Trained chefs acknowledge the adage, "We eat first with our eyes." Take a clue from them and go beyond the typical three-point landing seen on home dinner plates -- a hunk of meat, a pile of vegetables and a scoop of potatoes or rice. Garnishing a plate like a restaurant chef doesn't require an eye for composition or even a particularly steady hand. A few flourishes and tricks of the trade can transform any meal into a feast for the eyes.
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Pool a spoonful of sauce slightly off-center on the plate. Set a scoop of potatoes or rice adjacent to the sauce. Lay the protein across the starch and into the pool. Pile the vegetables against the protein so they stand up: for example, asparagus spears pointing to the sky. Drizzle additional sauce from the squirt bottle in small amounts around the rest of the plate.
Squirt a pool of sauce on one side of the plate. Squirt a pool of a second, complementary sauce next to it, touching but not overlapping. Drag a toothpick back and forth across the sauces to commingle them in a zigzag pattern down the center of the plate. Layer the protein, starch and vegetables on top of the sauce, covering part but not all of the design.
Arrange the protein, starch and vegetables in an attractive manner on the plate. Overlap the items wherever possible: for example, stand the vegetables up against the protein. Hold the squirt bottle slightly off to one side of the plate. Apply a slight squeeze to the bottle as you simultaneously wave it back and forth across the plate. Rotate the plate 90 degrees and repeat the wave, creating a checkerboard pattern with the sauce on top of the food and extending to the edge of the plate.
Chop spring onions into 1/8-inch-thick rings and sprinkle them across the food.
Sprinkle red pepper flakes or cracked peppercorns around the plate, allowing some to settle on the rim.
Cut sprigs of fresh herbs and tuck them in between the protein and starch so they stand up, or cross chive stems across the protein.