Menus and Memories of the Life of a Food Stylist
Everyone tells me that I have the coolest job and I believe I do! Making food look pretty and beautiful for the camera is exactly, that pretty cool. But I think unless you are directly involved in this industry, no one really does know what is involved in making food " pretty." I wanted to start a new blog series to highlight my life as a food stylist, so many of you who are foodies or who just love to buy items in the grocery aisle because they like the food picture on their favorite snack box may appreciate and learn why and how that food came to look so pretty!
So I will start my first blog with some history of myself so we can take the journey together for the making of a professional food stylist. Here is to the coolest job!
The most important quality in becoming a successful food stylist is the three P's: patience, persistence and precision. It started for me at a very early age, I think around age three of four, when I loved hanging in the kitchen with my Nana, and would spend endless hours helping her roll dough for homemade pasta or anything she would let me do! I was hooked at a very early age. You must love to play with your food, but also love to make it over and over until it comes out perfect. I then began to hang with my neighbors. One was Mrs. Kovak, a Czechslovakian baker, and she taught me the detailed precision of making strudel. Then, I would take turns hanging with my other neighbor Mrs. Maryott, who taught me how to make cake roses over and over for wedding cakes. This repeated love of learning and practicing with the determination to make my creations look perfect was the foundation of becoming a food stylist. Who knew?
Then my parents gave me my first kitchen appliance, a Sunbeam MixMaster. I just fell in love with this machine as if it was my first bicycle! I even polished its chrome exterior everyday so it shined and glowed. I won my first cake competition because of this fine machine at age 16. After developing and making over 50 cheesecakes, I won a cheesecake competition. Again, patience, perseverance and precision were keen. I still have this MixMaster until this day, in its shining glory.
That same year, Mom saw a help wanted sign on a storefront at a new gourmet store. I worked there for two summers. It was there that I was introduced to the brand new kitchen-craze - the Cuisinart. I did demos for the appliance everyday for weeks. The owner started a small cooking school in the back of the store, and I was able to assist and learn from guest chefs. I worked under Sylvia Lehrer, the owner, and re-known chefs Jacques Pepin and Guilliani Buglianni. It was a dream for me and, again, I was polishing my patience, perseverance and precision to master my skills at an early age.
Because of my love of cooking and baking, Dad encouraged me to write to food editors to see if they had recommendations on how to pursue a career in food. They actually wrote me back with college suggestions and curriculum courses to take. I ended up at Cornell University as a Nutritional Sciences major. I longed for more culinary arts training, but continued and finished the program at Cornell. The heavy science courses actually helped me hone in on the precision and knowledge of food behavior, another building block in becoming a food stylist.
I then was able to apply for a test kitchen job as a home economist at the Lipton Company, where I tested and developed recipes for major brands. It was there that I saw my first food commercial shoot and met the food stylist working on the job. I didn't even know the job existed, and just loved what she was doing. At that moment, I knew I had to perfect my culinary skills, so I went on to pursue a chef certification graduating with honors at the New York Restaurant school. I was able to take classes at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris through the honors externship program as well. When I returned home, I was hired by those same food magazines I wrote to in high school and was scheduled immediately for my first food shoot. I food styled my strawberry dessert recipes for a spring issue, and I was in love! I have been food styling ever since.
My childhood obsession with cooking and baking, my science knowledge in college, and my love of the art of food all came together to make me the professional food stylist that I am to this day. You must have in-depth culinary knowledge, know the how's and why's of food science, and the patience, persistence and precision to make your food sing.
One of my first big food shoots was a Cool Whip Ad. I practiced for three days before the shoot day. I nailed it on the first take with a breath of relief. What a thrill, and I loved making that dollop the star! You have to be ultra prepared to do the job correctly with full confidence. You are as good as your last job, there's no room for failure or mistakes. Every job is different with new challenges, and I think that is why I love it so much. There is always something new to learn and you can see your published work on a package in supermarkets around the world - what you worked so hard for for such long hours, and sometime days. And maybe you will actually hold what I just worked so hard on in your hands, the front panel of a box you just bought at the grorcery store. Now, I know I did my job by enticing you to stare at, pay attention to a little more, or buy the food by making it look beautiful and delicious!
En-JOY and cook just for the love of it!