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Originally published October 3, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified October 3, 2007 at 2:01 AM

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A chef's tricks for building a great-looking plate

When chef and former restaurateur David Hagedorn applied his touches to our makeover plate, he offered more tips to home cooks interested...

Special to The Washington Post

When chef and former restaurateur David Hagedorn applied his touches to our makeover plate, he offered more tips to home cooks interested in ramping up the visual appeal of their food:

Select the plate: Go with plain white, and keep proportion in mind. For three components, a 10-inch plate with a 1 ½-inch rim and a slight well gives the food a little room to breathe. The well defines the space and keeps liquids from running. The rim frames food just as margins frame words on a page.

Watch dimension: A little piling goes a long way. Towers of food that topple with the first cut of a knife have gone the way of the '90s.

Use a kit: When having guests over for dinner, do what restaurant chefs do. Have some of the following items handy to choose from as the muse strikes, provided they make sense where you use them:

• Chopped parsley

• Chopped and/or whole chives

• Chopped scallions

• Diced red bell pepper

• A bunch of clean greens or herbs

(such as watercress, flat-leaf parsley,

cilantro, basil, thyme or sage)

• Black or white sesame seeds

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• Toasted pine nuts, pecans,

slivered almonds or other nuts

• Smoked paprika

• Edible flowers

Make garnishes work: Too much color can look clownish, and everything should belong. On our makeover plate, the red-pepper strips on the sugar snaps and black sesame seeds and scallions on the couscous set off the colors and enhance the foods' flavors instead of clashing with them.

When it comes to greenery, keep in mind that parsley goes well with all savory dishes, but other herbs should be used only if they are already components in the dish. Basil would be fine on our makeover plate because it's in the sauce, but sage leaves wouldn't.

Some of the most fashionable finishing touches are also the tastiest: coarse sea salts and freshly ground peppercorns.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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