The Art of Serving Spring Produce
Turnips. Potatoes. Rutabagas. Pears. What do these fruits and vegetables have in common? They’re all so last season, that’s what. Trending now are produce in a rainbow of colors, such as verdant peas, asparagus, and artichokes; orangey apricots, cantaloupe, and nectarines; crimson strawberries; and dark and juicy blueberries.
These peak-season picks are gorgeous unto themselves. But a little dressing up couldn’t hurt. “Spring is all about a new dawn of color and this rebirth should be reflected on the plates you serve. It makes for happy diners,” says Dev Biswal, head chef at The Ambrette in Kent, England.
To make this season’s fresh produce even more stunning and enticing, don’t just serve it, present it. Here’s the dish on the art of food presentation, otherwise known as “plating,” from some of the world’s most creative chefs.
Coax Out Even More Color
To make green spring produce colors pop, use quick cooking techniques, such as stir frying or blanching. In fact, “for green spring vegetables such as peas and fava bean purees, blanching first is a must,” says Bret Macris, the executive chef of Syndicated in Brooklyn, New York. “Just a minute in boiling water and then plunged into an ice bath will keep the chlorophyll in green vegetables vibrant on the plate.”
Go for the Thrill of Grill Marks
Grill marks aren’t just for meat. They can make veggies look tastier too by adding texture. “For instance, grilling avocados, asparagus, and artichokes—and achieving the grill marks—looks better than presenting them raw,” says Admir Alibasic, the executive chef at Ben & Jack’s Steak House in New York City.
Dinner Plate = Backdrop
Showcase spring veggies by serving them on white plates (think white canvas). As a highlight, Biswal recommends adding a contrasting color, such as a sprinkle of parsley or another fresh green herb, or a dollop of goat cheese.
Classical plating uses a clock face as its model, with the main dish between 3 and 9 o’clock, vegetables between 11 and 3 o’clock and the starch between 9 and 11 o’clock. A more creative approach? “Build your plate in vertical layers to make the same foods look more appetizing,” says Anthony Meidenbauer, executive chef for Block 16 Hospitality in Las Vegas.
For example, spread a layer of fava bean puree on the plate first, then place a grilled chicken breast in the center and top with watercress or arugula. Bringing height to a dish adds depth to make the final presentation more pleasing, Meidenbauer says. After you’ve layered your spring plate, put the final touches on with a colorful sauce. You can even drizzle some on the actual plate for panache.
Get Creative With Serving Bowls
A fresh fruit salad with peak-season ingredients, such as cut-up cantaloupe, watermelon, kiwi, strawberries, blueberries, and peaches is a stand out, so be sure to serve it in a clear glass serving bowl. “Or be even more creative and serve a fruit salad in a hollowed-out watermelon bowl or slightly frozen grapefruit halves,” Alibasic says.
Fresh strawberries look best whole. Once you cut them up—revealing their white, pithy center—they’re not as pretty. For this reason, Jason Park, the owner and executive chef of Maru in Santa Monica, recommends garnishing desserts with small whole fresh strawberries in lieu of buying larger ones that require slicing.
Likewise, when making a salad, small, whole cherry tomatoes can look more appealing than larger ones that have been halved.
All told, to make your spring plates pretty, know that less is more.
“The number one rule when it comes to plating is to respect the ingredient and present it well,” Park says.