Food Stylist Payal Gupta has been using her culinary art and handcrafting amazing food photos. Her food styling method has inspired creative food photography and resulted in stunning food advertisements for over a decade.

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Food Decorations versus Garnishes: Discover what to choose to style your food

Learn how a garnish is different than a decor

Food goddess Julia Child said, “It’s so beautifully arranged on the plate, you know someone’s fingers have been all over it. Truer words have never been spoken. Don’t you agree that the aesthetics of putting food on a plate is what marks true craftsmanship from the act of simply serving food? In that context, do you know that garnishes or decorations terms often used interchangeably are components that can make a huge difference to any plate of food?

So today, I’m going to talk about garnishes /decorations and the role they play in giving a makeover to your food.

Garnishes and all you need to know about them

Let’s say you’re preparing Valentine’s Day dinner for your beloved. You choose the most luscious strawberries, dip them in the dark brown gorgeousness of some chocolate and just before serving, drizzle them with stripes of white chocolate. Or, add fresh raspberry on top of your sumptuous and juicy raspberry cake to entice someone you love. Both times, you’re enhancing your food with more edibles that will not only add to the appeal of your food but also will enhance the taste. Now that, in simple terms, is what you call a garnish.

Strawberry dipped in chocolate
Raspberry cake with frozen raspberry as garnish-A great way to compliment fresh with frozen

But you must remember, garnishes need to fulfill certain criteria in order to classify as themselves. You must keep in mind the flavour profile of the dish and the balance in taste when choosing a garnish. Anything from sophisticated caviar to dainty strands of watercress can be a garnish, as can be edible flowers, a stalk of celery and a simple sprinkling of pepper.

However sometimes garnishes are even added to a dish to balance the color.Consider a crudité platter which is a platter of bite-sized vegetables that are served with a dip. Often,  crudité platters are decorated with sprigs of flowers, or a robust stem of thyme. In this case, thyme, adds a visual impetus as it gives a fresh feel to the platter by giving a color contrast with the hummus.

Crudite platter with hummus garnished with thyme

So, then what are food decorations?

Food decorations come into play when it is no longer a matter of what you will eat, but what you will consume with your eyes. Simply put, decorations are purely a visual element, a way of giving a new spin to simple elements of food and transforming adding them sometimes to food or sometimes placed next to food to make your meal setups picture-worthy. Unlike garnishes, food decorations are not always meant to be consumed. So here think of a beautifully painted basket of Easter eggs in bright hues and intricate patterns. The eggs are decorated with paints,fabric and other knick knacks and not garnished.These eggs lends in beauty when placed next to a food setup and lights up the space.

Eggs decorated for Easter using paints,paper flowers and glue

Or consider the case of a biryani dish decorated with cinnamon sticks,bayleaf and star anise.In this case the spices are meant to adorn the food but cannot be consumed so they simply decorate the meal and cannot be termed as a garnish.

Biryani decorated with Cinnamon,star anise and bayleaf

Garnishes versus Decorations-What to choose and when?

By now, you must’ve realised that all garnishes can be decorations, but all decorations cannot be garnishes. But, you can always choose a garnish and transform it into a decoration, as is often done in case of food styling which is an act of painting a picture on a plate that typically involves modifying, processing, arranging, and decorating food to change its appearance, to get it camera-ready.

Coming back to the question of deciding when to garnish and when to decorate, as a self-taught food stylist, I can tell you that choosing between garnishing and decorating vary widely depending upon the purpose in question.

In case I am preparing for a restaurant’s food launch, I would concentrate on garnishes that will help amplify the taste of the dish being served. This is because of the fact that the food would be consumed and needs to taste the best.

Another instance would be when I am preparing for a magazine shoot, and just need a beautiful looking plate for my actor to hold during shoot.In that case I will make some food decorations NOT garnish just to enhance the look of my food.Here since I am simply decorating I won’t be giving much thought to the flavor profile of the dish because it would not be consumed by the actor. It is this difference that separates a garnish from a decoration.

Garnishes and decorations both form an integral part of the wider application of food styling. But, in the end, it’s a food stylist’s call to pick one over the other or keep both elements. After all, this is the age of Instagram. So, the food you make must also be Instagram worthy. 🙂

Enjoyed reading the blog post? Did you know food decorations were not the same as garnishes? Tell me about your experience by sharing your favourite garnishes and food decorations in the comment section below!

Dear foodie,

Thanks for reading. Let me know any feedback by commenting below. It would be an honor to have you in my network. Feel free to connect with me if you’re active on these networks. 

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