When I watch the chef contests on television, I am sometimes amazed that they score as highly on how the food is presented on the plate as on how it tastes. At first that may seem odd and it may even give the impression that presentation is about being posh (snotty for my American readers). We may think of presentation only in terms of fine restaurants or fancy dinner parties. But I have discovered a secret… presentation is another way of saying ‘I care about you,’ and of taking pride in what we do and make.
I will not forget a couple for whom I was their birth doula (it was their first baby and mine…as a doula anyway). After a wonderful birth that occurred late at night, the midwives and I stayed to get the beautiful new family settled. Any woman that has given birth can tell you, it is hard work and leaves you hungry. They did not want a full meal in the middle of night, so I prepared a plate of toast and biscuits. It was a simple snack, but I took the time to quarter the toast and arrange it all on the plate before serving them. She made the comment that she had eaten at many fine restaurants, but that she would remember this plate. Something that had taken me only a couple of more minutes to do had made this couple feel special on their special night as a new family. And it made me proud of my work.
In a previous article I talked about re-defining ‘Let’s Celebrate’ to be more home centred. A big part of that is how we present the food we prepare. Now you may scream…I don’t have time for all this crap. I can empathise. But the truth is that presentation takes seconds or at most less than five minutes to complete. At our big family celebration, I took the time to set the table…semi-formal to be exact. But I added unique family touches as well; such as my daughter’s Mr Men plates, bowls and cups. I also used the opportunity to spend time with her and teach her about knives, forks and spoon. In the end, she sat her own place at our family table. Like her mummy, she too took pride in doing this simple thing. The total time to set the table and plate the food elegantly was less than five minutes, even with our little lesson.
Another night I served duck leg in hoi-son sauce with rice on a plate of stir fried greens. It may sound terribly fancy, but it was simple. It took me five minutes to prepare the greens and layer them on the plates. I scooped a serving of rice on top and grated a tad of raw carrot. I then placed the duck leg on top and drizzled sauce over it all. The total time for presentation was less than two minutes. I also served shortcake with double cream and fresh fruit. But to make it a tad more special, I used a glass to press the cake into circle shapes before plating; it only took an extra minutes to make plain cake appear special.
So let’s rate this one against our Frugal Family core values:
Family first. Of all the things, this one may rank the absolute highest on this. Not only is it another way of saying ‘I love you’ to your family, but as with my daughter it offers learning opportunities.
Saving money. At the very least, presentation is something that you can do to make everyone feel special without spending money. But if you use disposable serving dishes, then it is also a chance to save money.
Environmentally friendly. Using our ceramic plates, bowls and glasses instead of paper or plastic is always a more environmentally friendly option.
Healthier. By taking the extra time to present our food, we are encouraging our families to slow down their meals. This allows for better chewing and ultimately better digestion. Not to mention the mental health improvements of being treated like the special people they are to us.
I know in the age of ready-meals and take-out it is easy to just grab food on the go or throw something on the plate. And I am not advocating making every meal into a formal dining experience, but I challenge you to once a week or so spend the few extra minutes it takes to turn the ordinary into the extraordinary. You may be surprised, especially at how it can encourage picky eaters to enjoy the adventure of food.