Food Aesthetics: The Importance of Food Presentation in Combating Loss of Appetite and Depression

I think it’s safe to say that cooking is my first love. I remember watching cooking shows (Cooking with the Dazas, Cooking with Sandy, Wok with Yan, etc.) at a very young age. My first attempt at cooking was at 5 years old, one summer morning at my mom’s hometown in La Union. Every summer, I would go over to visit cousins and spend time with my grandparents. I was bored and I wanted to try making scrambled eggs Sandy style, with evaporated milk. So I asked my grandfather to watch over me as I tried my hand at cooking. It was a successful breakfast for a first-timer, and I have been cooking since then.

I continued learning by observing my mom and our household help in the kitchen. I also started watching more cooking and baking shows. As I began expanding my repertoire and exposing my palate to different flavours, I also became interested in food presentation. We eat with our eyes first, after all. I loved watching the chefs make plating look so effortless. I was drawn to the use of colour to highlight the food, how sauce is utilized as decoration, and how they are all tied together by the beautiful dishware. Not only does the presentation make the food enticing, it also makes the experience of eating it even more special. And although I may not be the best in plating, I try my best to marry taste and aesthetics in my cooking. Some may think of it as fussy, but I find great pleasure in making my food not only taste good, but look nice as well.

Those who know me personally (or those who have been following my Instagram account for a while) may know that I use cooking as a therapeutic activity and stress release. I found myself in the kitchen a lot when I was going through my crappy year. I used my free time to make myself some nice meals to help me with my mood. When I was feeling extra creative, I would document these meals as visual reminders for myself in case I need to recreate them in the future. I found that making my meals aesthetically pleasing helped me overcome my loss of appetite and dour demeanour.

To those who want to try it out, here are a few tips to make your simple home-cooked meals look better. Bear in mind that I have no formal training, and these are just based on my own personal experiences:

  • Invest in quality pieces that suit your style – personally, I am all about the Moroccan/Mediterranean/rustic/hipster vibe so for the most part, I tend to gravitate towards the colourful ceramics, copper cups and utensils, wooden bowls and plates, mason jars, etc.

Prepped a boodle fight for seven at home all by myself
  • Don’t be afraid of colour – it’s 2020, so leave the monochromatic scheme behind. Especially with food, it’s more appetizing to see different colours on your plate. And you have to admit, having that variety makes you feel a little bit fancier. If that doesn’t lift your mood, I don’t know what will.

My Paella Valenciana
  • Play with garnish – I know this goes against what we’ve been taught as children, but when it comes to food decoration, you need to have that playfulness to inspire your own creativity. And lastly,

  • Practice makes perfect – I’ve had my fair share of failed plates too. I was just smart enough not to take photos of them (lol). But all jokes aside, we can’t expect things to come out perfectly the first time. Even the pros make mistakes too. It probably took them many years of training to master the art of plating. So as beginners, we cannot be too hard on ourselves if we end up making mistakes in the process. Plus, self-criticism is counterintuitive to our therapy.

I find cooking to be a very relaxing activity. It keeps my mind focused on the task at hand, instead of stewing in negative thoughts. Making my meals look presentable is my way of showing myself some love – that I deserve to have a nice looking meal even if I am the only one eating it. The best part is that after all the prep and decoration, you get to eat the fruit of your hard work. And if you made enough servings, others may get to enjoy it too. Should I post my address for future food delivery?

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