Although I doubt that Sancho Panza would have cared much for the presentation of his food there is an undeniable truth in the saying: you eat with your eyes as well as your stomach. Cooks have always understood this and many of the same dishes have gone the merry-go-round of fashion. Think of the suckling-pig once presented in all its glory with a red apple in the mouth compared with today´s tiny cubed terrains with dainty accompaniments.
When I first started working in the kitchen I couldn´t care less for presentation. I saw plates leaving the kitchen with as much attention paid to appearances as to taste. My love of Sancho rebelled against such verbose extravagance.
As time has gone on I have come to appreciate the fun of designing a dish and the impression a good looking plate can leave on a guest and their palate.
One of the easiest ways to brighten up a meal is by adding herbs, seeds, nuts, salts or vegetable crisps.
Every restaurant I have worked in uses parsley or chives to brighten up their dishes and each one has had a different take on how to do it. The most impressive I have seen is to turn the chives into streamers by cutting horizontally up the chives until you have six separate cords fanning out rather like a cartoon shoot gun after it has been fired (see photo). By pulling down quickly along the length of the chive you can create very pretty streamers which look great with small intricate dishes.
Alternatively there is the Joel Robuchon method of cutting parsley into razor thin slices or the classic thinly chopped chives. Though this may seem to be for decoration alone they help to bring out the flavour of the main ingredients much in the same way as salt.
The crux to all this is forethought and imagination. Those half-used bags of dried fruits or nuts in the larder or that scraggly herb that has shoot up amongst the weeds in the garden – with a little creativity they can add a professional flourish.