Charles Mereday

Review: Working the Plate

From Working the Plate Christopher StylesA number of years ago I was the food and drink writer for a lifestyle magazine called ‘Zalea.  My editor had asked to do a profile on executive chef Charles Mereday of the Trellis Room at the Battle House Hotel.  Mereday was a heavy hitter – a former culinary instructor who taught at Birmingham’s famed Culinard School.  When he was an incoming freshman he received a welcome letter from then-Commander’s Palace chef Emeril Legasse.  The school was Legasse’s alma mater Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina; also in Mereday’s class was Tyler Florence.  See what I mean?  A heavy hitter.

As part of the story we photographed one of the Trellis Room’s signature dishes.  After the dish was brought out the photog took a handful of pictures before rearranging a few elements on the plate to make for a more esthetic effect.  Chef Mereday walked over, picked up the plate and dumped its contents into a trash can.  He then firmly but kindly asked the photographer to only take pictures that represent how the dish would look to the customer.

I had to explain to my editor that to a chef their food is their career, their reputation.  A chef battles all day long against apathetic or hurried employees who simply don’t get that every single dish is a reflection of the vision of their chef.  Our photog had tampered with that vision.  Chances are no one would have noticed but it only takes one person (with a food column or a blog) to make something an issue.

Working The Plate Christopher StylesFor a food blogger capturing the essence of a dish in all its megapixel glory is just as paramount.  It is for my fellow food bloggers that I sought out a review copy of Christopher Styler’s Working the Plate – the Art of Food Presentation.  In order to give them a tour through the creative nexus of a highly respected chef.

Styler breaks down plate presentation into categories that represent various approaches.  To do so he enlists the help of some of the nation’s most respected chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Suzanne Goin and Wayne Harley Brachman.  There are ten chefs in all that allowed Styles and photographer David Lazarus to pick apart their plate presentations, chefs who are known as much for the look of their food as the taste.

Though Styler enlists some big names for Working the Plate, it doesn’t seem to quite capture the thought process of them.  It does contain some beautiful food porn and there are glimpses to the mindset of each chef but if fails to bridge the gap between conception and presentation.  It is a good guide to what great food photography should look like.

If you are a chef hoping to learn the latest trends in presentation you’ll be disappointed.  That is not the author’s fault however, with the notoriously slow pace of the publishing industry there is no way a book on trending plate presentations can ever be released in a timely manner.  Still, if you are just learning presentation or food photography it is a fine jumping off point.

I’m giving away a copy of Working the Plate.  Last day to sign-up is 1-31-12.  To enter click HERE.

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.

Follow Stuart via “the Online”

Sip & Chew with Mike and Stu

Add to Google


Stuart in 80 Words or Less

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.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

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


Subscribe to this blog

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

ISO 9000 Culinary Arts Certification