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Looks good enough to eat

Local chefs say presentation is key to preparing a top-notch dish

Local chefs say presentation is key to preparing a top-notch dish

September 26, 2007|By JULIE E. GREENE

No one wants their food to look unappetizing.

"People eat with their eyes first," says Jeffrey Raimo, executive chef at 1912 Hoover House in Waynesboro, Pa.

When food comes to the table and the diners say, "Wow," that sets the tone for a good experience, Raimo says.

For Tri-State-area residents who want to take their food presentation to the next level, The Herald-Mail asked for tips from a few local chefs who go the extra garnish with plate presentation.

Their tips include how to structure the food on the plate and garnishes that add height and color to the dish.

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"One little garnish might seem silly, but it can make a huge difference to the eye, says Stephan Dowler, executive chef at Duffy's on Potomac in downtown Hagerstown.

Liz Gallery, chef and owner of Stone Soup Bistro in Shepherdstown, W.Va., says she thinks of flavor, texture and color when she thinks of food.

"I treat the plate like an art palette after that, or an empty canvas," Gallery says.

Here are their tips:

· Stacking is a presentation technique that has been popular in recent years. Stacking gives a dish a more three-dimensional look, Dowler says.

Typically when stacking you start with the starch, rice or beans such as lentils on the bottom.

Place a circular cookie cutter on the plate and scoop the rice into it. Push down on the rice with the underside of a spoon to create a cohesive foundation for the stack. This also can be done with potatoes or lentils. Then lay the cooked fish on top and sauted spinach atop the fish.

Another example would be placing a potato croquette atop a steak filet, with some vegetables such as baby green beans or asparagus, peeking out from under the steak, Dowler says. This type of stack is not as symmetrical as the previous example but creates an appealing composition.

· Fan your food

Home cooks can present a filet of pork tenderloin fanned by slicing all the way through the tenderloin in several places. Then place your hand atop the meat and push down and slide your hand as you would to fan a deck of cards, Dowler says.

The fanning technique also can be used with other foods, such as tomatoes and pears, says Lauren Collins, kitchen manager at Shaharazade's Exotic Cuisine and Tea Room in Shepherdstown.

· Use fresh herbs as a simple, inexpensive garnish that complements the meal. These herbs can be grown at home, Dowler says.

Thyme goes well with onions and potatoes, rosemary or chives with steak, and tarragon with chicken, Dowler says.

The herb provides height and color, Dowler says. It could simply be taking two strands of chives and crossing them atop a seafood dish.

· Garnishes can add color and texture as well as flavor.

Gallery likes to use sliced red, crunchy radish to garnish steak.

She also uses different colored salts such as Hawaiian pink salt to encrust scallops. It's pleasing to the eye and provides a crunch, she says.

Colored spices and powders also are popular to decorate a plate, Dowler says. Spices many people tend to have at home that they could use include chili powder, Old Bay and cinnamon, Dowler says. More recently, professional chefs are using specialty powders such as fish powder, steak powder and vegetable powder.

· An attractive way to serve thicker sauces, rather than dump a dollop on the plate, is to use a squeeze bottle to present a clean circle of sauce or squiggly lines of sauce on the plate, Dowler says.

Another option is to fan out the sauce. To do this, Dowler says, hold a spoon with your thumb in the concave portion of the spoon and place the bottom of the spoon atop the sauce. Than move your thumb, and therefore the sauce, in a curve or line - fanning out the sauce. One sauce the fanning technique can be used with is Dowler's Arugula Sauce (see recipe), which is good with chicken, pork and fish such as salmon.

You also could try creating an attractive line of sauce with a basting brush, Dowler says.

· A modern substitute for the lemon wedge: lemon zest. Use a vegetable peeler to peel off strips of lemon skin. Be careful not to cut too deep and get the white pith under the rind. Julienne the peels into fine strings. This makes an excellent garnish, for fish, with a mix of tarragon leaves, Dowler says.

· Keep the plate clean, say Gallery and Raimo. When Gallery serves cooked beans and butter, she blots excess oil with a towel. The flavor is there in the beans, but the plate looks cleaner without the excess oil.

· Use edible flowers as a garnish, Dowler says. Check for such flowers at your local grocery store or research edible varieties online.

· When positioning food on the plate, center the food to give the dish a clean, symmetrical look, Raimo says.

If there is more than one item on the plate, try to stick with odd numbers such as three or five items because this appeals to the eye more, he says.

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