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Eat With Your Eyes

Eat With Your Eyes

How to Plate Food Like the Pros 

Gainesville Culinary Queen Peyton Agliata Shares Tricks of the Trade  

By Jennifer Kennedy  

Local chef Peyton Agliata believes a meal should always look just as good as it tastes. According to the Culinary Institute of America graduate, an attractive presentation is a way for a cook to show respect to both the ingredients used to prepare delicious foods and the guests enjoying them.  

“You created a dish that is going to taste incredible – make sure it looks incredible, too,” Agliata said. 

The Iron Chef Gainesville winner’s impressive plating experience includes the title of sous chef at Headwaters restaurant and the National Geographic cruise line. While sailing the San Juan Islands, high expectations with limited resources helped take her creativity to the next level.  

During one harbor day, she needed to gather ingredients to create that evening’s vegetarian option. Presentation was as important as flavor. Agliata found squash, rose sugar, micro greens and parsnips at a polyculture farm. She created a delicata squash with herbed ricotta ravioli on a round of beet-stained parsnip puree, pine nut butter and micro fennel. The plate with shades of purple, yellow, deep green and gold remains one of her favorite dishes to prepare.  

Today, the owner of Bushel and Peck Bakehouse adds her imaginative style to sweet creations. While serving as the pastry chef for Wyatt’s Coffee, she learned to decorate beyond sprinkles. She prides herself on delivering a unique twist to every cake she designs. One of Agliata’s most innovative techniques is to dust the silky glass buttercream with blended freeze-dried strawberries for an elegant appearance. She adds edible flowers that look like they are blooming out of each cake for a whimsical touch.   

Whether it’s a mouth-watering meal or a delicious dessert, Agliata focuses on three basic principles when presenting food: 

  • Color  

Channel your inner artist and play with a symphony of hues. Try mixing pureed sweet potatoes into white mashed potatoes for a touch of orange. Blanch fresh herbs and blend with olive oil for a green look. Experiment with different colors and contrasts to brighten up the plate. 

  • Texture 

When preparing savory dishes, consider cooking techniques that transform the consistency of meats. Grill marks on a steak or a chicken’s crispy skin enhance appearance and taste.   

See Also

  • Height

Entice guests with visually interesting entrees by increasing depth. Build the asparagus higher by layering the stems instead of laying them flat on the plate. Garnish with a feathery herb such as fennel for extra height. 

Garnishing 101 

Herbs are a great way to decorate a plate with added purpose.   

  • Garnishing a taco with cilantro provides both subtle flavor and vibrant color. The fluffiness of the leaves contributes texture and height to the dish. 
  • Elevate chicken or steak with an old-school steakhouse trick. Torch the ends of rosemary sprigs to release an enticing aroma. Spread them in and around the meat for gorgeous color, texture and height.  

Peyton’s Agliata Favorite Classic Food Pairings: 

  • Fresh basil over pasta 
  • Sliced scallions on braised pork belly (DESIGN NOTE: labeled photo) 
  • Chopped chives scattered across vichyssoise 
  • Herbed compound butter with grilled or seared meats  
  • Chocolate curls or black cocoa dust decorating chocolate cakes  

Pro Tool Tip: Invest in a Kunz Spoon 

The Kunz spoon looks like a piece of silverware designed for cereal, but this cooking utensil is ideal for plating food. Chefs behind the scenes at the finest restaurants rely on this tool to help perfectly showcase their dishes. The egg shape creates soft drags of sauce or smooth shapes of butter. The size is just right for a clean scoop of polenta or mashed potatoes.  

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