March 8, 2018

We all eat with our eyes before the food gets anywhere near our mouth. Any time you look through a magazine, book or online at food images, they look amazing. Brightly coloured, superbly cooked, and mouth-wateringly enticing.

Looks, however, are not always what they seem. Publishers and advertisers know that food slapped onto a plate in someone’s kitchen won’t sell their product.

A lovely burger may take dozens of tries with different buns before the “perfect” look is achieved. Glistening vegies have oil sprayed on them, while salads are sprayed with water. Meat might grilled on one side so as to retain its plump look, then painted with apricot jam to make it look fresh and juicy.

That stack of pancakes you’re drooling over? It has cardboard between each layer and is then sprayed with water-repellent spray so the syrup glides off the stack. A wobbly stack of pancakes with syrup soaked into them isn’t quite so appetising.

Crispy skin chicken hasn’t even seen the oven. Instead, it had a browning sauce and food colouring poured over it, then a blow torch applied to create the effect.

This is to say nothing of the lighting, framing, top-class camera, and styling – all the little extras that help make the image look great but are not part of the dish.

Little wonder our own food photos don’t look near as appetising. Of course, not all food styling is about tricks; some is about care.

Cooking shows on TV always talk about the ‘plating’, where the presentation of the food is of equal importance as the taste. There is artful placement of the food and the decorations – that sprig of herbs, the series of decreasing-sized drips of sauce, a little mound of mashed vegetable alongside a sliver of another vegetable.

The plate is never full. Showing a lot of white plate means that patterns don’t compete with the food for our attention.

Even soups and stews, which are hard to make look appetising, have the magic wand of a serving spoon, a dollop of cream, or a side dish alongside to give it life.

We eat with our eyes. Set aside one night a week to cook a lovely meal, serve it on the ‘good’ plates and use heirloom cutlery (yes, the stuff you have to polish). The crystal glassware that Aunty Mabel gave you for your wedding could also make an appearance.

You might be surprised at how much better even chops and vegies taste with a bit of extra care.