Do's and Don'ts of oral food presentations.
By Adam Weiner, JD CFSE
I wrote my very first article, Teaching Presentation in 50 Minutes, for the Gold Medal Classroom in January 2009. The article discusses teaching the physical presentation of food.
My students presented their food daily in my culinary classroom. They questioned the wisdom of this, and I explained it helps them develop passion and pride. I also told them presentation skills would be required if they were ever going to compete. Finally, I explained that maybe not for their first job, but somewhere—and probably sooner than they expected—they will be required to prepare a tasting as part of a job interview.
I have recently attended a variety of tastings by people who wanted to move up on the kitchen ladder. Some had great food, some had good food, and some, well. . . . What they all had in common was they did not know how to orally present their dishes.
The lessons on how to orally present food, which I have given below, are applicable to culinary and non-culinary professionals. I have a dear friend who will say, “Adam loves this dish. I don’t know why. It isn’t fancy,” or, “Go ahead and taste this but don’t be afraid to tell me it isn’t very good.” As recently as last week, my friend said, “You want some of this? It didn’t come out right.” She isn’t alone amongst home cooks. The problem with these descriptions is the placebo effect. If you tell me it isn’t very good—and you are the one who made it—I will immediately think it isn’t good when I taste it.
Here are 10 rules for an oral presentation you should teach your students:
- Look proud and happy. If you are presenting your dish with teenage angst, then it will taste angsty. Smile and make eye contact if you are able. Speak proudly of your dish. Describe it in such a way that makes you (the cook) hungry to eat it as well.
- Don’t point at the food or touch the food or plate. Open your hand, palm up, and place your hand aiming just below the rim of the plate. Have the end of your fingers about six inches away from the plate.
- Think about what you are going to say before you say it. You know you will have to present the food so prepare for it. Plan what to say.
- If you can’t think of anything to say, just say, “Today, I made ________.” For example, “Today, I made chocolate chip cookies.”
- Don’t list all the ingredients. For example, don’t say, “This is a chocolate chip cookie made with flour, baking soda, salt, butter, white sugar, brown sugar, vanilla extract, eggs and chocolate chips.” (Note, you and every team member that made it need to know all the ingredients in case anyone asks about ingredients and allergies. See the article Why Every Student Must be Food Allergy Savvy.)
- Don’t apologize for the food. Your guests will pick up on this and it will immediately make them leery of the food, even before trying it. Some examples I’ve recently heard:
- It isn’t the best thing I’ve made.
- I know I should have cooked it less, but hey I am just learning.
- You’ll need a napkin it’s really messy.
- I wish I had made it differently.
- I don’t think I will make this again.
- My mom likes this, but I don’t.
- I hope you don’t have milk allergies because I put cream in it.
- Keep the adjectives to a minimum. It is fine to say, “These are great lemon coconut macaroons.” It would be way too much to say, “This is a plate featuring the world’s best lemon coconut macaroons that you have ever had the fortune to taste. They are out of this world.”
- Don’t make up titles or names. “I call this Kevin’s Bamboozle,” doesn’t tell anyone anything. “Today, I made shrimp scampi,” is a better way to tell your guests what they are getting ready to sample.
- Hold still and don’t get nervous. When some people get nervous, they swing around, wave their arms, look at the ground, etc. When in doubt look just above the right shoulder of someone in the center of the group to whom you are presenting and hold out your hand as mentioned in point two.
- Wipe the word “just” out of your vocabulary when describing food. The word “just” is a negative word 99 percent of the time. At a recent party, someone challenged me on this. I put my hand on my wife’s shoulder and said, “This is my wife.” The person nodded and no one else really noticed. I then said, “This is just my wife.” The other person said “ouch” and several people around us turned to stare. From a culinary context, say the following out loud: “Today, I just made fudge brownies,” versus, “Today, I made fudge brownies.”
Adam Weiner, JD, CFSE, has been a culinary instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area for more than 16 years.