Q.: What color of plate do chefs prefer?
A.: Most chefs prefer to serve their meals on a white plate, so the food is the center of attention. At La Dolce Vita, I was lucky to find a place that sells the blanks, the unpainted plates, that Anna Weatherley, Bernadotte and some other high-end china companies buy from and then have their designs painted on by their artists. (Blanks are the pure white porcelain plates without any color, but still with the embossing of the design, such as filigree and swirls.)
Another reason they might use white that is not really mentioned is that the sanitizer dishwashers restaurants must use are very harsh on dishes and would fade out the color over time.
Don't let this information stop you from serving your family and guests on your great Aunt Helga's bright green dishes from Liechtenstein. Do what you like!
Seasons can definitely influence the color of dishes you chose, and so can the formality of the meal. Another idea is to use a white plate for the main course and colored or patterned dishes for the salad, bread or dessert.
I have to say, I do not like eating off brown dishes at any time of the year, unless it is a pattern with a lot of white like a toile, but I think black dishes are very sexy and urbane. While I think of black and brown as close in the color chart, they are not close when it comes to serving food. Don't throw your turkey drumstick at me; I know the stores sell a lot of brown for Thanksgiving, but it is not appetizing or clean-looking to me. I would keep the brown in the linens and tablescape and/or maybe with the chargers.
Speaking of chargers, what is the reason anyone would use a charger, or service plate as they are also called, anyway? Why have another dish to wash? Do we leave them on for the whole meal or remove them at one point? What material should they be made from?
Chargers began way back when people were devising things to drive us crazy, as a way to keep your linens from getting soiled from sauce splashes and crumbs. They became yet another beautiful piece to add layering to your table.
Chargers can range in price from a few dollars for gold and silver at places like Target and Michaels to hundreds for fine porcelain. You do not have to worry if they are food safe, because you are not eating off them. (Are you?) They could be big banana leaves for a luau-themed party, woven squares of rattan, really anything you can think of. Remember that they do take space, so account for that.
Chargers were also a way for the server to remove the main dish and not get his hands dirty. (Think of white-gloved Carson and his under butlers of “Downton Abbey.”) Now it is a way to clear without you dumping the plate of uneaten food in your guest's lap and getting your hands dirty.
When to remove the charger is a matter of personal choice, but one rule is de rigueur: Dessert is not served on it. Some people only use chargers as a base for the soup and salad, if they are serving in courses. No matter what, it is always removed after the main course.
The standard practice is to consider your plate a clock. Place the protein at 6 o'clock, the starch at 11and the veggies at 2. The veggies should account for 50 percent of the plate and the other two for 25 percent each. I am not a fan of having my food all lumped into one big glob as some restaurants do. It looks disgusting, and I have never seen it done in any other country. Some leaning and layering is great, but stop making my plate look like something out of the Middle Ages. Also, the sauce should really be under the meat, not poured all over it.
Everything on a table was put there for a reason at one point in time and became customary. For example, the sharp edge of a knife faces toward your plate to show your guest that you are not going to stab him during dinner. The silverware goes from what is first used to what is last used. (You already knew that because you have watched “Pretty Woman” 30 times.) The French turned their forks with the tines down so it would not get caught in the lace of their sleeves.
It is all pretty interesting if you ever want to read up on it! Amazon has several books on it, as does Barnes & Noble.
Laura Wilson, owner of La Dolce Vita in Roanoke, is a Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef. Her column appears every other Tuesday in The News-Sentinel. Have a question for Laura? Submit it to clarson@news-sentinel .com or call 461-8284. We’ll pass on questions to Laura. This column is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinion of The News-Sentinel.