Cooking for Beauty: Why Should You Style Your Meals?

Who doesn’t love a well-presented meal? I love it and made it a point to style my meals as best as possible. Styling food is not only a technical culinary challenge; it has deeper connections to one’s health. Let’s explore how.

As shared in a previous post, I used noom for about four to five months; it was part of my health journey. When in the program, they suggested making your food look beautiful to increase your satiety. I couldn’t find a research paper that explicitly states that fact, but I found this research paper amongst others that discuss satiety. Now, I’m not a dietitian, and I can only talk from experience and intuition.

Kabocha and Shiitake Risotto – Here I used the peel of the squash as a vessel to present the risotto.

Some of the reasons why I believe beautiful meals make you feel more satisfied are:

  • In the paper I linked previously, the researchers state that expensive food leads people to eat more mindfully to maximize their enjoyment.
  • Another research paper states that food distributed in a way that looks high in volume also leads to anticipated satisfaction.
  • From the four kinds of hunger, beauty can potentially address emotional hunger.
  • Finally, the effort I make on plating makes me want to pause and eat more methodically to ensure I have a bit of everything.
This fennel stuffing looked great when presented directly in the cast-iron skillet I used to cook it.

These three cues point to one place, mindful eating, which helps us perceive better our natural satiety cues. And, it looks like styling your meals is a habit that bundles well with mindful eating.

In my case, making an effort to style my meals better also made me a better cook. Driven by presentation, I could build the intuition of cooking temperatures. For example, It seems evident to me now, but most herbs wilt if you don’t add them last-minute, yielding a sad-looking dish. Additionally, many ingredients benefit visually from slightly browning them in the pan before presenting them; this also improves flavor significantly.

Polenta with tomato sauce – Here I used a cookie cutter to shape the polenta and land it on the sauce.

Here are some quick tips that you can use to present your food better:

  • First, think of what you want to show, is your technique or maybe your visual art? There’s nothing sexier than a medium-rare steak sliced and plated to see the doneness.
  • Not all ingredients cook equally. For example, say you’re sauteing kale. It will go through a stage where the color brightens and improves, and then when overcooked and wilted, the color will become grayish and sad. So think of when to cook your ingredients to maximize visuals.
  • When cutting and chopping, consider if those ingredients will show or dissolve. Maybe you’d like to dice, grate, or julienne more methodically.
  • A good presentation somehow showcases all the ingredients. For example, you might easily make hummus with all your chickpeas, but what if you save some and use them as a garnish?
  • Consider color contrast; some spices have deep red, purple, or black colors that add texture to the final visuals. By the way, research shows that texture also increases satiety.
  • The plate that carries the meal also makes an enormous difference. Meals look quite sad on poorly designed plates, no matter how much effort you make. Beautiful silverware, table cloth, and other elements that you can see also make a difference.
  • There is the concept of the “rule of the thirds” in photography. We can borrow that idea to decide where to place the entree and the sides on the plate.
Japanese Curry – Here I used some props to brighten the mood of the dish. A cold day but warm inside.

I conclude my post with this, and I feel you find it helpful to start making your plates look sexier. If you do something and would like to share, please do so in the comments section below.

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