Learning to Plate Like a Pro!

Last week I spent the better part of a day learning new plating techniques at one of London’s leading specialist party planners, Blue Strawberry/Table Talk. Owned in part by Molly Ronan, the sister of a close friend, I was given access to the company’s busy kitchen to observe and ask questions of the chefs who were plating food for a tasting at lunchtime.

Confit of Guinea Fowl, with Charred Hispi Cabbage, Chorizo Salad, Hazelnut Puree & Beer Dressing.
Confit of Guinea Fowl, with Charred Hispi Cabbage, Chorizo Salad, Hazelnut Puree & Beer Dressing.

Blue Strawberry and it’s sister company, Table Talk, are not only highly-regarded for orchestrating extraordinary events at which they serve delicious food, they are also renowned for the way they present it. We eat with our eyes, as some say, and as such I’ve been following Blue Strawberry’s imaginative plating on social media for months. While I am now comfortable creating my own recipes and experimenting with different flavors, textures and colors, I was less sure about modern plating techniques, most of which have changed dramatically since I attended cookery school in the 1980s. It was for this reason I asked Molly to join their team for the day.

Plating up the canapés for a tasting at lunchtime.
Plating up canapés for a lunchtime tasting.

And what a team it was: fifty professional chefs led by Executive Chef Ebbi Buchmann, a Namibian native, and Head Chef, Dylan Cochrane, a South African native. I was among my people! Ebbi’s an African who has cooked his way into Kensington Palace and 10. Downing Street, working under Michelin-starred chef, Anton Mosimann. There, he cooked for five successive British prime ministers, and was part of the team that catered for Prince William’s wedding to Kate Middleton.

Chicken & Buttermilk Sphere, Lemon Thyme, Crisp Soda Bread & Apricot Gel.
Chicken & Buttermilk Sphere, Lemon Thyme, Crisp Soda Bread & Apricot Gel.

Dylan, in his position as Head Chef at Blue Strawberry/Table Talk, has collaborated with celebrity chefs like Angela Hartnett, Helene Darroze, Jason Atherton, and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. He manages the kitchen, overseeing all the chefs, while crafting and executing myriad top-quality, locally-sourced menus, served at events and banquets around Great Britain.

South African, Dylan ?, with his schedule behind. He and his team catered for 2,125 people the week I was there.
South African Dylan Cochrane, with his hefty schedule on the white board behind.

It was the Chelsea Flower Show the week I worked with the Blue Strawberry/Table Talk team. Along with two weddings, an event at Westminster Abbey and another in the City, as well as the various breakfasts, lunches, dinners and canapés for the flower show, they fed 2,125 people. I witnessed the preparation of part of this mammoth task firsthand, which also included a tasting for potential clients. Dylan allowed me to hover around him and his team as they prepared and plated a number of dishes for the tasting, the menu of which included some of the canapés and appetizers photographed below.

Spiced Tuna Tartare with Cuttlefish Crackers.
Spiced Tuna Tartare with Cuttlefish Crackers.
Burrata & Creamed Goat's Cheese in a Charcoal Cone served with Basil & Honey Jelly.
Burrata & Creamed Goat’s Cheese in a Charcoal Cone served with Basil & Honey Jelly.
Slow-cooked Beef Fillet, Mustard Egg Emulsion & Spiced Caviar.
Slow-cooked Beef Fillet, Mustard Egg Emulsion & Spiced Caviar.

I then documented Dylan plating an appetizer for the tasting. He showed me various techniques he used for bringing together different elements of the Summer Beetroot Salad with Ewe’s Milk Curd, Figs, Truffled Honey, Pistachio Crumbs & Water Cress, pictured in steps below. I noted how the dish was slowly built in layers, with careful consideration for color, texture and flavor in each step. This recipe was one of many designed for Blue Strawberry/Table Talk by 2012’s Masterchef Professional winner, Keri Moss, who consults as a food designer for the company.

The beginning.

BS - Plating beetroot dish 2

BS - caramelizing figs

BS - Dylan plating 1

BS - Plating beetroot dish 1

Summer Beetroot Salad with Ewe's Milk Curd, Figs, Truffled Honey, Pistachio Crumbs & Beer Dressing.

Summer Beetroot Salad with Ewe's Milk Curd, Figs, Truffled Honey, Pistachio Crumbs & Beer Dressing.
Summer Beetroot Salad with Ewe’s Milk Curd, Figs, Truffled Honey, Pistachio Crumbs & Water Cress.

Much gratitude to Molly Ronan, JoJo Browner, Ebbi, Dylan, and the Blue Strawberry/Table Talk team for allowing me to get in their way on such a busy day. Thank you for answering questions, explaining different techniques, and for giving me permission to use some of your photographs. Everything I learned will, I hope, be translated into the dishes I create for The Elephant Cafe, which is to open on the Zambezi River in Livingstone, Zambia, soon.

Annabel Hughes is an award-winning chef and blogger, and the creator of “bush gourmet” cuisine.

14 Comments

  • In a word: salivating.

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  • Omg l am green, what joy, fabulous post darling girl, thanks for sharing xxxx

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    • So much gratitude, dear Tracey. It was such a fantastic day!

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  • Hugely interesting and I am so glad you had this very interesting experience. At the same time may I play devil’s advocate to a degree: Yes, naturally food served should appeal to the eye first, but I do not subscribe to any ‘fashionable’ of ‘modern’ plating ideas: to me here today, gone tomorrow. Methinks plating should be the artwork of the food preparer – individualistic and ‘artistic’ in that person’s eye . . . thus also different one from the other! I believe I initially learned to think about this during my many trips to Japan where the selection of a dish/plate/container is an art form and the offering follows suit so it is balanced and appetizing . . . well, that is how I try to do it anyways . . . 🙂 !!

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    • Yes, you are quite right, Eha. It is the artwork of the preparer that counts. In this instance I was interested to learn more techniques to make my own “artwork” better. We shall see soon!

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  • Can’t wait to see your learning demonstrated at The Elephant Cafe, really look forward to it x

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  • Beautiful! Blue Strawberry are brilliant likewise the fab Molly Ronan. No pressure Annabel 🙂

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    • Yeah … no pressure at all, haha! As our Afrikaans teacher at high school used to tell us: “If you want to reach the sky, you’ll reach the treetops. If you want to reach the treetops, you won’t even get off the ground!” 😉

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  • Those are beautiful dishes, although personally sometimes I feel that plating is overdone. Wild edibles sound lovely, and certainly add beauty. I guess I draw the line when I don’t even know how to take that first bite!!!

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    • Yes. I do agree with you, chef mimi. It’s a balance. Flavor, texture and color are all essential, but being creative in how one presents your food is also a great thing. Thanks, as always, for stopping by!

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  • I guess I think that good food is pretty food, but those presentations are beautiful. Did you eat a whole Nasturtium leaf? I don’t think I could!

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    • I did! I have! And I will continue to do so! Nasturtium leaves are very good for you … especially for fending off sore throats and colds. They are slightly peppery so are also a great addition to a mixed leaf salad … and the flowers jazz them up!

      Reply

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