From beginning to end, one rule reigns – make sure there’s good coffee (and plenty of it!)
What does a food stylist do? (Part 1)
So the book is here, on the shelves of Exclusive Books (happy dance) and I am listed in the credits as food and decor stylist. Great! But what does that actually mean, and what is involved, and what does a food stylist do? It’s a good question, and one I am often asked, so I’ll explain my role on a food shoot and what is involved.
In January I was approached by Marc Hirschowitz and his two co-authors about an idea they had for a recipe book. They had an arrangement with the publisher Random House Struik to publish the book, but that was a long way off. First they needed a photographer and a stylist. This is where Vanessa Lewis and I came in. We have worked together for many years and although we do not have an exclusive relationship (we sometimes date other stylists or photographers), we have developed a great understanding and synergy. Our favourite Whatsapp line to each other is:
Ok, so back to the food styling: how do we go from a few recipes typed or scribbled to a magnificent 300-page bound book with glossy paper and a grosgrain ribbon? The answer is much sweat, very little sleep on my part, and much hard work, a lot of laughs ( a few tears too, I ‘m not going to lie to you), a LOT of coffee and an uncountable number of emails, SMSes and Whatsapps.
A food stylist’s job is to (1) make the food that is to be photographed look as appealing and appetizing as possible, and (2) present the prepared food in such a way that it engages the reader so that upon seeing the completed picture in the book, the reader exclaims “Oh I want to make, eat, have that!”. This means not only shopping, preparing and cooking the actual ingredients for the recipes (more about that topic later), but also creating a clear vision regarding the way in which the food is to be presented. For example, is it garnished? And with what? Are there accompaniments such as rice or bread, additional food items that give the recipe context. For example a pasta recipe is usually served with grated parmesan cheese, extra Italian bread if it has a creamy sauce to “mop up” and even a glass of wine or water. This is how you would serve it at home, and how you might be served in a restaurant, and it’s what we call “lifestyle setting” and the first step for the food stylist.
The next question is, how will the food be presented; will it be served in a bowl, or on a plate, a serviette or board? These items are crucial to the serving of the cooked food and we call these items “soft props”. Most stylists will have a basic collection of these items that they may have built up over the years in the industry, such as the beautiful plates in the chapter Spice on page 186 which I inherited from my Granny, and have added to over the years. There are other more unusual props such as the organic recycled take away containers and plates, and cutlery in the chapter Immigrant on page 242 which had to be specifically sourced from a particular supplier (thank you to Green Home). Then sometimes the perfect prop requires an extra talent, such as the hand sewn napkin in Slurp or the knitted chapter opener for the chapter Soup. Yes – I cook, knit and iron on shoots!
Next come the “hard props” which are the surfaces to be used, the decor items required and the backgrounds (which although often not that obvious, are crucial to the overall look of the picture). In SAVOUR, all the backgrounds were chosen and even specially constructed so the whole chapter would have a continuous theme, for example the chapter Love is a large framed chalkboard I had in my business and actually hung in my shop for many years. It made the perfect “serving platter” on which we placed all the food in the different containers, all highlighting the Love theme: heart shaped breadboards, heart shaped bowls and beautiful heart ribbon. The chapter Spice is photographed on the plates I mentioned previously, but would you believe the surface is actually an old workbench and tool cupboard that we uncovered in a garage? After a little Handy Andy, it was good to go! And construction? Yes, that too, the surface in the braai/BBQ chapter Sizzle is a tongue and groove panel that was purchased raw from a local hardware store; it then had to be assembled, painted, distressed and sanded all by yours truly (with help in the sanding department from Vanessa and Karen) and which became our “anchor” for the design of the entire chapter.
Now I hear you asking, how do you think of all these things? Um I mentioned the little sleep right? And the coffee, and all the emails?
I’ll tell you more about the conceptualisation process in the next blog post, so came back soon!