8 Simple ways to make meals look stunning
How to make dinner like a food stylist, according to two of them
The thing about Instagram (and other visual social media) is that it's definitely raised the bar for our collective expectations when it comes to food presentation. (And everything else, really.) Plating tricks, special garnishes and photography-friendly serveware seem to be more popular than ever these days, even when it comes to in-home dining.
With that in mind, we talked to the creative duo behind Toronto-based food content agency Sprig Creative, Jennifer Bartoli and Brendan Fisher, to find out the must-have items and hot new trends when it comes to food presentation. Keep these pro tips and ideas in mind for your next culinary creation — whether you're preparing a simple mid-week meal or multi-course dinner party, it can't hurt to elevate the presentation.
Add herbs to sweet dishes
Used to garnishing your savoury creations with herbs? Why not your desserts, too? "Using herbs in a variety of sweet concoctions is very in at the moment," says Bartoli. "Not only are they incredibly pretty as garnishes, but herbs will also infuse an unexpected flavour into desserts. Try adding sage to shortbread, or fresh thyme to a chocolate pear tart. You can candy the herbs using simple syrup, or even fry them for a little added crunch."
Garnish with both fresh and dried flowers
"Depending on the flowers, you can use some whole, and the petals only for others — and use them both in fresh and dry form. We love pansies, roses and violets and use them most often to decorate iced cookies or cakes, as well as nestled into ice pops in the summertime," says Fisher. "Because the petals are so obviously dainty and a little precious by nature, offset this by going the rustic route and scattering them in an effortless way into your creations."
Top baked goods with candied fruit
Bartoli and Fisher have a recipe for candied grapefruit slices on the Sprig Creative website, which they recommend for decorating cakes, tarts and baked loaves, and have used candied-ginger pieces, for example, as a way to dress up the look of a poached-pear dessert.
Serve salads on family-style platters
"We love to plate salads on large flat trays to optimize the prettiness of the ingredients" says Bartoli, adding that a good salad can also start with grains, nuts, seeds, fruit or vegetables instead of lettuce. "Design your salads around an in-season ingredient and combine it with a few other simple add-ons: try a roasted squash salad dotted with toasted pecans, dried cranberries and farro in the fall, or a fresh peach salad with fresh basil, mozzarella and croutons in the summer months."
Go for organically-shaped, matte serveware
"We're big fans of ceramics that don't feel or look overly manufactured. Uneven, organic shaped serveware with a matte finish is sure to make any meal seem effortless," says Fisher.
Collect mismatched tableware
Have fun with your plates and tableware. "Mix-and-match is the way to go when it comes to setting up tables; the time for well-polished tableware is passé," says Bartoli. "Look for well-crafted materials and a loose, neutral colour palette to let the food shine."
Layer your table
"When putting together a table for entertaining (or a social post!), always think about layering to add dimension to your tablescape," says Bartoli. She recommends using accessories such as linens, trivets, chargers and cutting boards to add layers and depth.
Stock up on pinch bowls
Pinch bowls are a must for the Sprig Creative team, and not just for salt, either. "As an alternative to your run-of-the-mill salt and pepper shakers, we love using decorative pinch bowls that let your guests feel like they're putting finishing touches on their meal," says Fisher. "Depending on the menu, these pinch bowls can also be used for mustard seeds, fresh chopped herbs, and other condiments that would complement your dish."
Truc Nguyen is a Toronto-based writer, editor and stylist. Follow her at @trucnguyen.