What is a Food Stylist?

A food stylist is someone who showcases food for photography, video, or film. Making food photogenic is not as easy as one may think, and the best food stylists come to the job armed with a variety of tools and techniques to make food look both beautiful and appetizing.

Food stylists need to understand the ins and outs of food preparation, photography, and videography in order to know how a particular food item can look its best. Their job is to turn a real-life dish into an image so mouthwatering it looks like it's about to leap off the page and into the consumer's mouth.

What does a Food Stylist do?

A food stylist's job is to arrange food so that it looks appealing, tasty, and fresh. This is particularly important when the food is being photographed. Examples of food being 'styled' are the pictures of food that one may see in cookbooks, magazines, advertisements, and menus. In some cases, the food stylist might be the food photographer as well, but more often than not, food stylists will work closely with a team of people such as chefs, editors, assistants, and photographers.

Typically, food stylists are also in charge of shopping for, prepping, and cooking the dishes from start to finish. Food has to stay looking very fresh between the time it is bought and the day of the shoot, so knowing how best to store food is crucial to the success of the final product.

Professional food stylists have several tricks to make food appear as delicious as possible:

  • Meat will often look much smaller or even shrivelled when it is cooked completely due to loss of moisture. To avoid this, meat will only be cooked until it 'looks' done.
  • Many food stylists will use paint brushes to apply edible glazes to foods like cake to give them some sheen.
  • To keep food upright (for eg., a stack of pancakes, or a hamburger), wooden skewers or toothpicks can be inserted in order to stabilize the food.
  • Putty or wax can be placed between the food and a hard surface to keep it from rolling away or tipping.
  • To make certain drinks look bubbly or to make whipped eggs look frothy, bubbles are often used.
  • Faux ice cubes don’t melt in warm environments, and are often used instead of regular ice cubes in drinks or for dishes like shrimp cocktail.
  • Dye and paint is often brushed on after the food has been prepared to give it better colour. For example, chickens and turkeys sometimes get that golden brown “fresh from the oven” look from wood stain or shoe polish.
  • Real pancake syrup can be difficult to photograph, so motor oil is sometimes used in its place.
  • Fast drying glue can be used to reassemble crumbled food, and ordinary white glue can be used as a replacement for milk in a bowl of cereal.

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What is the workplace of a Food Stylist like?

Most food stylists start out by working with experienced and established food stylists first. Once individuals gain enough experience, as well as an impressive portfolio, they can start taking on clients of their own.

Many food stylists choose to work as freelancers. However, other opportunities exist, as many magazine publishers, cookbook publishers, and advertising agencies will hire their own in-house stylists.



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Further Reading

  • Prepare Food for Photoshoots as a Food Stylist www.theartcareerproject.com

    There are certain situations in which the way food looks is actually more important than how it tastes. For instance, the pictures of food that you see in cook books, magazines, advertisements, and menus have been styled.

  • Back of the House: What Does a Food Stylist Do? www.seriouseats.com

    These days, food that looks good enough to eat almost certainly is. Why? Because there's a good chance that the stylist who arranged it also cooked it.

  • How Do I Become … A Food Stylist www.theguardian.com

    Preparing food, washing up, sweeping floors – start low but aim high and you might find yourself styling food for the big names.

  • Why Food Stylists Hate Burgers, and More Bon Appétit Photo Shoot Secrets www.bonappetit.com

    Rebecca Jurkevich is one of the food stylists who make the 40-plus recipes we publish each month look their most delicious. We hung out with Jurkevich at a recent photo shoot to see how the magic happens—and learned a few food-styling secrets along the way.

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