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How to turn Filipino food into edible art

How to turn Filipino food into edible art

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Chef Mario Llorente Babol gives six tips on how to plate Filipino food fine-dining style and create mouthwatering meals that entice both the eyes and stomach.

There is no doubt that Filipino food is delicious. Our cuisine can proudly compete with the kitchens of other nations. But what we win on taste, we lack in presentation. We are used to serving food from the pot straight to the table. Unfortunately, our simple and straightforward way of serving meals does not elevate our cuisine in the same popularity as our Asian counterparts, and especially to those who have never tried Filipino food.

As a chef, I cook Filipino food for staff meals. I always get compliments and my colleagues are often surprised by how good Filipino food is. But they also tell me that our meals do not look very delectable.

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Taking inspiration from my years of working in different kitchens, from Spanish to Thai and Japanese, I began experimenting with my plating. Using the skills I’ve learned from my mentors, I recreate authentic Filipino dishes at home and turn them into elegant meals that I see in fine-dining restaurants. My philosophy is that food should look as good as it tastes, and I try to have my diners fall in-love at first bite.

The eyes always eat first (and nowadays the camera). Taking the extra effort to present your meals in an elegant way is also a way of showing love and appreciation to your guests or loved ones.

So, whether you are trying to impress your friends, loved ones or simply wanting to have a special dinner at home, here are my top tips on plating your Filipino dishes fine-dining style:

From left to right: Grilled talong, nilagang kamote with kalamansi emulsion, adobo with steamed okra, longganisa on a bed of rice.

Invest in proper plates – Choosing the correct plate for your meals is particularly important because it is the canvas where you create beautiful food presentations. Using complementing plates provides depth in your food and helps make your food more enticing to the eyes. Choose plates with lines, depth, in vibrant colours, and different textures. They don’t have to be expensive; scour your local second-hand stores and for good plates or wait for discount deals.

Mind your portions – The secret to an elegant serving is to tease the eyes first before the stomach. Do not dump your food into one big serving plate or bowl. Try to serve small portions and arrange the different components of your dish in a neat manner. For example, you can put only a few pieces of adobo on top of rice and spread the sauce on the plate instead of serving the whole pan. Do not ever overcrowd the plate. Leave enough space so that the food will stand out. But be prepared when your guests ask for more.

Don’t forget to garnish – Using garnishes is an easy way to make Filipino meals more enticing. Try using finely chopped herbs, small edible leaves or flowers or thinly sliced vegetables to decorate your main dish.

Use contrast and texture – Filipino dishes do not often have appetizing colour. To make them appealing to the eyes, you can create contrast and texture. For example, putting bright edible flowers and sliced peppers on your plate of laing instantly adds a pop of colour to an otherwise plain-looking plate of green. For sweet and soft desserts like kakanin, crunchy garnishes like toasted coconuts create texture and add more sensation in the mouth.

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Clean plates before serving – Before serving, make sure to wipe the plate off unnecessary sauce or crumbles that might be sticky or unappetizing.

Be creative and show your personality – Beautiful plating is only one factor of an enjoyable meal. Use your creativity and show your personality in plating your food, so you can turn them into conversation pieces. It will not only give you an opportunity to tell your guests more about Filipino cuisine, but will also guarantee an amazing start of the meal.

Editor’s note: Chef Mario Llorente Babol is a self-taught chef from Bicol. He worked for different restaurants in Barcelona, Spain, the last being La Catalista Wine Bar, which closed because of the pandemic. His Instagram page @indishtempo is an ode to his passion for food and music and serves as an avenue to inspire through Filipino cuisine. On Youtube he calls himself The Mediterranean Pinoy.

Photos by Pepe Chavez and Chef Mario Babol.

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