Beautiful Food Presentation Tips

Greetings. I’m Donatella Arpaia, with the first in a series of guest blogs about holiday entertaining.

Today, I’m sharing ideas on how to present your food during the holidays. Trust me, you don’t have to be a chef to make a beautiful presentation.

presentationGuide_02As an Iron Chef judge, a third of the final score went to plating. At times I was criticized for emphasizing it, but thankfully my vote was what counted! Why shouldn’t presentation matter? Eating is a sensory experience, and before we smell or taste, we “eat” with our eyes.

You don’t have to have superior knife skills to make food beautiful. Below are some tips and tricks I learned along the way — from judging on Iron Chef to running my restaurants, to working on photo shoots with fantastic food stylists.

Think about plate size.

Crowding food on a small plate looks messy. Merely plating it on a bigger plate creates more white space, bringing elegance and beauty to even a simple green salad or appetizer.

Opt for neutral china. (But it doesn’t have to be boring white!)

There is a reason restaurants serve food on white plates: It lets the food shine. That said, don’t get stuck in a white plate rut. There are countless beautiful options — from clear to other neutral palettes.

Think about what you’re serving. For example, grilled meats call for rustic casual fare, so serving them on a vintage cutting board is more suitable than bone china.

When I designed china for the holidays, the color gold seemed most appropriate because it is a signature color for the season. However, I purposely keep the center of the plate white.


Be creative with garnishes, but make sure they are edible.

Garnishes enhance, as long as they are edible and go with the dish you’re making. Years ago many Italian restaurants put parsley everywhere, regardless of the dish being served, and mint would appear as a dessert garnish. It was overused and tired.

For my recent photo shoot, I got gorgeous microgreens. They are delicate and elegant, and vary in color from rich greens to deep purples.

Color and texture are important when plating.

A pop of color is so important. For example, chicken and potatoes are both brown; consider adding color with greens or purple potatoes. And I use pomegranate seeds to bring my winter white salad to life.


Create height when you can on the plate.

It will look more appealing than the same meal without any height, I promise!

presentationGuide_05Use the clock method.

It’s a rule of thumb for plating entrees: starches at 10 o’clock, meats at 2 o’clock and veggies at 6 o’clock. Then find a focal point and elevate it.

A clean plate always looks more elegant.

When serving a dinner party, have a damp paper towel handy to wipe the rims if any food lands there. (Think cheese stretching on lasagna portions.)

Donatella Arpaia

Donatella Arpaia is a chef, restaurateur, entrepreneur, and mother. She has built an empire of successful restaurants drawing on the skills, passion, methods, and love for food she learned from her family.