By on March 16, 2017

I am a food stylist and am passionate about cooking most any cuisine. A stylist’s job is to make the food look good on the table or for a photo shoot. Many people who post pictures of their creations on Instagram or Facebook should take a tip from me. If the food doesn’t look pretty and appetizing, then who cares? Pay attention to placement according to shape, color, and size and you can’t go wrong. How you group different items on a platter can make a huge difference. Eye appeal is the job of the stylist and it is something you can learn to do. The basics of art composition come into play when arranging anything culinary.

The largest item usually goes in the center with smaller things around it. It is important not to pile the dish too high if it is supposed to be a professional image. The brightest color should be next to a darker one in your order of preference. A mixture of hues makes a plate look balanced. All one color, such as brown, will not photograph well. You want to light everything well to show variances in texture and tone. Having the right lighting is key to the stylist’s process. You can use them to shoot other subjects such as people as well. Lopsided lights will cast shadows and obscure some of the food. Most stylists aren’t seeking a mood, at least not often. If they are working on a commercial or movie, that is a different matter. They may have to reflect the scene’s emotional tones.

You can work by trial and error or use the skills you have acquired from experience. Recently I had to wing it when shooting some barbecue fare. The client wanted the food to look masculine and I thought about how I could accomplish that without props. I deliberated what kind of props and thought of tools, beer cans, a football, a helmet, and a small gun safe like these. I tried each item to see which looked best. Each one created a different mood. I opted for the gun safe as it was small but imposing, had a nice smooth texture that contrasted well with the food, and was square in shape. Most of the items in the composition were round so it was a perfect pairing. The gun safe was not heavy which made it easy to carry from the car. I had borrowed it from a friend.

I made sure that she emptied it of its one pistol contents. She normally kept it locked under her bed. I wanted it unlocked so I could try it out with the door open and then closed to see what made for the best photograph. Without the gun, it lost its message. I thought of asking my friend to bring the gun unloaded, of course, which she promptly did in a half hour. It definitely brought out the masculine nature of the image. I used a steak, baked potato, and vegetables as they are a traditional “manly” combination.


Odor Eater

By on March 13, 2017

I am going to establish right at the outset that I love to cook. I collect recipes and concoct my own to share with others. Food is an art for me that requires a lot of attention to make it tasty and look good. It is one thing to whip up a simple meal but another to create fine dining fare. If you want good results, it takes the right tools and a good amount of time and effort. I don’t want to scare anyone away from joining me in my favorite calling. You see too much easy stuff on the Food network on TV. If you don’t want to be challenged, you can move on. In future blogs, I will encourage readers to do their homework by researching online. You can discover some great dishes that you won’t find in the average cookbook.

While I love the process of preparing food, especially for others, I hate lingering kitchen smells—especially fish. So, what do you do? As for me, I have tried different air fresheners that you can plug in around the house and I have purchased scented candles. The problem is that it creates an artificial environment. These products mask odors, but don’t really make a room smell fresh. You must open a kitchen window immediately to do that. You can dissipate fish smell, or any others, and then close it up in a few hours if it is cold outside or there is too much ambient noise.

The same problem comes with scented candles. You often get a heavy perfumy smell. If they are not scented, they help a little, but not much. Fish can be overpowering. I like them in principles because of the way they change a room’s character at night when the normal lights are dim. I love the way they look as well. So I buy them, but not as odor eaters. What I have discovered is the value of an air purifier designed to remove odors. They come in all shapes, prices, and sizes. You can get a table top version for your kitchen. This device works better than anything else I have tried. It has a safety cover that stays on in case you knock it over. It also has automatic shut off if you let it run for more than a few hours so it won’t make your utility bill skyrocket. It is easy to clean as there is a removable filter. You don’t add water as it works on ion technology. In short, I have solved my odor problem for a modest price.

If you are plagued by odors in the kitchen, do what restaurants do and use an air purifier. Theirs are larger than mine since they must cover a large space. It is an easy fix so you don’t have to stop cooking fish. I have seen them in operation many times in my favorite restaurants. You can buy them in any appliance or hardware store—and of course online. Add this to your arsenal of odor eaters and you will be quite pleased.


Favorite Comfort Foods

By on March 10, 2017

Who doesn’t have comfort foods? I do, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of, even though lots of people want to make you feel that way. There’s nothing immoral about enjoying food. I can’t stand listening to people talking about how they feel so guilty about being able to enjoy food or about eating food. You’re not hurting anyone by eating anything. Food shouldn’t have any moral judgments attached to it unless you stole it from somewhere, and in that case, it still isn’t the food that’s the problem.

One of my favorite comfort foods has to be Rotisserie style chicken. I know that lots of people like to eat stuff that’s full of carbs during moments where they really need to have some comfort food. I actually find that eating something that’s really high in protein works better. I tend to get less depressed if there’s protein in whatever I’m eating. Maybe there’s some sort of scientific reason for that. All I know is that if I eat protein, I usually feel a lot better.

Pretty much anything to do with Italian food is a great comfort food dish for me. I love pasta, eggplant Parmesan, chicken Parmesan, and pretty much anything of that nature. You’ve got protein, carbohydrates, and tomatoes there: who could ask for more?

If you’re trying to go for great comfort food, you often do need to choose dishes from a culture where everyone takes food seriously. Italy is definitely a culture like that, and you can tell. You can usually tell the difference between classic Italian food and the stuff that Americans create in imitation of Italian food. Really though, if I’m looking for comfort food, anything like that is going to work.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having something that is completely simple with comfort food. I really don’t feel like cooking when I’m interested in comfort food. Anything close at hand and delicious is going to work just fine for the most part.


A Romantic Evening

By on March 9, 2017

While you will find me whipping up some new recipes most days, I am also busy staging food for photo shoots from time to time. I love making a spread look appetizing in a blog or for a commercial ad. It takes a keen eye for composition, just as it does for making a painting. You take into consideration color, texture, shape, size, balance of forms, and contrasts of light and dark. If you are working with a theme, it is more challenging but always great fun. When you get good results, your self-esteem goes up a notch. When I do a shoot for a client, I cook it myself or buy appropriate products at the store. The goal is different than when you are trying to sell a cookbook or new pots and pans. You tailor each shoot to specifications.

Recently, I had a ball doing a date-night shoot of food in a romantic setting. Think Valentine’s day on steroids. Hearts are trite but you will probably include one or two if just a folded napkin. Candles are expected and a lace place mat. Romance means many things to different people, but I sometimes go with the tried and true so everyone gets it. My idea of such a setting is not outdoors by the campfire or in a chalet high up in the mountains. I like something formal where you have to dress up. Where do people go to celebrate an anniversary or engagement—to a restaurant. I picture two glasses of champagne with a single rose in a crystal vase as the centerpiece. I must put a spin on it for my client so I start with this traditional image. Then my mind goes to a hot tub like this with a couple immersed in warm, swirling water. It is night time. The candles are there, just as in the first concept and the glasses of champagne are not on a table, but in the couple’s hands. There is a tray attached to the hot tub upon which sits a small bowl of fresh strawberries. You imagine the woman plopping one into her glass. Now we are getting symbolic. I think the client will like this approach and I avidly set up the scene in my backyard. I hire two models that must look like they are in love. I borrow the most beautiful champagne glasses I can find. Strawberries come easy. The whole thing will reek romance.

I have my challenges as a food stylist, but romance is a no-brainer. I ran a few thoughts by my client and we discussed options. Were the strawberries enough? Usually, I create an entire meal; but he liked the simplicity of it. The rich, red fruit would be an eye catcher. The stylist’s job is to make the strawberries look extraordinary. The champagne must be bubbly and appealing. The couple will be almost in the background with only a portion of the hot tub showing. I think this job will bring me success.


Perfect Rustic Touches

By on March 7, 2017

As a food stylist, I get all kinds of jobs. It tests my creativity to the max. I enjoy the challenge of setting up attractive food in a special setting according to the client’s needs. Maybe he or she wants to sell a new product and I must lay out the container and the contents side by side. Other times a restaurant wants new business and in addition to a wide angle shot of the entire place, they want close-ups of the specialties. Food in TV ads is often doctored up with artificial colors to make it look fabulous. You wouldn’t be able to eat it after the photo session. Think of all those rich brown turkeys that appear at Thanksgiving time. No, they don’t all come out of the oven like that. Tomatoes can be made to appear more red than they are in case you are working off season. Coloring food is part of the stylist’s stock in trade. It is just a slight exaggeration, so don’t make me feel guilty.

I also must decorate the table, not just make the food look good. Let’s say I am doing a rustic meal for a cookbook to accompany a country recipe. I will use a simple wood table that is not too polished, as this shininess will clash with the food. I won’t use fancy placemats, maybe something that looks homemade. I also might like to see carved wooden napkin rings that go with the feeling of the image I want to conjure up. To add a touch of the festive, I will use a hot glue gun to attach ribbons to the main body of the ring. I will fold each piece of ribbon over and secure it with a staple gun. You won’t see the staples inside. I always select a color theme for my composition and the ribbons would work with the candles and centerpiece. A glue and staple gun really come in handy for photoshoots. You can staple a tablecloth to a picnic table if the wind is blowing it about. It is primarily for decorations. I go on a shoot with all my tools in tow. As much as I plan in advance, you never know what little repair job will be needed. You might want to take some tape along as well. As a food stylists, I have learned many tricks of the trade over the years. It is not just about coloring food, but knowing how to arrange it in an attractive manner, highlighting a particular element with lighting. The photographer usually takes care of a light, but I have been known to use a flashlight when he has forgotten.

If you want to be a food stylist, look at dozens of magazines and TV ads. What do you notice first and foremost? The food should look real (and most often it is) and fresh. Nothing must look awry. You look and your mind creates associations with hunger perhaps. Some people rush out to buy the product displayed. That is one major intention.


Super Fun Picnic

By on March 2, 2017

I have been cooking a lot lately. It is one of my favorite pastimes. I like to punctuate my sessions in the kitchen, however, with photo shoot jobs. As a food stylist, I am somewhat in demand so I get my wish pretty often. I either make or buy the food and create the ideal setup for the photographer. Most of my work is indoors so I get excited if I have to prepare a lavish picnic in the park. It will be a larger layout than usual. I do a lot of jobs for culinary experts and these mostly consist of simple blogs. I can do many in one week. Most chefs do not know how to arrange food properly by size, shape, texture, and color. They think that plating means a small portion in the center. For public consumption, you need to be more lavish. My picnic will be easy as it will consist of many dishes.

I think about just what park will do and I prefer a local one in the hills where there is a nice valley view. I first need to scout it out so a friend and I take our mountain bikes that I bought after reading a guide from On Road and Mountain out for a spin. We reach the park in a half an hour and set about exploring a trail that winds through it. It is a glorious day to be outside, so of course our cameras come out when we stop to check out the view. We look for a clearing where we can set up the photo shoot. This park has picnic tables so I wouldn’t have to rent them and have them hauled to a designated spot. We want to test the location so we get out the food I have prepared for the scouting day and we dig in. While biking is exhilarating and fun, there is nothing like a lunch break. I made some special dishes that would potentially be part of the photo shoot. I would put them in a variety of vessels which would include colorful ceramic bowls and wooden platters. In a good photo shoot, a stylist will make sure that everything compliments the other well. You place large containers next to small so it is not just a lineup of the same size. Color must be the primary consideration and there must be a lot of it. I am thinking about all of these requirements as my friend and I eat.

Advanced planning made the photo shoot go perfectly. I had the table composition entirely in my head. I brought enough food so that I could pick and choose what I needed on the spot. The crew for the day could eat what they wanted. Outdoor lighting is usually sufficient, but if it begins to cloud over, you need some lighting. I decided to take some photos with and without artificial lighting and compare the results. Then you don’t have to go back and redo the whole setup if the images are too dark.