Simple Elegance is the New Plate Trend
If diners of yore ate with their eyes, today’s foodies are willing to let taste be the art in itself. The current trend for chefs is to break from the fanciful presentations featuring food towers, sauce swirls, and wispy garnishes. Instead, simple elegance makes the ingredients the rightful hero, allowing these dishes to do all their own talking.
Prominent chefs have spent decades adding design flair (since everyone was doing it) to mark a dish as “classy,” “fancy,” or “high-end.” It’s no wonder that such style would dominate gourmet cuisine, just as it mirrored popular fashion. High hair, big shoulder pads, and a rainbow of colors were mirrored on the table, but times have changed dramatically since the ’80s, ’90s, and ’00s.
In an era searching for meaning and transparency, food trends have shifted in the same direction. Old overdressed methods had become cliché… and pretentious.
Now, everything on the plate has to contribute to the dish. Purée swooshes or random garnishes won’t do. That’s not to say that there’s no room for a flourish or dash of “extra.” But no longer are they an effort to elevate a basic, boring dish, or to make something ho-hum seem more appealing.
The dish must be able to stand on its own.
The prevailing view is to keep platings clean, focusing on flavor first. This naturally follows industry-wide trends about everything from ingredient choices to restaurant décor. It’s also, again, largely influenced by current consumer tastes and preferences. Restaurants that mirror the current patron demands will reap a rich reward in terms of foot traffic and sales, but restaurant staff are also among those same consumers tired of the pretentious designs of seasons past. Clean, simple ingredients in clean, simple recipes should be plated in clean, simple presentations—and diners and chefs alike approve.
That’s not to say that older methods were without purpose. In some cases, these designs were important for consistency and uniformity between chefs within a restaurant or even franchise system. Guests expected a dish to look and taste the same with each visit, so the design not only added to the presentation but naturally impacted flavor. The architecture involved also required consistent portion sizes, which reduced guesswork and waste for the restaurant(s).
And sometimes, the extra flair just looks gorgeous.
Nor does this shift mean that simple platings are, well, simple. Or that no skill or technique are involved. It means that the skill in preparation is even more important (there’s no excessive presentation covering up a bad dish). It also means that the ingredients, their interplay, and the preparation methods now make up the aesthetics of the dish. And the chef who crafted the meal is the one who understands how to present the finished dish in a way that properly highlights and features the star(s) of the show.
One of the greatest challenges (and strengths) of this approach is that the ingredients must all belong… have a purpose. Nothing is added randomly or by rote. Ingredient choices are carefully considered for how they contribute to the dish, and then they are presented in a way that highlights the overall desired experience (and their unique qualities). Farm-fresh produce may be presented on a natural and “hearty” plate. Shellfish presentation may evoke a seascape. Unique preparations in the kitchen may also make their way to the table as part of the experience. There’s certainly no lack of whimsy, even if it’s based a little more in reality.
Simple elegance. It’s on trend everywhere, but surprisingly refreshing in fine dining. How has your restaurant’s plating styles moved from “extras” to truly elevating the ingredients themselves to their rightful starring role?
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