If you’re tired of the same dish-up-your-own plate routine, turn to these tips to master the art of fancy food plating. Your family will thank you.
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Are dinners at home starting to become a little too routine? We get it. If you're trying out new recipes and methods and still feeling like you're in a cooking rut, here's an idea to help reignite your passion for the kitchen: fancy food plating that will have you and your family feeling like you're in your favorite restaurant. You can forgo the help-yourself buffet setup on the kitchen island and skip the sloppy scooping of family-style meals when you master these easy food plating ideas from top chefs around the country. The bottom line? Be intentional, have the right tools, and get creative.

Food Plating Ideas to Elevate Your Homecooked Dinner

Try these pro tips to improve your food styling game.

Plan ahead

To create a visually striking plate, you can't just prep a meal and hope for the best when it all comes together. When you're planning a menu, create a visual picture of all your plate components and how they will interact with each other. "Imagine how you will set each component to make it the most interesting, and anticipate how the final products will look after cooking," says James Beard award-winning chef Hugh Acheson, who recently opened Ovide restaurant at Hotel Effie in Miramar Beach, Florida.

Get a few new tools—and learn to use them properly

You don't need anything super fancy (or expensive) to plate like a chef, but adding a few select gadgets to your arsenal can be helpful. Acheson recommends tongs, tweezers, precision spoons, squeeze bottles, piping bags, and palette knives. Disposable gloves are another great item to have on hand for plating, as they enable you to effortlessly shape a light, airy salad.

Keep in mind that your tools should match what you are looking to do. If you're plating a sauce, use a sauce spoon; if you're twirling pasta, have a pasta fork, says celebrity chef Michael Mina, owner of more than 40 restaurants including the new Bourbon Steak Orange County at Waldorf Astoria Monarch Beach Resort & Club in Dana Point, California. And don't be afraid to practice ahead of time. "If whatever you're doing feels awkward," he says, "then you are not in control"—and your plate won't come out looking composed.

burgundy vintage salad dinner plates
Credit: Carson Downing

Choose the right dishes

Don't let all your planning and hard work go to waste by plating your meal on a ho-hum plate. Some of Acheson's current favorites are rustic, earth-toned plates that aren't glossy (they'll work better in photos, too). You don't have to buy a whole new set of dishes, though—try hitting a local antique shop to see what unique, mismatched plates you can find.

Heat things up

Digging into a hot dish that's lukewarm is a disappointment. Serve hot food on hot plates by sticking your plates into a warm oven (200°F) for two minutes before plating your food, suggests Chef Adrianne Calvo, owner of several restaurants in South Florida including Forte, opening in Miami later this year.

Consider composition

Think about creating height and dimension with your components so they're not simply sitting flat on the plate's surface, says Calvo. For example: Say you're serving a salmon fillet with mashed potatoes and sautéed spinach. Plate the dish by placing a heaping spoon of potatoes in the center of the plate, spreading a little sautéed spinach on the potatoes, and then placing the fillet on top.

Use two hands

One of the biggest mistakes that home cooks make in plating dishes is holding a hot pan in one hand while trying to simultaneously scoop and plate the item with the other, says Mina. Avoid this by putting out hot pads you can set your pots and pans on right next to your plates. "The most important thing is having everything in front of you at one time," he says.

Turnip Noodle Bowls with Salmon and Curry Sauce
Credit: Blaine Moats

Play with texture

Get the Salmon and Curry Sauce Recipe

Having a sauce on the bottom followed by a protein and then something crunchy or crispy on top will make the entire plate appear more energetic, says Acheson. Varying textures will make the meal more pleasurable to eat, too.

Incorporate lots of color

We've all had monochromatic meals—and despite how good they might taste (think fried chicken, mac n' cheese, and potato salad, for example), a plate of food that's all the same color just isn't that appetizing. You'll need to consider color before planning your meal and aim to use contrasting colors of vegetables and starches to ensure it will look appealing on a plate, says Calvo.

Consistency is key

To get that restaurant-quality dish, be sure that each plate you serve looks the same for each guest, says Calvo. If you really want to get fancy, you can even sketch out your plating idea ahead of time, then use it as a guide as you compose each plate.

Mint Vinaigrette Drizzle
Credit: Carson Downing

Add a garnish

Get the Mint Drizzle Recipe

Skip the wilted leaf of lettuce or weird sprig of parsley. Instead, add restaurant flourish by adding an edible garnish that reflects what's in the dish, says Calvo. For example, you could garnish a rosemary-scented rack of lamb with a rosemary sprig. A garnish can also take the form of a drizzle of oil or a swirl or dollop of sauce. These can even be used to cover up mistakes, says Acheson: For example, if you bake a cake and it splits, that's the ideal spot for a perfectly placed dollop of whipped cream.

Keep it clean

You wouldn't get your main dish delivered to you at a nice restaurant with (unintentional) drips and splatters sprinkled across the plate—so make sure you wipe off any spills (or fingerprints) on your plates before bringing them to the table, says Calvo. Use a paper towel or a dampened cloth to get a sparkling finish.

Get wildly creative

Utilizing negative space helps to create a dynamic, restaurant-quality look, so don't be afraid to shake things up. For example, if you typically place a filet in the center of the plate, try moving it to one side. You can even plate the entire meal around one edge of the plate if you wish. Acheson points to the Japanese term wabi-sabi, which translates to valuing beauty in imperfection. "At the end of the day," he says, "don't overthink it."

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