You've mastered the art of cooking, now it's time to master the art of 'plating up'. An attractive looking meal appears more appetiser to the consumer so learning how to make adornments from fruit and vegetables is a worthwhile investment. Here's a few easy ones to get you started.
The most basic tools that a beginner garnisher requires are a set of sharp knives in different sizes, a vegetable peeler and toothpicks or skewers. For more advanced garnishes, you may also require tools such as a zester, hand grater, melon baller and corer.
Ribbons: Using a vegetable peeler, strip very long, thin slices from carrots, cucumber and other long vegetables. These ribbons look good curled and sprinkled on top of a meat dish, arranged artistically around the plate or tossed through a salad.
Julienne vegetables: Also called a matchstick cut, to julienne is to cut your vegetables into very thin strips, like a matchstick. You can do this with nearly any vegetable but carrots, zucchini and cucumbers work the best. For a decorative julienne, soak a spring onion leaf in warm water and tie it around your vegetables.
Celery curls: Trim the ends from a stick of celery and cut into ten centimetre pieces. Use a sharp knife to cut thin slivers from the top of the celery piece to about halfway down. Place in ice water and refrigerate until the slivers have curled.
Tomato rose: This one is a little trickier, but looks gorgeous once you've mastered it. Use a sharp knife to carefully peel the skin away from a large, ripe tomato. Start at the top and spiral down so that you are left with one long corkscrew. Create your rose by wrapping the bottom end of the corkscrew into a tight funnel and wrapping remainder of the skin around this funnel.
Fruit boats: You can make these from any roundish fruit with a hard skin. Watermelon, rockmelon and oranges are the best choices, but you could also use pineapple, grapefruit or lemon (keep in mind, though, that the flavour of the fruit will permeate your food). Simply cut the fruit in half and scoop out the flesh. Fill with fruit salad, ice cream, punch, etc and serve.
Strawberry fans: Take strawberries with the green top still attached. With a sharp paring knife, make five or six thin cuts in the strawberry from the bottom, pointed end to just below the stem. Stretch the fan out, being carefully not to pull it apart, and arrange on your plate.
Bacon curls: Pre-soak toothpicks or wooden skewers. Cut middle bacon (or any type of fat free bacon) into long, thin strips and curl. Skewer the curls and cook in a moderate oven for about ten minutes. Bacon curls make a great accompanyment to nearly any breakfast dish.
If you would like to learn more about garnish making, the Black Pearly Epicure cooking school offers classes in garnishing.