Top chefs explain why presentation is a vital ingredient for culinary success

Multiple studies have shown that the appearance of food on a plate affects how diners perceive taste

Raspberry and lychee 'Religieuse' macaroon. Mona Al Marzooqi / The National
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When it comes to food, looks matter. Most great chefs spend as much time thinking about how to present a dish as they do the ingredients.

“If you want people to come to your restaurant and pay to eat your food, they expect to see and taste food they don’t get at home,” says Chris Curtis, executive chef at InterContinental Abu Dhabi. “The experience of the meal is as important as the food itself and presenting food in an appealing way adds to the experience and overall value of the meal.” When plating a dish, Curtis says each element matters equally – colour, arrangement, balance, texture and how easy it is to eat.

Multiple studies have shown that the appearance of food on a plate affects how diners perceive taste. In a study published in food journal Flavour, researchers from Oxford University gave 60 people three salads and asked them to rate each one before and after they ate it.

The salads contained the same ingredients, presented in different ways. One was simply tossed together; one was neatly arranged on a plate, but in a non-artistic way; and a third was assembled to resemble a painting by artist Wassily Kandinsky.

Based on presentation alone, the diners liked the Kandinsky salad best, believing it to be more complex. Diners said they’d be willing to pay twice as much for the Kandinsky salad, and they also thought it tasted better (29 per cent tastier), even though all salads had the same ingredients. “You enjoy food first with your eyes,” says Yann Lohez, senior chef de cuisine at BBQ Al Qasr in Emirates Palace, who will be involved in this week’s Flavours at the Palace event at Emirates Palace. “When the dish arrives, you look at the food and your appetite comes. This is the first step and it’s very important.”

Curtis agrees: “Who doesn’t eat with our eyes first? When you see something that looks nice and appealing, that draws you to want to eat it. There is a whole industry around presenting food and to make it interesting.” Researchers have found that even the colour of the plate can significantly affect a diner’s appetite and perception of taste.

A study that took place in Ferran Adrià’s culinary school in Spain showed that a dessert served on a white plate was considered 15 per cent more intense, 10 per cent sweeter and was 10 per cent more liked than the exact same dessert served on a black plate.

Brown and blue plates – colours that suppress appetite – can also negatively affect our perception of taste.

“Most chefs will be quite particular about the type of plates they use for this reason,” says Curtis. “They are always thinking of what will be the best plate to showcase the food. Many dishes start from finding the right plate and working out what will look good on that plate.”

For some chefs, the art of plating food is where they find they can be the most creative. “It’s like fashion,” says Lohez. “We always have to think about the next step, how we can improve ourselves in terms of technique, creativity, texture, looks. We always have to work to be more creative. It’s very exciting.”

Emirates Palace is hosting a Flavours of the Palace event this Thursday (March 16) in the West Wing Gazebo from 7pm. Guests will be able to enjoy samples from the hotel’s chefs for Dh150 per person. Call 02 2690 7999 or email to book.