We live in a world run by the art of plating. Beyond just making a dish Instagram-worthy, presentation is important because people gravitate naturally toward beauty.
In creating beautiful presentations as executive chef at Outlook Kitchen and Bar, I’m allowed to create a platform for expression and innovation and get people excited and interested in trying new foods or flavors or cuisines. What ropes them in is the fact that the dish is visually enticing. Ultimately, it’s about the flavor, but it’s also about textures and colors and the play between hot and cold–which for me is not just about temperatures, but about those colors as well. People eat with their eyes first.
This all ties into my background in drawing and painting and even in writing later on in my life. I’ve always been seriously creative. For a long time, I wanted to go to art school. Ultimately, my dad’s a doctor so I got roped into the medical field a bit with thinking I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I did two years of a bio-med undergrad degree before realizing that my true passion was in art. So I actually ended up getting a bachelor’s degree in creative writing before going to culinary school.
For me, drawing and writing and cooking all go hand-in-hand with each other. Ultimately, I got the best of both worlds because cooking blends art and science so beautifully.
When coming up with my plating designs, which I share online under #TheArtOfPlating on Instagram, there are definitely periods of trial and error, but 100 percent of the time, plating and presentation are close to the forefront in my process of creating different dishes. I’ve actually found flavor combinations and pairings that work really well together by deciding to work with the colors first. Let’s say I have a really great dish, and the majority of it is orange or brown, and I know that I really want to add something green in there, or something yellow or red. I start thinking about ingredients that have those colors and have those flavors. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but the times that it does just create such a beautiful presentation with flavor combinations that I wouldn’t have thought about had color and plating not been on my mind.
‘Cooking blends art and science so beautifully.’ – Chef Tatiana Pairot Rosana
I’m especially proud of the presentation for a New York strip we currently have on the menu. I cook a lot from a nostalgic point, so a lot of the ingredients are recipes from my childhood or from my grandparents. On the New York strip dish, I have a tortilla espanola, which is basically eggs and potatoes and onions, but it’s a really nice rustic wedge of the tortilla and then the New York strip sliced on top of that. On the plate, there’s a black garlic puree that I blend with a little bit of squid ink to make it really nice and black. Then I have a really bright Romesco sauce that’s also served on that dish. So you have the yellow of the tortilla and the dark black of the black garlic puree, along with the orange of the Romesco. That dish is probably one of the most beautiful dishes I’ve ever created. The black and orange and yellow are so amazing together on the plate, and, in turn, taste so great together.
And that beauty pays off. There will be days where all we sell is the strip. It’s a delicious dish, but I think that as it comes out, it’s kind of a showstopper. Once people see something so striking on the table next to them, they’re already gravitating toward wanting to try it. That’s why it’s so important to make your dishes beautiful.
Where to start? Once you have the base flavors that you know you want to use, start thinking about color and what visual aspects of this dish will help it to sell. Come up with the ingredients that have those colors, or even textures that you want to incorporate into your dish. Then start, by process of trial and error, going through those ingredients and seeing what works best with the base that you’ve already created.
‘Ultimately, it’s about respecting the ingredients.’ – Chef Tatiana Pairot Rosana
I tell my cooks all the time that sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith and try something different. I like to involve them in the creative process, and they do get discouraged at times when a flavor combination they’ve tried doesn’t work out the way they thought. But, for me, in those mistakes are where you start seeing progress. So now you know that these two flavors are not going to go well, but you know you still want that color or texture in there. You just start, by process of elimination, going through these ingredients. Almost always, you’ll find something that works out, and that you wouldn’t have thought of trying before.
That’s what makes dishes so unique. We are in a time where originality is very hard to find because so much has been done and so much has been shared. But I think it’s important to start looking outside of the box of just the standard flavor combinations and start thinking about the color and the presentation and what ingredients you can bring in that maybe weren’t thought of before.
Ultimately, it’s about respecting the ingredients. Presentation is one of the best ways to respect ingredients and food. Something can be delicious, but if it’s thrown on the plate, that’s so disrespectful to what we love, which is food. Treating them with respect, not only in regards to flavor but in how they look on the plate is probably the ultimate compliment the chef can give to the food.