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Jul 30, 2012 02:10 PM

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

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?

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

    Here's an amusing example:

    3 Replies
    1. re: drongo

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

      1. re: drongo

        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 )

        1. 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. 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. 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

                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

                  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

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

                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                      [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

                      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

                        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. 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

                    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

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

                      1. re: Ruthie789

                        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

                      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

                          Maybe go to restaurants that use shovels?


                          1. re: Bill Hunt

                            bill went into the hyperbolic chamber!

                            1. re: alkapal

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