The Perfect Plate: Principles of Food Presentation


Students currently pursuing culinary certificates should be aware of the fact that there’s far more to designing a beautiful dish than what actually goes into the meal that you’re cooking. While finding the correct balance of flavor, texture and nourishment is deeply important, one of the most commonly overlooked aspects of preparing food is its presentation. An improperly presented meal can lose much of its luster, but a well arranged dish can bring even the best tasting entrees to new heights. Before you entertain dinner guests or cook for your family, take some time to consider these principles of food presentation:

The basics

In order to develop an understanding of how to properly plate a dish, it’s important to understand that different sections of the plate you’re serving food on are actually intended for various purposes. Looking at the plate from the diner’s perspective, imagine the face of an analog clock. The space between 12 and three o’clock should be one section, with the areas between three and nine and then nine to 12 operating as the other two main areas. The largest space at the bottom of the plate (three o’clock to nine o’clock) is intended for your main protein, so any chicken, beef or other meat will best be placed here. It should be accented by a starch, such as a roll, potatoes or other foods placed in the space between nine and 12. Finally, your vegetable(s) should be plated between 12 and three o’clock for ideal aesthetic value.

Finer points and extras

The importance of the three main zones of the plate is only underscored when the finer points of presentation are taken into consideration. For example, you should always choose a plate that properly fits your meal, without leaving too much empty space. Further, you’ll want to do your best to select food groups with complementary colors; you can even use seasonal foods that reflect the hues of the time of year to make your meal extra festive. In arranging the different food groupings on your plate, consider the balance of the meal as a whole. You don’t want any one side of the plate to weigh far more heavily than the other.

Taking these points into account when you prepare your next meal will ensure that you end up with a dish that is as beautiful as it is delicious.

Infographic Transcript for The Perfect Plate

Expert plating is the perfect accompaniment to classically trained cooking skills. Here’s a look at some of the core principles that go into making a dish look just as stunning as it tastes.

The Basics

Classical plating places the three primary elements of the dish in specific parts of the plate:

  • Main protein: between 3 and 9 o’clock
  • Starch: between 9 and 12 o’clock
  • Vegetable: between 12 and 3 o’clock

Finer Points

  1. Emphasis: The primary ingredient in the dish should take up the most space on the plate and attract the eye.
  2. Balance: Think about the plate as a whole and avoid weighting one side heavier than the other.
  3. Contrast: Place contrasting shapes and colors beside each other for visual appeal.
  4. Color: Choose complementary colors or create a focal point with a single burst of bright color.
  5. Texture: The various textures of the dish should be visible in the components of the plate.
  6. Simplicity: Avoid overcrowding by using as few elements as necessary for the dish to feel complete.
  7. Plate: Choose a plate that fits the size and arrangement of the dish without leaving too much empty space.


  • Garnish: Choose an edible accent that provides extra color and texture throughout the dish (rather than in one spot only).
  • Sauce: Get Creative—Plate sauces beneath your main protein, drizzle across the plate or create drops that provide visual interest.
  • Shape: Sculpt the elements of your plate to create height, structure and organization.
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