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An Introduction to Food Styling

An Introduction to Food Styling

An introduction to food styling. (photo by KK)

Kim Kissling | Chef's Blade

I have been in the Food Styling business since 1995 after graduating from Tante Marie’s Cooking School in San Francisco; 6 months earlier, I had decided to change careers, leaving corporate America to pursue my passion for food. When I started cooking school I had never heard of food styling as a career, but the first time someone told me about it, I knew that it was the career path.

The foundation of food styling is using the freshest and most beautiful food available, contrary to popular assumptions. I can’t tell you how many people, upon finding out what I do, say things like, “Oh, so you’re the one that makes all that fake food” or better yet, “Do you really use shellac to make food appear hot?” The answer is no: I do not use fake food or shellac. All of the food is very real and most of the time it’s edible, unless of course it’s been sitting on set in front of the camera for hours on end, or has been glued or pinned together to hold something in place.

My job is simply to make food look beautiful. I have been involved in just about every type of project involving food, i.e. cookbooks, catalogs, packaging, advertising, films, videos, cooking shows, etc.

In order to make food beautiful there are a lot of tricks that I have learned over the years and some that I continue to figure out while working on set. I will talk more about those tricks in upcoming articles, but this article is about what it is that I do on a daily basis.

A project can start days, sometimes weeks, before the actual shoot day(s). Depending on the type of job, there are conference calls, meetings, art direction, hiring of assistants, shopping, and planning shot lists and sometimes travel. As each photo shoot is very complex it usually takes a lot of people to make it a success.

I work mainly in photo studios that have kitchens available to use. I usually work with an assistant who helps me shop for and prepare the food. It is the assistant’s job to help the stylist follow the recipes perfectly, ensuring that all of the ingredients are used, that the food is ready for set when it is needed, and to make sure that the stylist has everything that she/he might need. In turn, assisting is the only way that one can learn the trade%mdahsh;there are no food styling schools to attend. There are workshops available, but food styling is very much a hands-on profession. There are a few basic rules, but each shot, each scenario, and each client is different; only through on-set experience can a stylist know what solution will work in each situation.