Is Food Styling a lot like Kindergarten?

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Playing with your food when you’re young is a given but what about doing that as a respectable grown-up? Even more, what about getting paid to do that while using the skills you learned in, oh, say kindergarten? Guess what? That’s how I spend my days!

Yes, food styling is a very grown up job. You have to think quickly on your feet, have a certain set of skills and expertise and the hours can be long. However, it’s incredibly fun and as long as you obey the rules of the kindergarten room, you’ll be just fine. Let me explain just a few similarities.

Being a food stylist means you’re going to be part of a creative team so you have to be polite and play well with others. Of course your opinion is expected but you don’t want to hog the floor time with incessant chatter and you need to be able to collaborate with others, even if you have different opinions. In kindergarten, it was, “How do we build the best block tower?” In food styling, it’s, “How do we create the best food photograph?” Same but different. It’s everyone’s project or it’s no one’s project. That’s an important distinction.

Something else that’s equally important in kindergarten and in the world of food styling is knowing that creative expression is good thing! While kids instinctively know this and create without fear of judgment, as a food stylist, we can be a little more guarded. Our work is constantly critiqued and adjusted according to art director’s, photographer’s and food company’s opinions. Well, I say take down the guard rails and just go for it! Embracing your inner child and getting wildly creative is extremely important in food styling. Dip into the finger paints, get out your glue stick and get to it! Everyone will thank you. The KEY is to not become so attached to your “work of food art” that you are not open to what others think and say. It is, after all, about the team! And no one is criticizing you. Don’t take it personally. You need to be a strong person to keep unattached!

There’s more kindergarten lessons to come so if you’re wondering what else your inner five year old can carry over into the world of food styling, stay tuned for my next blog! And if you want to join me for my webinar on May 5th I am going to show YOU what’s in my food styling bag of tricks. It will be fun and informative and just like playing in kindergarten of course!

 


Food Styling Kit Giveaway!

I am super excited to announce my first product going into the brand new Food Styling Store on May 5th, 2015. It is my food styling basic kit. And for one lucky person I am giving away this tool kit that pairs well with my “What’s in my Food Styling Kit webinar.  Each kit contains a handy tool caddy with 35+ items to help you style and photograph your beautiful food!

ToolKit_Giveaway_3What you can find in the kit:

  •  my favorite garnishing tools
  • reflector cards
  • essentials like tweezers, syringe, spray and squeeze bottles.
  • a bottle of my special secret recipe browning sauce
  • my favorite battery operated drink frother
  • my handy check list of common kitchen items to add to your kit
  • Includes a FREE BONUS VIDEO of me explaining how to set up your tools for a successful photo shoot and suggestions and demos for using your tools

On May 5th this kit will sell for $227 and has a retail value of over $300! Imagine how amazing your food could look if you were super organized and had all the right tools for making YOUR food look delicious and beautiful!

Don’t forget to register for my first webinar on May 5th!  It’s only $27 and I will take you on a tour through my professional food styling kit. I offer tips and advice on making gorgeous food using all the right tools. Space is very limited so sign up now!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

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Festive Citrus Water Bottle Ice Cubes

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Fun ice cubes? Oh….yes!! I found these great ice cube trays that make long slender ice cubes that fit into water bottles. I love my water super cold and have had the frustration of a warm bottle of water that I want to cool down fast. Obviously regular ice cubes won’t fit into the small opening of a water bottle so these trays make the perfect size cubes to fit any water bottles. What I came up with is a way to naturally flavor the cubes to add a little fun color and yummy taste for those days that I am bored with plain water.

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I started with organic oranges and my favorite citrus zester tool. First I removed the orange zest in long strips and wrapped them around a straw to make them curly. I let them set on the straw for a minute or two while I made the next piece of zest. I then dropped them into the ice cube trays. Make sure to use oranges with a thinner skin as the zest will curl much easier.

cubes6 Next I cut the skin off of a lemon. Because the peel on this lemon was thick I found that this method would be easier than trying to use the zester. After cutting off the skin, I cut as much of the white pith off of the strips as possible to make them more flexible. I then wrapped the strips  around the straw and let them sit a for  a few minutes then placed them in the ice cube tray.

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I then added water to the trays and put in the freezer overnight.

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The results are not only tasty but really pretty!


What Does A Food Stylist Actually Do?

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Telling people you’re a “food stylist” results in everything from confused looks to blank stares to hearing, “That sounds really fun. What do you do exactly?”

Food stylists do a lot and I like to think of myself and others who do this for a living as “food artists”. Just as any artist creates a work of beauty, food stylists do the same thing, only with food instead of clay, marble or a canvas. They turn food into art so people want to buy it. Food stylists are artists who encourage sales!

So what exactly does a food stylist DO?

As mentioned above, creating a body of work that is all about food that is beautiful to look at is the primary role of a food stylist. We are hired by photographers, advertising agencies, food companies and restaurants to make food look beautiful for still and motion photography. Pictures in magazines, photographs on packaging, television commercials, gorgeous looking food on a menu are all items that are extremely important because customers make buying decisions based on how appealing the food looks in photos. A good photographer is definitely needed to make great food photos but the food stylist is the other part of that necessary equation. Think of a food stylist as the hair and makeup person for the food. Kind of a funny visual but this is really what happens.

Food stylists grocery shop in a way that is a bit like a scavenger hunt. We look for perfect pretty buns or apples or delicate herbs for garnish. We look for green tomatoes in winter, candy canes in summer and strawberries with stems in January. We are resourceful to say the least. Magicians at times. Never letting our clients know the tall buildings we had to climb or little old lady’s garden we needed to pilfer. Food stylists cook and bake, often under pressure and sometimes with a make shift stove or hot plate depending on the location. We are experts in all types of food preparation. We are food scientists too. We need to know (quickly) why that sauce isn’t thickening and why that bread dough isn’t rising and what to do about it. We need to know if that cheese sauce is thick enough to hold the perfect drip but not so thin that it will run all the way down the wedge of lasagna on camera. Food stylists are also thrill seekers…adrenaline junkies….a little cray-cray as I like to say. We must do all of this plate twirling and fry pan flipping while 8 people are watching us and the clock and are worried about budgets and time and end results. We FEEL the heat (yes pun intended) but we don’t let it show. We smile and are efficient and sometimes perfectionists and most of all, we love what we do.

The other thing a food stylist does is work with the entire creative team (anywhere from 3 to 12 people) to create an end product that is ultimately able to be used to sell food products, books, and magazines. The idea of team work is the key ingredient. We are hired to create with food someone else’s vision. Not our own. There is a team of marketing and sales, creative direction, management, branding, and kitchen or food representation, R&D, and photography. At the end of the day, everyone must be happy with the resulting food image. The goal of our food photos are to get customers to take the next step. Sometimes this is to purchase the actual food, and sometimes it’s to purchase the venue in which the food is highlighted. An example of this would be cooking magazines or cookbooks. Food stylists create works of art and beauty so that customers want to buy. We can’t forget this. It’s art with purpose.

So there you have it. Now you know what a food stylist does!

 


Welcome to Food Styling Mentor.com!

I am so happy you have joined me for the launch of my new food styling mentoring website! This website has been “in the making” for 2 years. I first came up with the idea several years ago when I began getting many emails from people who want to become food stylists but don’t know how. unfortunately, there are not many resources out there for learning the art of food styling.

During the last 20 years of working as a professional food stylist I have learned so much and I really feel it is time for me to share what I know and help the next generation of food stylists not only learn the tricks and techniques of food styling but how to work in a photo studio on a food shoot and how to run a successful business. You need the skills, the business knowledge as well as a good plan for breaking into this business. I would love to coach those who have a passion for making food look beautiful for photography. It truly is an exciting, rewarding and lucrative career.

I also know that there are many food bloggers out there who are looking to work on their food styling skills so they can make their food look amazing for their blog posts. The food blogging business is different from a career in food styling for advertising but the principles of food styling cross over to each career path. I am excited to share my knowledge from the commercial food styling world with food bloggers to help them achieve their dreams too.

So, I am ready to share with you what I learned these last 20 years and super excited to meet you! Feel free to sign up for my free 15 minute consultation here so I can help you develop your path to a career in food styling or food blogging.

xoxo,

Jennifer


My Top 5 Tips for Making Your Food Photos Look Delicious!

Top5 TipsAs a food stylist, my job is to make food look beautiful and delicious and to entice the viewer into either buying the food (advertisements, packaging, menus) or make the food (cookbooks, recipes). There are many ways that I do this but I am going to share with you my top 5 favorites:

1. Use white plates. While you know the saying “every rule is meant to be broken” certainly would apply here, I believe a fail safe rule to show off your beautiful food is to plate it against white. White dishes provide a neutral background and set the scene for your food to be the “star”. And white dishes come in so many shapes and sizes you could easily vary that in order to get different looks without compromising your gorgeous food with a busy plate or serving dish.

2. Vary the focus within your photograph. A sharp focused “sweet spot” on your food highlights that area and draws attention to it. It is the first thing someone will see when they look at your food photograph (at least that is what we aim for). By letting backgrounds get a bit blurry (or really out of focus) it becomes less important and less visually interesting to the viewer. Even letting part of the food or plate lose focus helps to draw the viewer to that one highlighted area which becomes your focal point, selling point and delicious draw of attention.

3. Make a little mess. A few crumbs, a drip of sauce, a spill, melty cheese dripping, a bite out of your food, a messy prep area….you know what I am talking about. This is the human element that draws the viewer in and helps to tell the story. Suddenly the viewer feels like they are there with you preparing or eating that food. Messes evoke feeling, mood, atmosphere. But you also must know where that fine line is. Too messy can look unappetizing or like a big mess that may make the viewer uncomfortable or not hungry for your food anymore. Suddenly they are thinking about cleaning it up instead of eating it.

4. Topping it off. Many foods need a little “something” to top it off to make it shine. Something like when Emeri Lagasse hits his food with that one special ingredient and yells “BAM!” Some foods need it to push them from mediocre to incredible. You know the feeling when you look at a food photo and it is good but something is missing? It’s that “BAM!”, that focal point, that accent that puts it over the edge. It could be a beautiful fresh herb garnish or a drip of sauce running down the side of the casserole dish or a spoon that frames the bowl nicely. It could be as simple as bringing out one tomato in your salad in a way that makes it look so enticing and juicy and red and ripe that it becomes the star. Sometimes it takes some experimentation on set to figure out what is missing.

5. Great lighting. It takes beautiful light and beautiful food to make a beautiful food photograph. Period. One without the other is only half as good as it could be. That’s why I lOVE the food photographers I work with. I fondly refer to them as “Masters of light”. Now, I know many of my readers are food bloggers like myself or serious amateur photographers who love food. My suggestion would be to start out with a light kit that is easy to set up and use. For my blog photos I use CowboyStudio 2275 Watt Digital Video Continuous Softbox Lighting Kit/Boom Set. Since it is continuous light and not strobe, I use it for both video and still photography. I love how portable, easy, and inexpensive it is to use.

 


Simply Pretty Fruit Kabobs

I love thinking of new ways to use tools I already have. The way I figure it, every tool and piece of equipment that I own MUST have at least 3 different uses than what I typically use them for.

I have  dozens and dozens of cookie cutters.  All shapes and sizes from a 1/2″ cutter up to 4″. I have made over 10,000 cookies with my cutters but I have also used them for cutting other types of food.

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Cookie cutters are great for cutting fruit and vegetables into pretty shapes. I started making fruit kabobs for my daughter and her friends when she was little. Not only did the children love eating them they loved making them. Anything to get kids in the kitchen is a good idea to me. So now I still rely on fruit kabobs to brighten up any get together or put a smile on my teenage daughters face. How can you not smile? They are so adorable and fun.

 

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The first step is to cut your melon crosswise into the thickness that you would like your fruit pieces to be. I cut mine between 1/4″ and 1/2″ thick. No need to peel or deseed. Keep it simple!

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The next step is to cut the stems off the strawberries. I like to cut them into a heart shape.

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Next, start assembling your fruit onto skewers. I always have bamboo skewers on hand so I use those.

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Serve them upright in a fancy dish with or without a yogurt dipping sauce.

 


Happy Homemade Soup Day

Oh February, how I love you. Snowy days and nice warm soup. Cuddling up and jammie days. It makes perfect sense that national homemade soup day would fall in February! When I make soup I tend to not follow a recipe but I forage through the refrigerator and the pantry for whatever looks yummy. Today’s soup has a vegan root vegetable theme. I happen to have had quite a few root vegetables on hand as well as a pantry full of beans and canned tomatoes. My daughter has been requesting vegetarian meals lately so this soup was meant to be! I used my crockpot for this soup but it could easily be done on the stove top.

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For some added fun, I took a video of me styling the soup for the camera.

Root Vegetable Soup
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • 64 oz. Vegetable stock
  • 1 Tablespoon Thyme
  • 1 Tablespoon Curry Powder
  • (2) 15 oz. Cans Fire Roasted Stewed Tomatoes
  • 1 Large Sweet Potato, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 Large Carrots, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 4 Stalks Celery, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 3 Medium Parsnips, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ Head Cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • ½ Head Broccoli, chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 leek, chopped
  • (1) 15 oz. Can Kidney Beans
  • (1) 15 oz. Can Cannellini Beans
  • Salt and Pepper to taste
  • Cilantro for garnish
Instructions
  1. In a crock pot set on high, place the first 7 ingredients. 2 hours later, turn crockpot to low and add the remaining ingredients (except for the cilantro). Cook for another 2 hours or until the veggies are tender. Garnish with cilantro.


The Kitchen Scale – One of my favorite kitchen tools

Now I know what all you creative kitchen artists are thinking….a scale? As in making my food all uniform and precise? Not for me you say? Well, hopefully, I can convince you that the scale is your friend.

I have done a ton of baking in my career. And often I am asked to test and write recipes. For this type of work, the scale is a life saver. I need to be right on in my portion sizes and yields. The scale is perfect for documenting ingredients too. For a baker, recipe writer and recipe tester there is no better tool than the scale. Here are my top reasons why:

1. You can get a precise yield from weighing all your cookie dough and dividing it by the size you want each cookie to be.
2. You can make sure all cookies are uniform in size. This helps not only with getting a perfect yield but with making sure each cookie on the cookie sheet bakes at the same rate.
3. You can make sure all your baking ingredients weigh out at the appropriate weight rather than going by a measuring cup which can vary so much depending on how you fill it.
4. You can weigh out burgers or meatballs and get all the same size for ease of cooking times. No guess work.
5. You can weigh out nuts which can be hard to measure in a metal measuring cup.
6. When splitting a dough into parts, for dinner rolls for instance, you will know how much each piece should weigh and thus divide evenly.
7. When making a two crust pie (top and bottom) it is helpful to know that each crust is the same weight.
8. Are my portions even? I love using my scale when freezing food in portion sizes.
9. Does your recipe call for a medium onion? That is very vague! Follow a weight chart for these and test or write your recipe with more confidence. Here is a chart in case you are curious:

Onion Size Approx. Size Weight Amount Chopped
Small Lemon 4 oz (0.25lbs) 1/2 cup
Medium Navel Orange 8 oz (0.5lbs) 1 cup
Large Small Grapefruit 16 oz (1lbs) 2 cups

(Chart Source:Culinarylore.com)

It’s important to get a scale that fits your needs. I love the digital scales for their preciseness as well as one that weighs in grams and ounces. Grams are so much more precise for baking than ounces. I also love a scale that has a flat surface that any sized bowl will fit on and one that will weigh at least 5 pounds. Below is my suggestion for a heavy duty built to last scale. It measures up to 17 lbs. which would be great for large scale projects. It also calculates percentages for you.