Ok. By now, if you follow my blog and its numerous posts on plating food, you should have a good idea of what we are looking for, especially in the general areas: right plate, right colors, a nice crust for proteins, play with textures, etc…
Today, I wanted to talk about the little kitchen tools that make a difference. Sure, there are many to list, but these 8 tools will get your plating skills well started.
Of course, you first need to be well-equipped in terms of kitchen knives, cutting board, plates, etc…
Apart from that, the number 1 tool in your kitchen MUST be the Cuisinart Hand Blender, not only for plating, but for your home cooking in general. Small price; essential tool. I go through 2 or 3 a year; that’s how much I use them. The Cuisinart hand blender is an essential tool for plating, by the way, because it can be used as a GREAT emulsifier, hence making your soups, sauces, dressing ultra-smooth and attractive.
Next, we have a Silicone Baking Mat, also known as “Silpat”. A Silpat can be used for baking (nothing sticks to it, so you can bake your cookies, roasted vegetables, chicken, etc… on it with confidence. No oil, no butter, no nothing.), but it can also be used for caramel or chocolate decoration, which REALLY makes a basic dessert look professional. Interesting fact, when I started chef school back in 1986, a silicone mat was sooo new and trendy, and it costed about $100. Some 25 years later, prices are drastically reduced and you can get one of these for well under $20.
Boy do I love my Microplane Grater/Zester! The Microplane is a super-sharp (yet safe!), ultra-precise grater/zester that you can use in a wide variety of ways. Chocolate is easy and beautiful to grate. Zest citrus and the result is thin, tiny, beautiful bits of flavors. Grate Parmiggiano-Reggiano and you get the perfect sand-like cheese for your pasta. Works great for garlic and ginger too.
Mainly, though, I use my Microplane in association with the silpat to create thin Parmesan crisps that look like that:
You will also need a food stacker. Even though professional chefs now tend to use less challenging, more natural ways of plating their food than, say, in the 90s, home chefs can use the food stacking technique to bring height, creativity and pizzaz to their plates.
A food stacker is a small, inexpensive ring of metal (chef tip: cut-out pvc pipes work very well too!) that you put on the plate before plating, and layer the different elements of your dish. When all elements are stacked, remove the ring and voila, the “tower” adds height, verticality and elegance to your plate.
For saucing, professional chefs have been using tiny spatulas to get the effect below (the mustard-colored effect at bottom right corner). A very trendy plating technique that looks very good.
Or a simple brush to get colorful “brush strokes” on a white plate:
A “garde-manger” kit, as it is called professionally, comes very handy when decorating fruits and vegetables. Great for carving, too. With this kit, and some practice, you can do stuff like this:
Last but not least, little squeeze bottles are essential. They make very precise lines to give a sense of direction, dynamism to a presentation, or tiny dots of colorful essence to complement your dish.
Or (check the four little red dots):
Oh, yes… you will also need a good old tablespoon; the must-have, ultimate plating tool.