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The Food Stylist’s Handbook: Careers and Ideas

“That looks great.”

“I could do that.”

“I’d love to do that for a job.”

Those are thoughts that rush through thousands of minds each day as we browse the pictures in cookbooks and on line. Food photography is everywhere now, and there’s a race to the top to produce pictures that are transcendentally beautiful. Those magically soft-focused shots, in contemporary colors, are absolutely seductive. They help sell cookbooks and ingredients and utensils. That’s not bad. And they certainly inspire us to try recipes we would not have imagined before. That’s definitely good.

So maybe you’d like a career in food style or food photography. Or maybe you’d just like to make your creations even more spectacular for that next party or family event. Where can you turn to see if there is a career path for you, or a bushel of hints that will elevate your skills. The Food Stylist’s Handbook by Denise Vivaldo is the perfect place to turn. Author Denise Vivaldo has over twenty-five years of vast experience as a chef and food stylist. Her firm, Food Fanatics, styles food for cookbooks, packaging, television and film. Her encyclopedic knowledge is beautifully conveyed in this book.

This lovely book, filled with those inspiring pictures, is divided into two parts: the path to a food styling career and the key techniques to apply when on the job.

Part one begins with describing just what a food styling career entails. What does a stylist do? What goes into a styling kit? How do you start a business, market you services, and — most importantly — make a profit while you enjoy the opportunity to be creative? There is an important chapter that will assist your career program: which niche of food styling should you target. Food styling is so ubiquitous that different styling experts are needed for print, packaging, television, and web formats. Knowing the differences about those markets can ease your way into a new career.

Part two is the one that any foodie will love: it’s filled with ideas and techniques for styling your food — both for the table or for a photo shoot. The book is dotted with intriguing ideas:

  • The power of pepper to add contrast and depth is clear in photos of soft boiled eggs
  • How do you get your bacon to have that flowing wavy look: use any of three techniques presented here
  • You might not really eat a foot high sandwich, but just how do you build one so it’s not the Leaning Tower of Pisa: there’s some “structural engineering” here that you could apply to any tower of food
  • How can you get a beautiful shot of a slice of cake: your styling effort begins with that cut piece and involves multiple precise steps to dress up and perfect that picture

This part of the book truly takes the mystery out of “how did it get to be that beautiful.” The secrets are clever, detailed work. Multiple steps. And patience. Those photos that look like works of art, well, they are works of arts. Great food shots are not snapshots. They are the culmination of serious thought and effort. The Food Stylists’ Handbook is your perfect introduction to the art and business of food styling.



A Small Plate [Food Styling for Foodies]


Presentation of your food is very important. For your guests, the actual taste of the food will be their last sensory experience of your dish. They will smell your cooking first, then see it, and then finally taste it. Smell can affect your guests the moment they step through the front door. But after time, the aromas are no longer striking to the senses. Minutes or hours can pass before you actually get to the table.

But it is just then, that first sight of your dish, that will be moment of excitement to trigger the anticipation of tasting your culinary creation. “Soon,” your eyes will say to your waiting stomach.

So the visual impact of your food needs to be on your plate as a consummate foodie. Just look at that pasta above. It has appeal. You’re ready to grab that fork, right?

In her encyclopedia Food Styling, Delores Custer works every aspect of food presentation. True, her book is oriented toward food photography. But many of her lessons learned do apply to each of us every day. You want the food to immediately appear attractive. You are striving to inspire the instinctive parts of the brain. No need to think. Just enough time to  say, “Yummy.”

One of Delores’ key principals is evident in the photo above: use a small plate. The plate size here makes the food “seem” abundant. Those pasta spirals seem ready to roll right off the plate. The red pepper slice is perched high above. Or so it seems. Thanks to a small plate that is not too deep, and careful “piling of the pasta.”

Delores has other recommendations for food stylists that can help you in plating your own dishes, too.

  • Bold prints on either the plates themselves or on the surfaces [your tablecloth] will distract from the food.
  • There are many shades of white. Look for a warm white, not a blue white, to make your food look best.
  • If you are going to be photographing your food, think about how it will sit in or on the plate. A flat plate is important for a cake being photographed with a slice taken out. A plate with an elevated rim is likely to cause that cake to cave inward and spoil your shot.
  • And, finally, if you are going to photograph your food, plates that have tall sides or rims make shooting at a low angle difficult. Look at the photo above, with its short rim that enables the low camera angle to capture food and not plate.

Delores’ book is filled with great tips for food stylists. I’ll be passing along more ideas that can help you, the local chef, create beautiful looking dishes.

Source: Food Styling by Delores Custer