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How long have big white expanses of plate been a "thing"?

lamb_da_calculus Jul 30, 2012 02:10 PM

I've seen photos of many of the dishes featured in high-end restaurants like Per Se and Alinea. One thing that strikes me about them is how much white space there tends to be. The average dish is an enormous white plate containing a small concentric circle of food.

My question then is: to what extent is this just a trend? I've been reading about high-end dining for only a couple of years so I'm not familiar with less recent practices. Were (literally) small plates once popular? Colored plates, etc.? I have heard that sun-dried tomatoes were very "in" during the 80s: is an abundance of white space on the plate just a 00s/10s thing?

  1. Veggo Aug 13, 2012 05:56 AM

    My favorite plating presentation ever was a half dozen ramrod straight head-on grilled prawns hanging over both ends of a 10 inch plate on Margarita Island, Venezuela. So much more inviting than a few scrawny shrimp curled up like a cap napping on a plate the size of third base.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Veggo
      alkapal Aug 13, 2012 06:37 AM

      love that visual!

    2. Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:18 PM

      From a graphic design standpoint, the use of white space has been important for many decades. Many chefs are starting to understand that principle, and using it.

      As one, who does not want overly large portions of food in any course, if done artistically, I see no issue. The "artistically" aspect is of great importance.


      1. viperlush Aug 9, 2012 12:10 PM

        Too long. What I don't get is large plates on itty bitty tables. It's like a game of Tetris sometimes.

        1 Reply
        1. re: viperlush
          Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:34 PM

          Ah, small tables. Those are another big problem. I hate them.

          At most restaurants, where we frequent, we are assigned larger tables, as we often have maybe 10 wine glasses each, and those just will not fit onto a tiny 2-top.

          Maybe fodder for another thread?


        2. Sooeygun Aug 8, 2012 11:52 AM

          I hate when you are at a place with small tables and the plates barely fit on the table. Throw in a bread plate, water glass, wine glass, table decoration and you end up with the plate hanging off the edge.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Sooeygun
            cayjohan Aug 8, 2012 03:31 PM

            Yes. A place we've liked (very much) for the food has lost our business over the years for just this reason. Two-tops are tiny, and must accommodate water glasses, wine glasses, wine bottle, bread basket, bread plates, butter dish, flower-in-vase, water carafe, and a large water glass full of utensils and napkins, in addition to the served food. It's a "small plates" place, but the plates themselves are on the impressively large end. When in a small plates venue, I assume we are meant to order more than one apiece, and would hope to do so, but even three small plate orders, along with all of the other stuff on the table, leaves, literally, no room for the large small plates. We got tired of playing the "I'll hand you this, while you juggle that, and I'll balance the bread basket on top of something, and just keep your wine glass in your hand, because there's no place for it" game, while the server bringing our order stood there with three large plates (with a few bites each), needing someplace, anyplace, to set them down. I sympathize with servers in such a situation, but I honestly sympathize with me more, as it makes for a more than cumbersome dining experience. Should I really have to resort to putting our bottle of wine on the floor under the table to accommodate? I don't know. I just know it's poor planning.

            That said, I really don't mind the large white plate reality, since it's so different from my home dinners of "regular-sized" plates of varying colors and vintages...it sort of signals to me "I'm eating out," and it often looks very appealing. I just don't want that sort of appeal at the expense of having no room on my table for two for a slice of terrine, a couple of small wedges of cheese, and a plate of pickled vegetables. Big plates are fine for me, as long as there is enough real estate on the table to handle the size.

            1. re: cayjohan
              Sooeygun Aug 9, 2012 07:47 AM

              Your juggling scenario reminds me of a scene from Mad About You when Jamie's parents (played by Carol Burnett and Caroll O'Connor) host T-giving dinner in their new RV. Holding dishes in their laps, etc.

              I don't want to have to do that when I'm at a restaurant!

              1. re: Sooeygun
                cayjohan Aug 9, 2012 02:49 PM

                The fabulous smart aleck I am married to is of the opinion that the Very Artistic Large Plates should be shaped like artists' palettes so we can just balance them on an arm when the table is too small for the plates. (Might work well with all that brushed-on sauce business?)

                Laughing at the "Mad About You" reference. My parents were avid RVers and I. Have. Been. There. Big Midwestern farm-family style meals served on a teeny little table. It was indeed a juggle-fest. Wasn't really a Big Plate problem as much as a "holy cow, how many dishes can you possibly make for one meal on 18" of counterspace?" amazement issue. Good times, though...thanks for the giggle.

                1. re: cayjohan
                  Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:31 PM

                  Actually, we recently dined at a restaurant, where the "artist palette" concept was used, and to great effect.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                    cayjohan Aug 14, 2012 01:52 PM

                    Bill, I've seen those and love them! Almost bought a set after the smart-aleckness in question, since my hisband, son and I are all painters to varying degrees, and have a lot of friends in the art world...so we sorta like that frame of reference. I agree that they can look great, as we did a DIY sort of artists' palette platter of desserts for a friend's gallery opening, and it was a big hit. But: a plate like that needs some "white space" around it, too, to set it off to best effect. Thus, table-crowding of big plates doesn't in my mind work so well. Although...who knows? Maybe arm-balanced platters would take off. <grin>

                    I ultimately did not buy the palette shaped plates because of a quirky perceptual disconnect: I see a palette shape and I (in my dino brain) *smell* linseed oil.

                    1. re: cayjohan
                      Bill Hunt Aug 14, 2012 07:55 PM

                      Actually, that visual presentation was great!

                      I do not mind blank space, and do not want my serving to fill any bowl/plate. I want to first be wowed by the visuals, and then by the flavors and textures.

                      We do a ton of "Chef's Tastings," and many are up to 15 courses, so I want but a good taste of each. Yes, I would like to have a few much larger, and then a few not included, but at least I got the taste, whether it was to my tastes, or not. Some courses work, and some do not. Such is life.

                      Still, and as I am a very "visual person," the presentation is very important, and is the first thing that I encounter. It should be good.


          2. Bacardi1 Aug 8, 2012 06:54 AM

            As much as (as I said before) I too dislike the huge-plate trend, I will admit that the opposite is even more offensive - plates so small that you can't cut your food without something falling off the plate & onto the table. Although this is something that seems to be found at the lower end of the dining experiences, like IHOP &/or some small casual-style independents. So if given the choice between being served my food on a platter, or watching my salad, or fries, or whatever going onto the table with every bite, I'll opt for the platter. ;)

            1. b
              beevod Aug 3, 2012 08:49 AM

              Big white plates have been a "thing" since pretension surpassed presentation.

              1 Reply
              1. re: beevod
                Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:30 PM

                It sounds like you are just not dining at the correct restaurants.


              2. alkapal Aug 3, 2012 04:35 AM

                i'd date it back to the introduction of nouvelle cuisine, which became THE thing in the seventies. i think there was a reaction to that and normal plating was again the thing, but the fashion swings like a pendulum. it is amusing, isn't it?

                """Paul Bocuse claimed that Gault first used the term to describe food prepared by Bocuse and other top chefs for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.""" wiki.

                2 Replies
                1. re: alkapal
                  MelMM Aug 7, 2012 08:34 AM

                  Yes. And then remember there was "New American" which took hold in the late seventies and early eighties, and cemented this style of presentation in the US.

                  My understanding is that the presentation was influenced by Japanese cuisine.

                  1. re: alkapal
                    Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:29 PM

                    I predate the Concorde by decades, and recall several chefs in New Orleans, who specialized in lovely presentations of their dishes, in smaller portions, with plenty of "white space." They were into filling the eyes, and also the taste buds, with flavors that most folk had never encountered.

                    I do not care what one calls, it, or when they coined that term, it is about being visual, in a culinary manner.


                  2. Ruthie789 Aug 3, 2012 04:18 AM

                    Agree that there is more space on the plate but what is there is presented in almost a tower so I think there is more food vertically than horizontally!

                    1. Peg Aug 3, 2012 01:52 AM

                      I prefer lots of white space to a small portion served on a tiny plate - unless there are several tiny plates being served at once.

                      1. r
                        redfish62 Jul 31, 2012 05:20 AM

                        I always feel cheated when presented with one of these dishes, there's a "That's it?" sort of reaction

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: redfish62
                          Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:26 PM

                          Are the flavors not there? Are you not enjoying the tastes?

                          Maybe an All-You-Can-Eat-Buffet would be more in line with what you want?


                        2. h
                          Harters Jul 31, 2012 05:00 AM

                          1980s - hand in hand with nouvelle cusine.

                          1. Bill Hunt Jul 30, 2012 09:41 PM

                            For me, being first a visual person, what part do you not like? Is it the small portion, or the display of the portion?

                            As with advertising, and advertising photography "white space" is a good thing, and should be utilized properly in design.

                            Many chefs choose plating, that seems a bit large, but then use that space (a canvas, if you will), to present the food.


                            8 Replies
                            1. re: Bill Hunt
                              lamb_da_calculus Jul 31, 2012 10:01 AM

                              I don't have any great problem with this practice. In general i like a minimalist aesthetic, so it's visually pleasing. It does seem oddly inefficient to allocate that much free space, though.

                              1. re: lamb_da_calculus
                                Ruthie789 Aug 3, 2012 02:31 PM

                                That's why they put pretty little droplets of oils, juices to fancify the sparseness.

                                1. re: Ruthie789
                                  Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:24 PM

                                  But you know, sometimes those little droplets and smears of oils, etc, can be very, very flavorful, at least to me.


                              2. re: Bill Hunt
                                njmarshall55 Aug 7, 2012 06:47 AM

                                Personally, I want food PUT on the plate...not painted on the plate. And if you need a pair of tweezers to put my food on the plate, I'll go elsewhere.

                                1. re: njmarshall55
                                  mucho gordo Aug 8, 2012 02:26 PM

                                  Well said.

                                  1. re: njmarshall55
                                    Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:25 PM

                                    Maybe go to restaurants that use shovels?


                                    1. re: Bill Hunt
                                      alkapal Aug 13, 2012 05:36 AM

                                      bill went into the hyperbolic chamber!

                                      1. re: alkapal
                                        Bill Hunt Aug 13, 2012 07:55 PM

                                        Yes. You are correct there, but then some will be much happier with that route.


                                2. f
                                  ferret Jul 30, 2012 04:00 PM

                                  Were you absent during the 70's "nouvelle cuisine" movement? Lots of fussy food on a dribble of sauce on a large white plate. Been going on for decades. Alinea and Per Se are different in that the courses are intentionally on the smaller side and, at Alinea, the plates are often part of the spectacle of the service (and believe me, the tiny portions add up, I can't imagine anyone ever leaves Alinea feeling hungry)

                                  6 Replies
                                  1. re: ferret
                                    lamb_da_calculus Jul 30, 2012 05:53 PM

                                    I was born in the early 90s so yes, I don't really know much about food trends before the 00s. In part that's why I started this thread. I have heard of nouvelle cuisine, but I was under the impression that it was distinctly a French reaction against the heavy flour-based sauces of Escoffier and company. Here's an excerpt from Jacques Pepin writing in the New York Times in 1988:

                                    "Nouvelle cuisine is not strictly low-calorie cooking. Neither is it cooking without flour. It does not mean raw fish or vegetables that are merely blanched. It is not serving meat and fish with fruit or fruit sauces, or decorating an oversize plate to look like a painting. It isn't a degustation menu, where instead of three standard dishes, eight small portions are presented to better reveal the talent of the chef. Although invention and creativity are among the recommended dogmas, nouvelle cuisine is not a wild mixture of the most esoteric ingredients, combined to shock the diner, regardless of taste. Probably that is most responsible for the exaggerations in nouvelle cuisine."

                                    I'm surprised how much the stereotype of nouvelle cuisine here sounds like what el Bulli and Alinea and Fat Duck do now.

                                    1. re: lamb_da_calculus
                                      Bill Hunt Jul 30, 2012 09:51 PM

                                      Well, the term, "Nouvelle Cuisine" predates you, and maybe by two decades.

                                      The typification of various "tasting menus" as "Nouvelle Cuisine" has been around for a very long time.

                                      Most of the complaints came from folk, who were used to having dinner at restaurant ____, and then having left-overs, in a doggie bag, that would feed an entire neighborhood for a week.

                                      Some chefs concentrated more on quality, and tasting many items, than providing vast quantities of food for a low price.

                                      Some folk took exception to such thinking, and began doing scathing reviews of restaurants, that did not offer quantities, that would feed a family of 10 for several days. Too many, used to giant quantities of very bland food, as some sort of a guide. More, to them, was always better, regardless of whether less, but of higher quality was the ultimate.

                                      For many of their readers, mediocre, but in great quantity, was better than great, but in smaller portions.

                                      Luckily, most diners have been able to shake that off, and judge for themselves.


                                      1. re: Bill Hunt
                                        KaimukiMan Aug 3, 2012 01:34 AM

                                        and for those who are wondering, the esteemed Mr. Hunt has a perfectly healthy appetite.

                                        1. re: KaimukiMan
                                          Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:21 PM

                                          [Grin] Yes, he HAS been known to eat a bunch, so long as it's great food!

                                          Now, when I look at MY "food pyramid," I want to see foie gras, bacon and then grits represented. If they ARE surrounded by a white plate/bowl, but are presented with great design taste, so much the better.


                                        2. re: Bill Hunt
                                          mucho gordo Aug 3, 2012 12:14 PM

                                          I'm old fashioned. I like to recognize the items on my plate and don't like to leave the table still hungry

                                          1. re: mucho gordo
                                            Bill Hunt Aug 12, 2012 09:23 PM

                                            In the last 30 years, I cannot ever recall leaving the table hungry, even in the most "tony" nouvelle places. Actually, I most often beg the servers to go light on my cheese course, as I am getting full.

                                            As a graphic artist, I greatly appreciate a beautiful presentation, and that is one reason that I never fell for the idea of dining in total darkness, being fed by blind servers. i want to enjoy the visual beauty of my food.


                                    2. e
                                      escondido123 Jul 30, 2012 03:45 PM

                                      Worse than the big plates are the big bowls that contain something you need to cut with a knife and fork. How the hell you supposed to get in there?

                                      1. Bacardi1 Jul 30, 2012 03:43 PM

                                        The "big plates" trend has been going on for years.

                                        In fact, even though I'm not a big Gordon Ramsey fan, one thing that I do agree with him on are these stupid big plates. In more than one of his "Kitchen Nightmare" restaurants, he's smashed & discarded stacks of these stupid big plates.

                                        1. drongo Jul 30, 2012 03:06 PM

                                          I hope it's merely a trend and that it will soon be gone.

                                          Here's an amusing example: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_VF_lKKti_nY...

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: drongo
                                            grangie angie Jul 30, 2012 03:25 PM

                                            HaHaHaHa....BIG chuckle on that ridiculous plate!!!

                                            1. re: drongo
                                              drongo Jul 30, 2012 05:09 PM

                                              To be clear, I'm more than Ok with the small portions because I struggle to keep within the "normal" BMI range... but the huge plates seem to me ridiculous (though I think the exactly the same about oversized pants-on-the-ground http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tMwhl4... )

                                              1. re: drongo
                                                CindyJ Aug 3, 2012 02:28 PM

                                                And that was the entree!

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