By Chef Martin Lopez
We all know the old saying, “You eat with your eyes first”. I am sure everyone can remember a time when they were reluctant to eat a dish because it just did not look like it was going to taste good. This is exactly why making the meals you serve in your restaurant or at your event look appealing is just as important as making sure that the dish is delicious. So, let’s take a minute to discuss garnishes. A garnish is an addition to an already complete dish. Its use should be to add to and complement the depth of flavor, color, and texture of the dish. Adam Banks of “The Cooking District” notes that, “A garnish on a dish is meant to be an embellishment; an item thoughtfully chosen and arranged to accentuate the main components of the plate”.
Garnishes are always edible
Anything on your plate should always be edible. The only exception to this rule is the obviously inedible elements such as skewers and toothpicks. Certainly, if the item looks like it could be eaten (a leaf, flower, or stem) it should be safe to eat. It is not the patron’s responsibility to know which flower is edible and which is just there for aesthetics. To avoid any confusion or mishaps, it is important to choose garnishes that are clean and ready to be enjoyed along with the rest of the dish.
The modern garnish game
Crowning a dish with a garnish adds a little something extra to the dish. While garnishing dishes has been around forever, modern trends in kitchens across the globe have dishes arriving to the table topped with flowers, mushrooms, and microgreens just as often as the classic sprig of rosemary or sprinkle of parsley.
In many cultures, the use of fresh and dried flowers in food date back thousands of years, so by no means is this anything new; however, this beautiful culinary awakening transition is trending in many world gastronomies. Some of the most popular edible flowers are lavender, hibiscus, rose, and sage flowers.
Just as edible flowers, there is also a current trend where chefs are using and incorporating microgreens into their dishes.
The “controlled-environment gardening” online resource, MaximumYield.com, defines microgreens as, “miniature vegetables that are often used in fine dining restaurants to enhance plate arrangements or as a flavor component”. The website goes on to say that, “microgreens enhance the freshness, beauty, and taste of different types of dishes. They are even smaller than baby greens and can provide different flavors, ranging from spicy to sweet”. Microgreens are often used to garnish sandwiches, salads, and soups. They are tiny because of how they are grown; they are harvested quickly, about a week or two after germination—and this is what causes the leaves to be so small.
Though their use in professional kitchens is becoming more and more prevalent, the average at-home-chef is familiar with the more common microgreens. And because of their quick and simple growing technique, they are easy to harvest indoors, making them a great option for a fresh garnish plucked straight from the plant in your own kitchen. Some of the most common microgreens that can easily be found in your grocery store are basil, cilantro, arugula, dill, chives, and fennel. Some of the lesser known – and even more trendy – microgreens include sorrel green apple or micro-papalo, both of which pair well with seafood.
The Microgreen trend is opening new opportunities for farmers and chefs around the country, such as the case of our good friend Chef John Gelineau from Mushrooms Naturally. Mushrooms Naturally is a company started by a chef for chefs. What started as a hobby for his own personal use has expanded into a small mushroom farm, supplying some of the top restaurants and country clubs in St. Louis. “My goal in switching to full-time cultivation is to provide the highest quality, locally grown gourmet mushrooms to the ever-growing and improving culinary scene of St. Louis.” “Local, Natural, Fresh” Mushrooms
A garnish is not only used in savory dishes. Think of a Piña Colada with the perfect slice of pineapple, or a beautiful slice of chocolate cake with a chocolate dipped strawberry resting against it. Professional Chefs, Mixologists, and even Home Cooks from a range of backgrounds are taking part of this beautiful trend. So the next time you plan a menu, make sure you are serving a meal that looks as good as it tastes by taking the time to choose garnishes that elevate each dish to the next level.
To learn more about Chef Martin Lopez, visit his website at