Not all of us are adept at styling food that is worthy of being served in a restaurant, especially messy food like pasta. In fact, our homemade spaghetti somehow always ends up looking like this:
Don’t throw in the towel just yet, though. We got food stylist John Sawarto to give us some tips on making simple dishes look restaurant-worthy. Now, how about an impressive home-cooked dinner?
How To Style Pasta
What You’ll Need
1. Pasta sauce: If you’re too lazy to make your own, buy the pre-made kind and simmer it lightly in a pan.
2. Pasta: Soak the pasta in ice cold water immediately after cooking and straining. This will prevent the pasta from getting too soggy.
3. Parsley: Soak parsley in ice cold water to make it look more vibrant. Make sure the roots are still intact though, so it can absorb the water.
4. Mushrooms: Try and pick the nicer ones that don’t look diseased.
5. Pan: To simmer the pasta sauce, obviously.
6. Chopping board and knife: Make sure the knife is sharp, or your mushrooms will end up looking uneven.
7. Tongs: To put the pasta on the plate.
8. Fancy plate: Preferably the kind with a deep hole in the middle. John says it makes the dish look neater.
Slice mushrooms into neat, thin slices.
Toss cooked pasta with sauce and mushrooms.
Use tongs to place pasta on the fancy plate, taking care not to grab too much pasta. Turn the plate with your other hand as you place the pasta onto the dish. This will make that nice twirly effect you get at restaurants.
Place mushrooms over the pasta, in a neat and spaced out manner. Alternate the mushrooms so that some are turned in and some are turned out. You don’t want to leave your guests wondering if that brown lump is a buah keluak or not, says John.
Add a sprig of parsley to garnish the dish, but don’t put too much or it will be overkill.
Wipe up any tell-tale sauce marks on the plate and you’re ready to serve.
How to Style Chocolate Cake
What You’ll Need
1. Chocolate muffin: We like this recipe from Joy of Baking.
2. Vanilla Ice Cream: Häagen-Dazs, of course. Try Meadow Gold’s Vanilla Bean ice cream if you’re on a budget – it’s pretty good.
3. Icing sugar: Remember to sprinkle this right before you’re about to serve dessert, because it tends to absorb humidity and get lumpy.
4. Strawberries: Get the ones from Korea, if possible. They are usually quite red and plump, and are not as expensive as the ones from Japan.
5. Chocolate wafer cigar: We like the Redondo ones, which are readily available at most supermarkets. Try the hazelnut flavour, it tastes amazing.
7. Sharp knife and chopping board: Make sure the knife is clean and dry, because we’ll be using it to make some icing sugar art later.
8. Fancy stone plate: Preferably in black, so that the icing sugar design will stand out. John likes to get his plates from ToTT.
9. Sieve: For sprinkling icing sugar.
Slice off the top bit of the chocolate muffin. This makes it look neater, because muffin tops look ugly.
Lay the knife on the fancy stone plane and use a sieve to sprinkle icing sugar over the plate. The outline of the knife makes for good icing sugar art.
Use aforementioned knife to slice a strawberry. Make sure not to slice it all the way to the leafy part though – you just want to create a fan-like strawberry.
Place the chocolate cake on the plate and put a small scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Use two spoons to shape the ice cream into a nice, oval shape.
Place the strawberry on the plate, and add a wafer cigar on top of the scoop of ice cream.
Ta Daaa! You’re ready to serve.
About John Sawarto
John is a guy who loves his food, and is more than happy to tell you about it. “Especially chicken wings,” he says with glee. “My mom calls me Chicken King.” As one of Singapore’s top food stylists, John has worked with big brands like Swensen’s, Wendy’s and Pizza Hut to style their food for product photo shoots.
“People think that food styling is easy, but it can get tiring because it’s a really meticulous task,” says John. “Once, I did a shoot dealing with raw chicken in Vietnam for 25 hours straight, and after that I didn’t want to eat chicken for a month. And I love chicken!”
The Indonesian Chinese food stylist is also a private chef, and counts French and Indonesian cuisine as his specialities. We hear he’s looking for food styling interns, so drop him an email if you’re interested.