Even though restaurant dining rooms are reopening across the country, during the COVID-19 pandemic it’s still safest to eat at home and support your favorite chefs by treating yourself to a nice takeout meal. But if you’re sitting on your couch in pajamas and desperately longing to relive the restaurant experience of yore, including snapping pics of Instagram-worthy dishes, you should consider taking the time to plate your takeout accordingly.
For Rishon Hanners, a food stylist, plating her takeout brings a sense of normalcy. “Setting the table, and actually sitting at the table and then having some candles lit and some flowers, makes you more present in the moment and makes it special even though you’re just bringing food back home,” Hanners said.
Photographer and food stylist Angie Mosier adds that taking the time to style your takeout is a way to pay homage to the restaurant staff who prepared your food. “Otherwise, then all this great food just ends up being like a KFC bowl. It’s like it’s just a pile of fluff,” Mosier said.
Start with properly reheating your takeout
Before you get to styling, take a moment to reheat your food. Not only will it taste better that way (duh), but it’ll also add to the overall aesthetic of your meal. If you bring home steak, for example, you can pop it in the oven at 425 degrees for a few minutes, Hanners suggested. You can also re-sear it in the skillet to help it form a new crust. “Taking a little bit of extra time to reheat your food will also make it really special and make it feel even better. And you’re probably going to enjoy it more,” Hanners told HuffPost
Let the type of food dictate which plates you use
If you have a few different plate options to choose from, let the style of your takeout determine which plate to use. “If I was at a white-tablecloth restaurant that has eight steaks and you’re spending a lot of money on it, then I might choose to place that dish on a beautiful, oversized white plate and make the steak the true star and put my sides in little dishes,” Mosier said.
Sam Nadolski, the influencer behind the account Eating Through Atlanta, has acquired a couple of different plates over the years for food photography purposes. Since the pandemic started, she’s been styling everything from takeout omelets to burgers. “I figure out what I want to focus on with the dish. With [Atlanta restaurant] Bocado, I really wanted to showcase that the burger looked amazing but also show that you get sides,” Nadolski said. “So I figured out my focal point and then from there I built on the dish itself.”
If you do plan on taking a picture, stick to neutral-colored dishes if you have them. “It allows the food to be the thing that shines versus the vessel itself,” Hanners said.
Have fun with plating your food
You could just pile up your takeout on one plate and be done with it, but don’t be afraid to flex your creative chops.
Let’s say you brought home a protein with mashed potatoes and a veggie dish on the side. Let the protein be the star, Mosier said, and think about how the restaurant might have served it. “Starches are a good way to put a base layer on your plate, and then layer all the other elements on top of it,” Mosier suggested. “At the restaurant there was probably mashed potatoes down the middle of the plate, and then spears of asparagus overlapping the potatoes on one side and then the protein on top and perhaps a garnish.”
When it comes to plating something like pasta, Hanners likes to play up the sauce element. “No one wants to look at dry pasta,” Hanners said. Also, don’t just throw it in a bowl. “I think that a plate of pasta is very iconic in food styling, obviously. And it’s a little tricky, but just give that puppy a swirl and let it up with a fork or a pair of tongs. Just a nice swoosh of pasta is more attractive to the eye versus seeing individual strands of pasta that just look like they’re all tangled up together,” she said.
Add your own finishing touches
Some restaurants include the garnishes your dish needs. If not, don’t hold back from adding your own touches. Herbs add a nice pop of color (and you likely already have them on hand) and finishing salt adds some texture. Mosier suggests adding a drizzle of olive oil on pasta or a pat of compound butter on proteins like steak.
Artfully arrange your backdrop
Once you’ve gone through the effort of styling your takeout, you may as well set a nice table for it, too. Not only will this look great for Instagram, but it adds to the experience that you’re re-creating at home.
Mosier likes to think about a color palette and which colors will complement the dish. “Use a bigger plate as a charger, and put a smaller plate or a bowl on top of that. It’s just really about an experience, and I think we’re all delighted when we set a pretty table at home,” Mosier said. She also suggests adding a bloom or two for an accent.
If setting a table is too much, but you still want that picture, use a neutral background. For Nadolski, that tends to be her kitchen counter, where she also gets good lighting. She also bought a couple photo backdrops (you can find them on Etsy) since she’s taking way more pictures at home now. “What’s great about those is I can bring them in, and it makes it look like it’s in different spots of my house. And it kind of provides that nice clean background, which helps pop the food sometimes,” Nadolski explained.