Food Stylist: Making the Basil Blush

By EasyUni Staff | Last modified 11 Nov 2017
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What is Food Stylist?

decorating the spaghetti


We know what you’re thinking — all food stylists have to fake it quite often to make the food look better. They probably to do things like paint chickens with motor oil to make them look scrumptious. Well… while that’s not exactly untrue, it only paints a small part of the full picture of what a food stylist is.

Alright, so maybe you weren’t thinking that a majority of food stylists do this. Good, because our description really applies to only about 30% of them.

Food stylists are normal people (for the most part), with a strong passion for all things related to food. Buying it. Preparing it. Cooking it. Styling it. Photographing it. Being lauded for it. Being paid for it. And, kinda in that order. Oh, and eating it too, of course! It takes these stylists years and years of practice to master their skill to make even the skinniest looking chicken thigh look juicy and succulent. Being an awesome food stylist requires not only attention to detail and a creative mind but also an intricate eye to take the best photographs with a strong understanding of lighting and depth. From choosing the right plate, deciding when messy (or organised clutter, #oxymoron maybe?) to knowing which lenses to choose right up to having the right cutlery and appropriate colours, a food stylist must combine knowledge of styling and photography. 

So, How's Their Typical Day?

decorating the desserts
The good news is that there are no typical days in the freelance world of food styling. Each day is different from the next. You shoot in every conceivable environment. You work with many different foods. One day you may prepare a picnic table full of food for a TV commercial, the next you are spreading the client’s frosting on one cupcake. 

The work can be physically demanding, though. Firstly, you start with doing all your shopping on the way to a shoot. You will buy all the ingredients (which involves much schlepping around the city trying to find the best butchers, greengrocers and fishmongers) and as most magazines and advertisements are prepared a few months ahead, this can mean trying to find a turkey in July for a Christmas shoot.

Then there’s of course, the cooking – organising five or six cooked dishes, with accompaniments, into a day’s shoot. Tough at the best of times, but harder when the recipes aren’t working (which surprisingly happens more frequently than you might think).

Above all, food stylists are lovers o the food they cook and style. Combining their amazing cooking skills, a flair for the artistic and a variety of time-worn tricks, they can take any french fry, roast beef sandwich or even a solitary lettuce leaf and make mouths water.

How do I Become Qualified?

There are a number of ways to become knowledgeable and skilled at the craft. Many food stylists go straight to culinary arts university or participate in a training programme at some kind of culinary institute. Being a good home cook is not good enough. Try finding one school that offers strong cooking and baking skills. It is better to take the stairs rather than the elevator. It might be easy to rise to the top quickly, but you need to have a strong foundation to be able to say there.

Also, just because you can technically walk into your kitchen this very minute and whip something up, doesn't mean that it's easy to become a professional at this art. There's a reason there are so many shows about food — there is a lot to learn. There are a gazillion different styles of cuisine (barbecue, Chinese, French, Italian, German, Greek, etc.), just as many preparation methods, and sometimes there's science involved. How to make ice-cream that doesn’t melt? What can I add to make cereals hold up better before it gets soggy?

How Much Can I Earn?

Average Salary: MYR 4,000

Like most in the food service industry, you can make okay money, but generally not great money. Of course, if you're the well-known food stylist on Instagram, you could potentially make an excellent living. That's however, the exception rather than the rule.

Considering that most food stylists work in more modest establishments in more modest regions, you're looking at a salary of MYR 50,000 a year on average. It’s probably MYR 10,000 less if you’re still an amateur in the process of working your way up to the "big money." The bosses of the food stylists are usually companies that deal with media, advertising agencies and magazines like Good Housekeeping, Ladies’ Home Journal, Rasa and Saji to name a few. Large food corporations like Giant, Tesco, Parkson, McDonald’s and Bistro hire in-house food stylists too.

In Malaysia, your odds of getting into the food styling business are good. Malaysians are easily tempted by mouth-watering food photography and packaging and that’s great news for you. So, you’ll always have job opportunities, no matter freelance or full-time.

5 Bizarre Styling Tricks to Fake Perfect Food

Berries with steam behind#1 STEAM FOR SOUPS, COFFEE AND OTHER HOT FOODS

Heat up water-soaked cotton balls in the microwave, and they can produce steam for several minutes. Then, hide the cotton balls behind food for a steamy look.

biting an apple
#2 THE PERFECT BITE

For a television commercial where an actor bites into the product, a food stylist has to prepare food in volume. Food stylist Ricki Rosenblatt recalled one “bite-and-smile ad” that required cooking 300 hamburgers in five hours.

mouth watering pancakes#3 PERFECT PANCAKES

Pancakes can absorb the syrup poured on top of them. Stylists prevent the soggy look by spraying pancakes with fabric protector spray Scotchgard before pouring the syrup.

grilled meat
#4 CHARRING ON MEAT

Undercooked food tends to look better in photographs, so food stylists fake a burnt appearance on steak and other meats using eyebrow pencils or eyeliners.

red strawberries#5 RED BERRIES

To make berries redder, a swipe of lipstick might do the trick. It’s perfect for covering up white spots and discolourations.

Posted on 09 Oct 2017
Career Guide, Useful Tips