Plating has taken centre stage in fine dining places with chefs taking the big dish way

The new plating concept of Indian chefs in fine dining appears to align with ‘Ma’ (the space between)
Plating has taken centre stage in fine dining places with chefs taking the big dish way

S mall is large in contemporary cuisine and space is its aesthetic metaphor in contemporary dining. The Japanese influence on food is a subtle explanation of life itself, and adaptations to changes. For example, yoshoku, a fusion genre born during the Meiji Restoration period in the 19th century signalled Japan’s isolation from the West. Or washoku, which denotes seasonality in food. The new plating concept of Indian chefs in fine dining appears to align with ‘Ma’ (the space between).

Deconstructing the Size

“The plating elevates a dish through visual appeal. I think, people would not prefer to see large portions on the plate. It could be overwhelming in many ways,” explains Rohit Sangwan, Executive Chef, Taj Land’s End Mumbai, adding, “Earlier three to four courses composed a set menu. Nowadays there are a minimum of seven courses. This brings in the downsizing of the average 300 gm consumption of the total food served, to 30 gm per course. Earlier we plated approximately 100 gm per course.” The diner’s choice is clear, with everyone wanting to taste the best signature dishes.

The density of the protein counts too,” says Nikhil Nagpal, Executive Chef ITC Grand Chola, and brand custodian Avartana. “Hence the approximate portion size can go up to 40 gm per course. The rule of thumb fine dining places is, serve only what the guest can consume. You can add another course, but do not go beyond the 40 gm portion.”

Deviations occur in omakase menus as creative hearts like to serve what they come up with intuitively. Essentially the empty space, commonly dubbed as the ‘negative space’, adds to the aesthetic appeal of the dish. “It is another way of showcasing your culinary talent,” says celebrity chef Karishma Sakhrani. “It piques the interest of the guests, and enhances the entire experience, making them savour every bite. Yet the concept does not work for every dish or cuisine.”

The numbers count. “Many follow the rule of threes while plating a dish: like three garnishes, or three textures, or three colours. Placing the food to the left, or right plays up the drama,” explains Sangwan. “I go for odd numbers on the plate as well, like one, or three croques, in different sizes,” says Sakhrani, adding. “I prefer to bring in multiple components including different textures, layers, colours, play of sizes to intrigue in combination with the empty space on the plate. Then every inch breathes.”

Perspectives Count

Lakhan Jethani, Head Chef and Co-founder, Mizu Izakaya, likes to bring in microgreens and inclusion of leaves to prop the aesthetics of a dish. “In this Instagrammable age, we eat with our eyes first. If the dish appears beautiful, you are already excited about eating. It is a heightened experience. The type of cuisine you are serving as well as the format (small, or big plates, or an a la carte, or a degustation menu) determines the size of the plate. Also, the kind of vibe you want both the food and the restaurant to exude. If you are an upscale casual dining restaurant, then pop colours work,” he says.

Heighten the Impact

Chef Sarfaraz Ahmed, Head Chef, Trésind Mumbai, believes the fine detailing adds up to the overall effect. “When you choose whites, it could be in marble, porcelain, or bone china finish. The shape of the dish is important, like a tenderloin steak, or sushi, would be plated on a rectangular plate. Anything that has an angle to it, goes on a rectangular plate.” The colours play a key role. Yellow food on a blue plate is an appetite enhancer; as is red on a charcoal grey surface. White is classy, luxurious, and works beautifully with greens, yellows, reds that stand out against the backdrop,” he says, adding, “The lighting too is decisive. We use different dishes during lunch service as opposed to dinner as the natural light plays up the colours.”

Heights and layers too add to the depth and dimension. Jethani says, “Nothing is served flat. Usually, we look at creating a height of three fingers above the plate to build up the dish. The ratio of the portion vis-a-vis the empty space matters.” Height matters as eating food is an interactive experience with diners seated across the table from each other.

Plating has taken centre stage in fine dining places with chefs taking the big dish way
Zarf is a brand-new food destination in Bengaluru's Whitefield that celebrates perfection

“A laddered up mushroom assembly or stack of vegetables would be more appealing than a flat carpet. For me, the sauces play a decisive role in accentuating the empty space on the plate,” shares Sakhrani. A splash, a squiggle, or dots, the jus, the sauce certainly adds character to the dish. “You can play it up by choosing great stoneware,” she adds. There is a profusion of sil batta stoneware, black stone from Mahabalipuram, and bluish-green ceramics made using gin bottles and clay, from Pondicherry, on which Nagpal is serving up preparations.

“Liquids are no longer pre-plated. The pouring is done at the table, adding to the drama,” he says, adding, “The techniques often break the banter with the empty space on the dish.” Challenges abound as Indians prefer eating their food hot. Sangwan says, “Indian food often develops a skin on the top. Hot and cold plates need to be maintained at relevant temperatures. Also, where you are serving makes all the difference. A dainty dessert serving works for an upscale restaurant, but a bigger slice will work in a coffee shop.” Call it the art of adroit storytelling through food.

Plating has taken centre stage in fine dining places with chefs taking the big dish way
This reimagined cafe serves guilt-free food for those who want to eat healthy

Related Stories

No stories found.