The definition of food presentation in the dictionary is: “the art of modifying, processing, arranging, or decorating food to enhance its aesthetic appeal.” Our first experience of food is usually how it looks, then how it smells and lastly how it tastes. Sometimes smell comes before sight and if something smells good but looks bad, you may have a fighting chance to get to the taste stage. (I’m not going to attempt to get into salty, sweet acidic and texture, those come after taste.) How something smells is a better indication of how it would taste than how it looks! I wouldn't think twice about eating something that smelled good and looked bad but I would have great trepidation about eating something that smelled and looked bad.
That is why there are food stylists for cookbooks and magazines; who make those dishes look so appealing that you salivate at the very look of them and make you want to buy the book. There are books written expressly for food styling and presentation, one of which makes the claim: “Food that looks beautiful does taste better!” I’m not so sure about that but you may be more likely to try it if it looks beautiful but appearance is only one factor in your experience of the food.
Eating is a sensuous experience; to be a truly sensory delight it must fire on all cylinders, not just one. How it looks, smells, tastes, the atmosphere of where you are, who you’re with -- all these things affect how you enjoy the food. When I was a young cook working in a restaurant, I went out with some friends to another restaurant where I had the exact same oysters on the half shell (from the same producer) as I had eaten at ours. When I told our chef that I was puzzled because I knew they were the same oysters, but they tasted better at the other restaurant. He said that it was because I was out with friends, enjoying myself and generally having a better time than when I eat where I worked. I couldn’t believe that my taste buds could be fooled so easily!
Nobody understands the importance of presentation in preparing food than someone with kids. They can be easily turned off to a meal just by how it looks.”What is that green stuff?” asked my daughter wearily, referring to some fresh thyme floating in her chicken soup. It took some coaxing, but I was able to get her to try it despite the “green stuff” and she eventually ate 2 bowls of it. I’m not sure where the prejudice of the green stuff comes from but I have heard this from my own as well as others’ children. (It defies the rule that food should be colorful). I will never understand children’s prejudices about food. Are their taste buds are more sensitive because they haven’t been ravaged by too much coffee and too many jalapenos? Can they smell things that we can’t, like dogs that can hear high-pitched noises that are inaudible to the human ear?
Care for appearance also shows that you have pride in what you’ve made and that you have taken the trouble to try to attract and entice the people you’re making it for. This is a given when you are entertaining but all the more important when it is for the people you've already got!