The art of plating food with Douglas McMaster

I’ve been working with Silo’s chef and owner Doug McMaster pretty much since they first opened and one thing that keeps fascinating me is the way Doug plates his food. The food is really exciting but a real challenge to photograph at times.

Taking a break from a shoot, I asked Doug a few short questions to find out his philosophy behind plating food and his process. Here’s what he had to say:

Doug, what do you see when plating a dish for the camera?

That’s a very good question, Xav, and the first time someone asks me this. It’s a good balance between nature Vs nurture, visuals Vs structure. I know what I want but I don’t know where the dish is going. As I go along, the dish will start to take shape.

What do you look for?

Something not seen before! I stay away from the ordinary and avoid adding anything with a superficial value, I don’t do quenelles and stuff like that.  The dish has to be exciting; to achieve that I get seriously deep into my thoughts and then trivialize them. It’s seriously fun, that’s my philosophy

Where does this philosophy come from?

It’s all made up, it happens subconsciously.

So there are no artistic or culinary rules that you follow

Not really, no. Plating food, in my head, is like an equation or a formula but with no rules, anything can happen as long as the broken edges don’t offend the eye.

Broken edges… I like that! 

Yeah, the camera never forgives these broken edges so we have to hide them from the lens. They’re an unavoidable part of food, here’s where nature Vs nurture takes place. A charred edge for example or a cracked stem, it’s the nature of the food but for the lens, we have to care for the visual aspect of the dish.

What about the human eye, do customers care for broken edges?

They are very forgiving about these broken edges, so much, that we don’t notice them. That’s why we have to look at how the camera perceives the dish and then adjust the dish if we need to. I have now a pretty good eye for these details and I try to pass this knowledge to my staff. 

Is that the purpose for your central plating style?

partly, yes. It becomes an exploring experience for the customer, they have to dig in and explore to find ingredients, textures and flavours. It also gives a good sense of the scale of food for the camera. Central presentation is also my no-nonsense approach to creating dishes for Silo.

Doug, thanks so much for this. We’ll show some awesome shots to our readers: 




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