Food plays a central role in every culture across the world—it’s the time we come together, it’s the time we nourish ourselves, it’s often part of our celebrations and special events. Many of the great artworks throughout time often feature food in still-life paintings or a banquet scene. Entire economies depend on the consumption of food both in the home as purchased from grocery stores and markets and from outside the home as consumed in restaurants and fast-food shops. In every way we look, food plays an integral part in our lives.
It’s no wonder then that we choose to emphasize the integral part that food plays in our lives when we cook and serve meals in our own homes. Whether we’re cooking an everyday meal or preparing a special feast for an event, the way we serve our own food often shows its importance and the care that went into its preparation. The trend of decorative food—which is a special way to arrange food in an aesthetically pleasing manner—has begun to take hold as an enjoyable and beautiful way to serve food. Decorative food can range from simply the icing on a cake to something as extravagant as an ice sculpture or fruits cut and arranged to resemble a bouquet of flowers. Many people are beginning to enjoy and find creative ideas to prepare decorative food platters.
This seemingly new trend of arranging food into decorative displays actually has a rich history behind it. When it comes to serving food in a beautiful and astounding display, no one did it better than the Romans. The banquets held in ancient Rome were lavish displays of wealth that could make any self-proclaimed foodie of today freeze in their tracks. Not only did the ancient Romans value the serving of exotic foods like wild game and rare animals, but they also put great effort into how their food was served, setting the gold standard for decorative food displays. The ancient Romans were fond of displaying their wealth in any means possible, and food was simply another vehicle for those opulent displays. It has been noted by some ancient writers that the emperor Claudius order flakes of gold to be mixed in with peas and crushed pearls dusted into wine as a means of increasing their cost.
The presentation of food in ancient Rome is sure to inspire anyone seeking to arrange food in a memorable and show-stopping display. Not only did the ancient Romans take the displaying of food seriously, but they also paid great attention to the room in which that food was displayed. Banquet rooms were often filled with incredible sculptures for diners to enjoy as well as beautiful mosaics and murals. A helpful tip for decorative food displays as taken from the ancient Romans is to never neglect the room in which you plan to arrange food for displaying. The ancient Romans also created decadent rituals around the serving of food—it’s been discovered that some banquets would serve their main course as trumpets played music simultaneously. It’s clear that as many of us do today, the ancient Romans also viewed food as an aesthetic event and not simply a basic mechanism for staying alive.
If you’re seeking out ways to increase the beauty in the way you arrange food for serving just as the ancient Romans once did, there are many tips and tricks that can be considered for creating eye-catching decorative food displays. The first part of what you must take into consideration before you arrange food in a decorative manner is the food itself. The way you arrange food will depend on what food you plan to arrange—if you’re working with fruits and vegetables, you may be able to cut the pieces into various decorative shapes; if you’re working with meats or cold cuts, you won’t use the same technique of cutting into different shapes but will instead be more successful in your arrangement if you focus on the way you layer the pieces along with other pieces of food to create a full plate.
When you begin your decorative food arrangement by considering what food you are working with, this is also a great time to choose to add certain food items solely for their decorative value. Items like lettuce or even banana leaves are great choices to include in your food displays even if they aren’t intended for consumption. By using leaves as a base for your decorative food display, you can create a more natural appearance that evokes a tropical or luscious banquet scene rather than an overly formal display as you might evoke through the use of fine dining ware as a base to arrange food upon. You may also consider including a few pieces of food simply to add a spot of color in your arrangement; a few well-placed strawberries or orange slices can add the perfect pop of bright color that makes a decorative food display more eye-catching.
Another option to consider when planning what to include in your decorative food display is the inclusion of non-food items that are meant solely for aesthetic purposes. Such non-food items that can help to create a beautiful decorative food display are flowers, other plants, pieces of driftwood, beautiful gemstones, or even pieces of art like sculptures. All of these non-food items can be strategically placed near plates on a banquet table to create a memorable setting for guests to collect their food from.
Techniques for serving food in a decorative style are also important to creating effective displays. Fruits like oranges and apples can be sliced in ways that will utilize their bright red and orange outsides as contrasted with their lighter insides or the rind of an orange. This type of slicing can be used to create a beautiful multi-dimensional food display. Such a technique can be used with any fruit or vegetable whose inner color or inner rind color differs from its outer color, such as, green and red apples, lemons, oranges, and kiwis.
While decorative food displays often focus on using fruits and vegetables, the use of herbs can be a great tool for creating interesting and creative displays. A few sprigs of parleys can be placed as the stem of a flower when creating a food arrangement that is meant to look like a plant. Additionally, herbs that are heartier, like sprigs of rosemary, can be useful when creating food displays that use sticks for support. The sprigs of rosemary can be layered unto the support sticks to create the appearance of leaves as if on a branch. Herbs can be excellent decorative food display pieces when attempting to arrange the food so that it appears like a flower or other plant.
Certainly arranging food to create beautiful displays is an old practice that reaches even as far back as ancient Rome. While we might not be prepared to add crushed pearls or gold flakes to our food just yet, there are many other tricks and tips you can use at home to create beautiful decorative food displays. The way you arrange food for serving can be a source of creative enjoyment, so try out a few of these suggestions for adding some aesthetic appeal to your dinner plates and unleash your creativity (and then your appetite)!