Learn to plate like the experts – We share our trade secrets!

Hosting a dinner party? Are you sick of slaving away in the kitchen for hours only to throw the different elements onto the plate? Ultimo Catering’s head chef Matt Leahy shares his trade secrets to add that wow factor and fine-dining flair to you plating.

The Low Key Tool Kit – You won’t need any fancy gadgets to up your presentation game. Many of Matt’s tools can be found in arts and craft shops, hardware stores and $2 shops.

Pastry brushes

Perfect for brushing melted chocolate onto a dessert, or making loose garnishes stick. Be warned, cheaper brushes may moult their bristles and you don’t want the strands mistaken for hair.

Miniature squeeze bottles

Fill these with gels and purees and get squiggling. Assorted sizes are available from art and craft shops.


Not just for your eyebrows, these come in handy for tweaking and placing delicate garnishes.

Melon baller

Scoop out small spheres of fresh fruit and vegetables to add different levels and shapes.


The chefs say the square plate has ‘had its day.’ Replaced with more ‘relaxed, free-form plates’. Ultimo recently bought some modern pale pink coloured plates from IKEA for our photoshoot, as seen in the above photos.

Don’t forget texture

Contrasting textures is as important as flavour and technique. It’s something that’s overlooked often. Instead, break things up with something crunchy, such as biscuit or praline.

Fancy flourishes to try

Freeze-dried fruit and vegetable powders add a burst of flavour and interest to a dish. Swipe the surface of the plate with a wet pastry brush (either water or oil) so that the dusting sticks and shake the excess off. This method also works with cocoa or icing sugar.

Think 3D

Matt is certainly not a fan of the ”90’s stack’. Instead, he suggests using upright shards of toffee or savoury crisps to add drama and height to a plate. “You’ve really got to think in three dimensions; base, colour and substance and visual-textural interest … you need bits and pieces to lift the whole plate,” Matt says.

Be deliberate with colour

Purees are a great way to add vibrancy to a dish, however the paste needs to pack a visual (and flavour) punch. “At least be obvious. If you’re going to do carrot, make sure it’s a bright orange. There’s nothing worse than getting a parsley puree that’s lawn-clipping brown,” Matt says.

Make sure that the flavour of the puree complements the main protein component of a dish. Here’s another tip for adding colour to a monotone main. “You can try and get away with having meat and mushrooms, but brown on brown on brown is pretty depressing. Beetroots and carrots and parsley are always good throwbacks,” Matt says.

Add a touch of theatre…

Have fun at the dinner table. You can allow guests to pour their own jus or sauce by serving a it from individual jugs. This also prevents other elements from getting soggy in transit from kitchen to table.

Keep it clean 

Before serving use a cloth sprayed with a 50:50 mix of water and white vinegar to polish the plate, and to tidy up any wayward smears. “We always spray the plates with the vinegar solution first and polish them, before we plate up, and if there’s any mess we go back.”