Do you have to be a chef to be a food stylist? What does it take?
A lot of people ask me what's it like to be a food stylist verses being a chef. Well, I'm going to get to that, but first things first… Hopefully everyone had the best holiday season and is taking the right first step for a fun-successful 2019. I'm sure you have not forgot about your new year resolutions. It's barely the middle of January... come on! I don't even think I really made one yet. LOL! Maybe my calendar year for resolutions can start in February???
We were all over the place for the holidays… Ohio… Vegas… Texas and back home to the Bay Area in California. I’m very thankful for everything we were blessed with in 2018 and am fired up to make 2019 another great year.
I never know what state I’ll be working in next, or what my next food-styling gig is going to entail. How will I get my styling kit to the location and will the closest grocery store have what I need for the shoot are just a couple minor details which might drive some people crazy. I love and welcome the challenges. Some of the jobs I’ve had have been very challenging. Making fruit rain, cheese falling on spaghetti, a cool shot of unique sushi and someone breaking a dinner roll in half for steam to be revealed can sound pretty simple. Let me assure you when the photographer takes the photo or the videographer takes the video, the real story is divulged. There could be up to 6 or 8 people instantly looking at the footage, and yes, they could all have different opinions. Sometimes my opinion counts. I’m there to turn the client's dreams into reality, not mine. I have to listen to changes the client would like and react instantly to hopefully make the proper food styling adjustments for a perfect shot the next time. Sometimes the footage has to be emailed to staff who are not on location for approval, so patience is a must.
When it comes to food styling, appearance is pretty much the only thing that matters. So, you have to kind of be an artist. Customers are not going to taste the food, so too much or little salt doesn’t matter. Also, the health department is not on set checking temperatures, etc... because no-one is usually eating the food. Only being an artist can be challenging on set if someone is going to take a bite of the food for the shot. For example, if someone is going to take a bite of fish while shooting a TV commercial, all safety and sanitation practices have to be in place to assure that person does not get food poisoning. Many times there are several “takes’, so being a chef as well as a food artist is a must. Chefs are trained and practice daily to keep food at the optimum quality. Being a chef offers the client access to a number of other skills which could make their overall shot a success. Budgeting, scheduling, planning, shopping and working with all types of people with varying personalities is something a chef does on a daily basis. Ideas evolve, budgets get tighter and plans change, so you have to be flexible as a food stylist and as a chef. Also, a chef usually knows where to source most food products, so something like finding edible flowers in December is not an issue. Chef’s also have knife skills along with years of baking and cooking experience. These talents take years to master. For example, knowing how much fish skin is going to shrink when it hits a hot skillet or being able to cut a vegetable quickly and uniformly are a given with a good chef. Chefs take direction on a daily basis either from a bride who wants things perfect for her wedding or a catering client who is trying to wow their guests. Food stylist will usually take direction on set from an art director. This person has a complete understanding of the client’s vision and works with the whole production staff to communicate the ideas so everyone has the same end goal in mind (just like the bride's mother). If you are not a chef, and no matter who is food styling for the photo, there are going to be a number of things you may have to learn. To be a good stylist, you have to know how to style food for a variety of situations like working outside on a hot day with ice cream, plating food for the perfect camera angle and organizing multiple shoots in limited space are just a few. Another big challenge for anyone is how you get your name to the right people to be hired. Making connections and promoting your business has to happen to keep the work flowing. Now for the fun part, paying taxes. That’s right! Most chefs work for companies and don't have to worry about quarterly taxes, state taxes, etc... Most stylists work for themselves, so knowing how and when to pay taxes will make or break you. You also have to understand things like which business insurance is best for you, how and when to fill out a W-9 and how to handle paying employees. Running a business can be challenging for anyone.
Above is one of my favorite shots from last year. being a chef definitely paid off when I styled food for this shot for Oneida Foodservice. They make tabletop items for home and restaurants. It's always a pleasure getting to create with their team.
I wish everyone the best, keep cooking and try to eat something new every week.