Script: The food stylist

Script: The food stylist

It’s the job of a food stylist to make food look good in photographs. There are photos of food everywhere we look, in magazines, on posters, in shops and in restaurants. But behind every photograph of yummy food, a food stylist has been at work. He or she has ‘made-up’ the food just as a make-up artist makes up a fashion model. Food stylists are the hair and make-up technicians of the food industry Biddy Chan, a food stylist for almost fifteen years, tells us about the tricks of the trade.

Biddy: Food has to look its very best when a photographer takes a photo for a magazine, and it’s my job to make sure it does. I do this all sorts of ways. I might dab a strawberry with my lipstick to make it look redder, or I might add mashed potato to a milkshake to make it look thicker.

Voice: So a food stylist’s job is to trick the public?

Biddy: Not at all. We simply create the most perfect-looking version possible. A photo shoot of a pizza, for example, or a new brand of ice cream, might take hours to do. And we can’t have the pizza looking dry or the ice cream a puddle of liquid at the end of the shoot. My job is to make food look as delicious as the original tastes.

But time doesn’t help with the appearance of food. By the end of a shoot, a pizza will look dry; or ice cream will be a puddle of liquid. We can’t have that.

Voice: Tell us more!

Biddy: The most difficult thing to get ready for a photo shoot is ice cream. Of course, it melts quickly. To make fake ice cream, I use fat made from vegetables, powdered sugar and corn syrup. It looks like the real deal when it’s mixed properly. Sometimes, I spray the ice cream with thin glue. For whipped cream on the top of a slice of apple pie, I use shaving foam.

Voice: I bet that tastes delicious.

Biddy: Haha, we definitely don’t eat it! You would think that drinks are easy to get right, but they aren’t. In a photo of soft drinks, it’s the fizz, ice and bubbles that are important. I use plastic ice cubes, or make “crushed ice” from bits of gelatine or clear plastic. To make the glass look cold, I spray it with deodorant or smear it with Tiger Balm.

Voice: What about hot drinks?

Biddy: For coffee and tea, I often use the real stuff but add drops of soapy water to make it look freshly made. Soy sauce mixed with a bit of shaving foam is good for the foam on a cappuccino.

Voice: I guess you don’t have to do much to a bowl of cereal to make it look tempting. I love my bran flakes for breakfast.

Biddy: Sorry, you’re wrong. It’s the milk that’s the problem; it makes any cereal quickly go soggy, so food stylists have their own preferred alternative. Milk is always fake in cereal photos.

Voice: What do you use?

Biddy: Either white glue that looks the real deal and doesn't soak into the cereal, or white hair lotion. The best is a well known brand for men. I’m not telling you the name because sales would fall if it got out that I use it as milk on bowls of cereal.

Voice: Indeed. Now, one final secret. What little trick are you most proud of?

Biddy: Steamy pasta or rice. No one wants to see a bowl of pasta or rice that looks stone cold, but steam is very difficult to capture realistically on camera. Sometimes, I hide a cone of incense in the dish and light it when the photographer is ready; or just before the shoot, I put a few water-soaked cotton wool balls into the microwave and then get them out and bury them in the rice or pasta. The steam from them lasts quite a long time.

A food stylist has to have a good imagination. A good root around my bag will show you all sorts of stuff that I use on a food photo shoot. I have to be prepared for anything!


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