A Guide to Exceptional Table Settings

Valentine’s Day is just a few weeks away so I thought I would help you set the mood by helping you set the table.

It might surprise you to learn just how much of what we taste is influenced by the other senses. To prove the point, there is a fad currently emerging called “dark dining.” There are two different approaches to dark dining but both involve the customers being blind for the entirety of the meal. DD enthusiasts claim that food tastes differently when you eliminate one of the senses. For the record the two different approaches to dark are that some restaurants have servers donning commando-style night-vision goggles while the other employees only vision-impaired servers.

The importance of what we see towards what we taste is essential. This is why chefs are so maniacal about their plate presentations. One example that comes to mind is Chef Charles Mereday formerly of the Battle House Hotel in Mobile, AL and a classmate of Tyler Florence at Johnson & Wales University.  A few years ago I did a profile on Mereday for ‘Zalea Magazine. My editor told me that when they photographed one of Chef Charles’ entrees for the article that the photographer took the liberty of rearranging the items on the dish. The chef politely removed the plate and cooked the dish again asking that the picture reflect the way the dish is served.

For the home cook an easy way to set the stage visually is to set the table creatively. One great teacher of how to set a table is Food Network star Sandra Lee. Though many have been critical of the food on the show (Lee admits to using 70% pre-made foods), none can argue that the TV star sets a beautiful table, or what she calls tablescapes.

Lee’s talent for tablescapes has started a whole genre of DYI books devoted to setting the table. Ironically she is the only person who has not published a book on the subject:

Of course treating your dining room table like a Broadway set is not the only way to set the mood. A simple yet elegantly set table can pop by simply putting a little effort into folding your napkins. I have compiled some videos that will walk you through the process.

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Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards
2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up
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