Lon Lane of Inspired Occasions, Mary Berg of Delish! and Jill Myers and Wes Gartner of Moxie give tips on simple but stunning ways to make the party.
If you believe book titles at major bookstores, supposedly there’s an art to nearly everything––power, choosing, cheating, war, seduction and so on. There’s also an art to plating and presenting beautiful food for a dinner, party or special event. Three of the city’s best caterers shared their secrets on how to plate eye-pleasing dishes.
Lon Lane, Inspired Occasions on “Food Philosophy”
Lane certainly has the credentials to speak on the subject. He has won multi-year recognition from KC Magazine and other publications as “Best Caterer.” When it comes to presentation, he outlines several “philosophies” on how to display food.
The type of dish––square (such as in one of his presentations above), round, bowl, plates with a wide rim––factors into how food can be arranged. Consider the shape and depth of the dish and how the food will fill that space.
“There are also philosophies about stacked and un-stacked food,” he says. For an entrée, Lane assembles pan-seared salmon atop a bed of black rice studded with roasted grape tomato and shaved Brussels sprouts. Roasted asparagus and saffron aioli with a pan-seared prawn garnish finish off the dish. Lane stacks ingredients with a balance of texture and color in mind.
A round plate with a concave bowl and wide rim nicely contains a hearty dish like osso bucco or other large portion of food with a contrasting bed of steamed greens. Dual entrees on the same plate such as sea bass and slices of tenderloin with starch like potatoes and other vegetables offer a more formal presentation.
Sauces can also be used as a design element. “You can drizzle a plate with sauce or use a decorative schmear,” Lane says. Simply put a dollop of sauce on a plate, then use the back of a spoon to smear it. The schmear can appear by itself or be a base for food or garnish placed on top.
With fruit sauces, Lane says to try a simple, clean look with a few dots of fruit sauce or go for a confetti design with more color dotted on the plate. Consider jewel tones like mango, blueberry and blood orange.
For desserts, the trend is to combine a trio of different sweets in small portions, using plates on plates or fancy glassware. A cookie, type of chocolate and ice cream or custard is an appealing ensemble. For one dessert, he mixes a brandy snap basket, chocolate gelato with crystalized ginger and Grand Marnier crème brulee.
Mary Berg of Delish! Catering Likes a “Loosey Goosey” Style
Besides running a busy catering operation, Berg also teaches catering classes at Johnson County Community College. When preparing dishes on platters for buffets and parties, she teaches students to consider composition. Berg says, “Use a mix of hot and cold items with different shapes and color. Don’t make it all fried and brown. Grilled and chilled crudité [vegetables] is awesome for August.”
Arranging food can spice up the presentation too. She pairs a precise, linear set-up of some foods for a consistent look with other plates “that have a more casual, loosey-goosey style,” Berg says. “This combination can make the plating pop. Create peaks and valleys on a table with food platters positioned at different height so it is more pleasing to the eye.”
Berg uses objects like rustic bricks or other common household items as risers that can elevate placement of a dish. For plating, she uses a range of flat, round and concave dishes along with pedestals. Berg says, “I use white or silver dishware to keep some continuity along the table.”
Lately, she plates food using both contemporary plates and older dishware for contrast. Or, she’ll use a rough-hewn wooden box as a riser with a modern platter on top. Another major current trend is the use of mini dishes for serving fresh fruit, for example. Berg says, “It’s good for portion control. You can pick up dishes at Pryde’s or use disposables.”
Garnishes added to a platter of Thai chicken lettuce wraps, for example, can add color and variety. Place sliced cucumber, scallions, julienned carrots or bell peppers atop platters lined with lettuce. Berg notes, “Don’t use green on green so it blends in. Also, try using edible garnishes like toasted pine nuts, fresh minced herbs or sun-dried tomatoes on bowls of hummus and dip. Make sure it is edible and easy to eat.”
Finally, Berg advises looking at the overall flow of food on a table. “Select choices that speak to everyone. Have fruit, cheese, bruschetta, crudité, some meat and a dessert.”
Jill Myers and Wes Gartner of Moxie Always Consider the DIY Approach
Myers and Gartner opened Voltaire, located in the West Bottoms, in late spring in the former R Bar space. The duo’s lively catering aesthetic from Moxie carries over to the restaurant’s offerings. Myers offers several easy DIY ideas for preparing and presenting summer appetizers with Labor Day and summer parties on the agenda.
“For a watermelon appetizer, cut triangles with a ¾-inch rind. Top each slice with goat cheese, toasted pepitas and a dash of black pepper,” she says. The pepitas, or pumpkin seeds, represent edible watermelon seeds.
Chilled soups like gazpacho can be served in plastic shooter glasses. Try pureed melon soup topped with a piece of melon garnish soaked in rum. Chilled shrimp with cocktail sauce in a shooter is also popular.
A chilled noodle salad served in a Chinese take-out box with chopsticks makes it easy for guests to carry food around. Or serve popcorn tossed with chives and truffle oil in popcorn bags along with glasses of Champagne for an upscale treat.
Other ideas include soy-marinated tofu cubes on skewers with spring pearl onions. Myers says, “We toss them on the grill for a minute to get some marks and serve them with a sweet chili sauce.”
Rather than wooden skewers, Moxie Catering serves grilled or roasted new potatoes on rosemary skewers.
Plating food can result in edible works of art with minimal effort and a little forethought. Have fun and, if the effort seems too much, call a caterer and use the art of conversation to have them prepare and present creative culinary works.
A vegetable and cheese plate created by Moxie Catering that’s now on the menu at Voltaire.