How To Plate And Present Food At A Dinner Party

Chef Greg Vernick schools us in the art of plating

It doesn't matter how good it tastes—when a dish isn't easy on the eyes, we're less revved to dig in.

Greg Vernick, chef/owner of Vernick Food & Drink, a bistro in Philadelphia's Rittenhouse Square, says "building deliciousness" is his top priority. But as the restaurant's Instagram feed reveals, his creations, whether cuttlefish ceviche with Napa cabbage and crispy shallots, or date and pistachio-strewn ricotta gnudi, are also rather good looking.

The Jean-Georges Vongerichten alum shuns modernist swooshes and foams in exchange for simple, classic techniques to amp up his presentation. So we asked him for his best easy kitchen tricks to help home cooks turn out attractive, pro-looking plates.

Think green. No color better conveys freshness than green. Yet, Vernick notes, home cooks often neglect to put it in the spotlight. "Blanching in boiling water and shocking in ice water is an easy way to preserve the vibrant color of fresh greens. It requires a little bit of extra time and one more pot on the stove, but it's worth it."

Herbal helpers. While we're thinking green, don't skimp on the fresh herbs. "Dried herbs have some good culinary applications, but they aren't very exciting to look at. If impressive presentation is what you're looking for, brightness really comes through with fresh herbs," Vernick says. Mix up grocery store runs with visits to the farmers' market, which can yield lesser-known, vibrantly hued herbs to play with.

Beautifully composed. When composing individual plates, proper construction is key. Vernick strives to create structure on the plate. "Let's say I have a dinner party and I'm serving a meat, a vegetable and a starch, like a purée, polenta or rice. I'll make sure that my meat is nicely rested before carving it [it bleeds less this way] and my vegetables are blanched, so they're bright and green. I build the plate when everything is ready," he explains, starting with the starch on the bottom, then arranging individual servings of meat and vegetables on top and to the side.

Get negative. Building the plate doesn't mean just stacking food willy-nilly. "Utilizing negative space [intentionally leaving space between different elements on the plate empty] is an artistic approach," Vernick says. "We're so used to smothering our plates with food and putting piles on top of piles, which isn't very attractive," he continues. "Negative space makes the food look cleaner and crisper, and it creates an element of drama." Use the back of a spoon to swoop a tablespoon or two of sauce across one side of the plate and arrange the other elements opposite that.