Will the real Food Stylist please stand up?

“What a successful food stylist does is help produce a photo that sells a dream, brand, product, sandwich, plate, lifestyle, chef, or restaurant.

Think of it this way: every picture tells and sells a story”.
~ Denise Vivaldo author of The Food Stylists Handbook

Will the real Food Stylist please stand up?  What or shall we say, who is a Food Stylist?   Great discussion question, don’t you think?  Quite a touchy topic for conversation, especially here in the food blogging world.   Think about it, just because you “can” style a plate of food for a pretty picture doesn’t necessarily make you a “Food Stylist”.    I can’t tell you how many food blogs I’ve read through where the blogger lists in their credentials the title, “Food Stylist”.  I’m not trying to deflate anyone’s soufflé  here, let’s just be honest.  If I know everything there is to know about dental hygiene, toothpaste and flossing, and brush my teeth three times a day,  does that make me a dentist?  For your sake, let’s hope not! 

Over the last year, I have had the opportunity to work with Food Fanatics and most recently attended Denise Vivaldo’s, Master Food Styling Workshop.   Chefs, bloggers, and food writers from all over the world attended.  It was two full days of “inside styling secrets and stories” from “The” Food Stylist herself, Denise Vivaldo.  I’ve never told her this, but I think of Denise like the “Godfather” of Food Styling.  She is the head of family, at the top of her game.  She is a walking instruction manual, an authority on the subject, and like the Mafia – you don’t want to mess with her, she means business.  I recently was on site styling for Denise and when I was working out the details of my overtime with the client, he smiled and said, “As long as Denise doesn’t yell at me”.  I’m not talking about  animal heads in your bed kind of Godfather, but let’s just say nothing is off limits on the Huffington Post.  Respected for her expertise, she is well known and loved by just about everyone. 

If you have ever had the pleasure of meeting Denise in person,  then we have one thing in common, she has made us laugh. 
As a chef,  I labor over the details of technique,  seasonality, and flavor.  I style the food for the plate – to be savored and enjoyed by my client.  For instance,  pie is served as pie.  Everyone accepts it at face value,  a delicious flaky crust with a syrupy sweet- fruited center.  In contrast,  the Food Stylist carefully prepares the same pie but…for the camera.  The pie is presented inedible – (no one better dare try to eat it!),  painted – sprayed- oiled – patched with Vaseline and immediately after it has had it’s 5 minutes of fame on film, the pie is trashed.  Don’t hate the stylist, hate the game.  American consumers do not want to see pie as it is, but as it should be – perfect.  We just aren’t ready to see pie without it’s makeup on the cover of the Cosmo.
She is Julia Child and Bette Midler all rolled into one delicious lady. 
She is a talented chef with a fresh and creative imagination.
~ Richard Simmons
Is a Food Stylist a chef, food expert, food scientist, entrepreneur, or … comedian?  The answer is, yes.  Denise always says, “The more you know about food the better you will be at food styling”.  Understanding the science behind food is key to food styling. Remember a Food Stylist is cooking for the camera, not for the palate, you have to know how food reacts to time and temperature.  Spending countless hours  painting a hamburger also requires that you have a genuine, doctor diagnosed case of obsessive compulsive disorder.  The sense of  humor?  That comes in very handy when you are cooking in the rain, under a tent, and in the wind for 16 hours!
A chef by trade, I fit right into food styling, but being a cook at heart – I can’t bear to not season the food, salting the onions while they sweat.  “Why”?,  I ask myself,  “Nobody is going to eat this”!   I can’t help myself I’m a slave to technique…
Stylists do not travel light

When everyone else sits down, the only real Food Stylist  remains standing, Denise Vivaldo.  How does she do it after 20 years in the business?  She will be the first to tell you, “Learn to swear and buy a bottle of wine”…

9 comments… add one
  • She's Cookin' April 5, 2011, 9:57 pm

    Great post, Louise! I'm really sorry I missed meeting Denise. Swearing and buying a bottle of wine has gotten me through many tough days – so that skill transcends boundaries 😉

  • ~ Chef Louise April 5, 2011, 10:10 pm

    thanks Priscilla, don't worry you will meet Denise, she isn't going anywhere and she has promised to do an event with OC Bites someday soon…

  • Sippity Sup April 5, 2011, 11:32 pm

    I have all sorts of complicated feeling about "food styling" which I will share with you in person some day. GREG

  • Lentil Breakdown April 6, 2011, 12:08 am

    I say "cheese," and if my food won't smile, I'm S.O.L.

  • Steve April 6, 2011, 12:22 am

    Welcome back! Missed you. Great post. You are an inspiration. I'm resolute in my plans for photo lessons and editing classes. Styling will have to come later!

  • Renee Fontes April 6, 2011, 4:25 am

    Okay the green glitter nail polish, was it real or styled?
    Denise is both an amazing artist and a stand up comedian. I love hearing about the work stylists do for great photos.
    As for you, I with all the hats you wear, nobody does it better!

  • Quyen - Kitchen Runway April 6, 2011, 5:35 am

    Great post Louise – and oh so true! I hope that I get to meet her one day too – hopefully the OC Bites event will be on a weekend so I can attend. 🙂

  • Steve @ HPD April 6, 2011, 3:42 pm

    Swearing and wine … not necessarily in that order. Cheers!

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