A food stylist and culinary consultant, Lisa is the founder of
Foodesigns.com, the first website resource for food stylists. Food styling for nearly 18 years, she has been a strong advocate of food styling
education and has been involved in organizing the Food on Film® food styling
seminars in Minneapolis since 1984. Her more prominent clients include
Häagen-Dazs Ice Cream and Shoppes, General Mills, Pillsbury, Target, Better
Homes and Gardens, and Reader¹s Digest. She has a Bachelor's degree in
Nutrition and Food Science/Journalism from the University of Arizona and an
Advanced Diploma from La Varenne Ecole de Cuisine in France. As a cooking
teacher and food writer, she's found the web to be the perfect niche for
dispensing information about the unique profession of food styling. For
more in-depth articles about food styling technique and business
information, go to www.foodesigns.com. Lisa can be reached at
What is Styling | What is the Goal of Styled Food? | So What Does a Food Stylist do (and Need to Know? | Where is Food Styling Taught? | Final Words of Encouragement
WHAT IS FOOD STYLING
So what IS "food styling"? More often associated with fashion, hair, or
home decorating, the definition of the word style is as follows:
Style, n. distinction, excellence, originality, and character in any form
(mode) of artistic or literary expression...a stylist is someone who has the
quality of style in their work.
Beyond the world of food presentation as it's demonstrated by chefs, there
is a magical (and sometimes make-believe) land of styled food. This food is
presented to the eating public in the form of artfully arranged photographs
for cookbooks and advertising, in enticing television commercials, on food
packaging, and in hunger-inducing scenes fresh off the reels of feature
films. Someone, a food stylist, is responsible for planning for, making,
and effortlessly presenting this vast array of food.
WHAT IS THE GOAL OF STYLED FOOD?
To create appetite appeal, to draw people into the kitchen or restaurant, to
buy a product. Or to just seduce the senses with the most irresistable,
primal desire--to feed ourselves in a deeply satisfying way.
SO WHAT DOES A FOOD STYLIST DO (AND NEED TO KNOW)?
As the chief cook and bottle washer on a food shoot, a food stylist works
closely with commercial photographers or film companies doing such diverse
work as advertising for food companies, editorial work for book and magazine
publishers, creating the behind-the-scenes magic for television cooking
shows, and more. No two jobs are alike, so there¹s challenge and change
everyday. A stylist is a creative, well-trained cook, who has tremendous
diplomatic skills and a deep reserve of patience, physical stamina, and a
great sense of humor. A food stylist works as part of a team that can
include a food photographer or director, art director, and usually a client
(the one paying the bills). This cast can expand to include a prop and
photo stylist (the ones who set the scene with beautiful dishes,
backgrounds, etc.), account executives from agencies commissioning the work
(and who hold the client¹s hand), a crew of food styling, photo, and
production assistants, and the list can go on.
The bottom line is that the food stylist is responsible for organizing the
food--sourcing unusual ingredients, arranging for shopping, pre-production
preparation of food, production of food on the shoot, and the final inviting
presentation of the food under camera. Taste is of little concern, looks
are everything. And in the words of Delores Custer, a well-known food
stylist, "We must be able to handle foods that misbehave." The goal is to
create images that appear to be freshly made, coming straight out of the
kitchen to your dining table. The ability to do this, despite having
handled the food a great deal or having food that must stand for long
periods of time on a set, is an art and a science.
A food stylist should have several years of good food handling training,
from having a food or nutrition degree, going to culinary school, or working
in a professional kitchen. I put emphasis on good training and experience,
because it is very important that a food stylist understand how food works.
Problem-solving is a key element of the business, and being able to control
what food does is of primary importance. If something is not the right
color or consistency, what can be done? Stylists develop an interesting
arsenal of equipment to do their jobs--from standard cooking equipment and
knives, to tweezers, paint brushes, scalpels, artists¹ palette knives and
cosmetic spritz bottles!
A food stylist should have a natural flair for design and presentation.
Understanding graphics, color, symmetry and asymmetry, and other elements
that are important to an art director and photographer when creating an
arresting visual will make you a valuable member of the team. Having the
ability to be creative with props (the plates, bowls, utensils, surfaces,
and other items to round out the scene) and being prepared with an open mind
towards presentation (and lots of ideas) makes an even better stylist.
WHERE IS FOOD STYLING TAUGHT?
Most food stylists have gotten into the business through exposure from other
areas in the food world. There are a few exceptions, stylists with artistic
backgrounds who loved to cook and segued into the business, either by
apprenticing or just doing it on their own. But most slowly learn the
business by assisting other experienced stylists. The opportunities to
learn this craft are growing (go to http://www.foodesigns.com for a list of
current seminar and private instruction options), but the best way to learn
all the nuances of the business is by working diligently with someone who
knows the ropes.
plays a real role in learning a skill as detail-oriented as food
styling. My best piece of advice for budding stylists is to do your
homework. Call well-known commercial photographers or production companies
in your area that primarily shoot food. Find out who the good stylists are,
then see if you can observe some shoots. Offer your services for assisting,
but be sure to emphasize that you are capable of good basic kitchen skills
and take direction well. On most shoots, particularly in film, a good
assistant can make or break how well a stylist can do their job. You never
want to be responsible for slowing up a day or getting into a jam that you
can¹t get out of! Alot of money rides on even one day¹s photo shoot, and
the stylist and assistant are key players.
If it's possible to form a good working relationship with a stylist who is
willing to share, do everything possible to learn. Observe, take notes,
practice on your own. Go to food styling seminars if they're available,
talk to stylists in other parts of the country. Immerse yourself in the
visual world. Look at wonderful magazines, cookbooks, food packaging, TV
ads. Know what¹s happening in the food world, in restaurants (where
presentation trends tend to start) and in food marketing. Know good food
resources, where to get the best produce, or where to source exotic
ingredients. Scout out ethnic markets for ingredients, equipment, and
garnishing ideas. Be excited about food and stay willing to learn--go the
Build relationships with photographers you admire. Take time to create an
interesting portfolio of work, even if it means doing a portfolio shoot on a
Saturday as a "trade-out" with a shooter (you both work for free to create
original work). It can be difficult to get good copies of work you do for
clients, so by doing some portfolio development on your own, you can really
show your stuff. The best portfolios are short and eye-stopping! Remember
that an image must stand the test of time--frozen for eternity to be picked
apart by any critic.
FINAL WORDS OF ENCOURAGEMENT###
Like all new ventures, be willing to pay your dues. It might seem like a
slow process to get started. But once you have the skills and savvy to do
the job, you'll find yourself in an extremely unique business, that requires
hard work but is also very creative and often fun! Food styling is a
competive business, but if you do good work you¹ll always be in demand.