The Presentation of Food
I get questions about how to present the meal you have prepared for your family and to guests. A very wise lady a long time ago gave me this one little tip. The eye must feast first. Physiologically it gets the body’s digestive process going in order to satiate quicker... a sort of priming the shut off valve for your stomach. The whole digestive process gets going long before we put a morsel in our mouths and ends about 20 mins after we see or think about the food.
I know that sounds silly but there are actual clinical studies pointing this out. I know when I cook I sample everything for taste and texture before it reaches the table. I never let a dish go out of my kitchen without tasting it first. If I don’t like it, neither will my guests or family. So always, always taste your work.
For the main meat dishes, one should always bring the meat in whole to the dinner table, so that all can see the beauty and care of the preparation. It can have greenery and decoration but the main effort is to let those who are going to consume the fabulous dish to see it in it’s entirety. Once that has happened then remove it and take back to the kitchen to slice and return to the table for the meal. We used to think that it was done for a big tease, but as I found out, it was not only tradition but integral to the digestive process.
For meat casseroles, the dish should be brought to the table covered to stay warm, and once all are seated, then remove the cover and serve to each diner by plate asking if the amount you are putting on the plate to be enough. The smell of the dish while cooking is supposed to make everyone hungry. The final commencement of the dining process is the actual sight of the yummy dish. Chafing dishes are a true gift for these kinds of dishes, but one has to be careful not to dry out the food. So line your chafing dish with parchment to keep it moist. Meatballs in sauces, warm desserts and hors d’ouvers, anything you want to keep warm, the chafing dish is fabulous.
Fish is only slightly different from other main dishes. It doesn’t need to keep heated under cover but has to stay in a juicy state, cooked only until slightly done in order to keep it’s moist, juicy flakiness. So many times for entertaining I choose a cold fish dish to serve: mousses, mousselines, chilled cocktail fish, smoked on a platter… etc. Cold fish dishes such as a mousseline or chilled cocktail are typically served whole on a platter that can be passed around. A hot fish dish can be prepared in the kitchen on separate plates, set at each post, and then offer the accompanying vegetables, sauces and such.
I always find that serving a hot fish entree is the hardest of all dishes since timing is so important, and the smell of a hot fish dish in a chafing dish tends to overwhelm the dining experience. So if you are set on serving some sort of fish dish for a buffet the best way to go is a cold dish that can appear from the fridge in time to service. Always remember to keep fish dishes cold (unless serving warm and then keep the dishes above 134F) and throw away any seafood leftovers after the party since too many things can happen with all those little microbes dancing around inside the dish… remember the scene from Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life”…. the salmon mousse…
If you are preparing a buffet for friends and celebrants, then levels and placement is very important. Levels give great interest to the dishes and make the eye wander to find the one dish of greatest interest. It’s fun, and if you don’t like to decorate a holiday buffet table, then it’s great because you just use varying height plates and serving dishes instead of all of the greenery. Very easy and simple! Your guests will be surprised, and you will be feel great that you accomplished so much in so little effort. Everyone can create their own offering of food to your guests enjoyment. So you can have your cake and eat it too!
Originally published in 2013