm exists when there is repetition, such as with pattern, but not only one pattern is being used. The multiple patterns that create a sense of rhythm are what makes an image more compelling. Decorative food displays can also be more abstract rather than figurative in displaying food by using these elements of art to create movement with pattern and rhythm.
Creating your own decorative food presentations can be the perfect opportunity to encourage yourself to follow through with creative ideas. The way we arrange food before eating can be its own form of art that we all have access to. Explore the different histories of food presentation and harness the principles of art when creating your next meal; you might surprise yourself with what creative ideas leap forward when you begin to create your own decorative food displays.