There is a well-worn saying that you only have one chance to make a first impression. Well, in my opinion, that’s as true of food as it is of social relationships. And, it’s especially true of restaurant food. The first impression we get of a dish in a restaurant is a visual one. And, we can’t help but make a quick judgement about that dish, depending on how appealing it is to the eye. After all, they say that we eat first with our eyes.I’m sure that somewhere along the line—probably in a restaurant—you uttered the words, “That looks too good to eat!” I know I have. Most chefs I know, when they are developing new menu items, spend a lot of time and care in making sure that a dish not only tastes great, but also looks great.
How a dish is plated, how the food components are organized on the plate, the actual plate itself, the colors on the plate, geometric patterns, vertical height considerations, contrasting hues … all of these things are important. And, for what it’s worth, I try to make food that I cook at home have just as much eye appeal as what I order in restaurants. Of course, I care first and foremost about how the food tastes. But a beautiful or striking food presentation can help to make an otherwise mundane meal a marvelous one.
Utah Top Restaurants
One trick that restaurant chefs use—and you can do this at home—is to invest in attractive serving ware. For example, a dish of tofu with winter vegetables at Bill White’s Wahso restaurant in Park City really pops thanks to the dark grey plate that contrasts with the tofu and other items on the plate. Contrasting colors are key. You don’t really want to see mashed potatoes on a white plate.
Up at Log Haven in Millcreek Canyon, there so much natural beauty surrounding the restaurant—streams, waterfalls, mountains, ponds, wildlife, etc.—that you want the food on your plate to look just as stunning as what’s outside. Chef Dave Jones’ new winter menu features some beautifully composed dishes, including one of my favorites: grilled duck breast with butternut squash puree, pomegranate syrup, duck confit-frisee salad, maple vinaigrette and toasted pecans. The contrasting pink duck breast with golden squash and bright maroon pomegranate seeds against a dark slate blue plate is simply gorgeous. And yes, it does taste every bit as good as it looks.
But don’t get the idea that you need to be in a fancy, fine dining restaurant to get fancy looking food. A case in point is MidiCi. MidiCi is one of my favorite restaurants and I can’t get enough of their outstanding pizza. But another of my favorite menu items is a decadent Nutella Calzone dessert. It is sooooo yummy and looks like a million bucks. It’s a dessert calzone, baked to crisp perfection and sprinkled with powdered sugar, fresh fruits (blackberries, strawberries and blueberries), then drizzled with a sweet and tart balsamic reduction and, finally, Nutella, before getting a dusting of powdered sugar.
Tupelo restaurant in Park City is another outfit that does a bang-up job of creating edible art. I don’t believe it’s on the current winter menu at Tupelo, but chef/owner Matt Harris’ roasted Maine scallops with purple cauliflower, Romanesco, and hazelnut pesto is one of the most gorgeous restaurant dishes I’ve ever seen—and I’ve seen plenty.
Don’t get the idea, however, that you need a fully loaded kitchen at a top tier restaurant to create edible art. The Soberanis brothers behind Sobe Eats Culinary Concepts create museum-worthy meals in a food truck. The colorful tostadas from Sobe Eats are a riot of colors, not to mention absolutely delicious.
At Feldman’s Deli, even something like borscht—which in most cases is distinctly unattractive—is vibrant, colorful and pretty in the hands of chef/owner Janet Feldman. It’s so appealing looking that folks who don’t think they like borscht would give it a try.
So the next time you’re in the kitchen, I encourage you to play with your food. Move it around and “compose” with the various components on the plate. Who knows, you might just unleash the hidden Van Gogh in you.