If you suffer from food envy — the disappointment that, despite following the recipe, your dish didn’t turn out like it looked in the picture — don’t feel like a failure.
That photo may look good enough to eat, but it likely doesn’t contain food that can actually be consumed. Using all kinds of trickery and techniques, food stylists succeed in their job of whetting your appetite as you peer over boxes in the frozen entrees aisle at the grocery store.
Local stylist Kate Gallion has made a career of bringing recipes to life in glossy magazines and cookbooks by teaming with cooks and photographers to create seductive images for hopeful chefs. She lets us in on some of her secrets and offers tips to make your party food look picture perfect.
Inspired by love of food, cooks and photography, Gallion combines her passion for all three to “make food look hyper-naturally good for the camera.” She laughs about resorting to voodoo, but some food styling tricks do border on magic. To create an idyllic Thanksgiving meal for a photo shoot, start with a raw turkey then blowtorch and paint it to achieve the illusion of perfect, browned skin. That may seem unfair, but stylists work this way because the meat of a fully roasted bird pulls away from the bone, deflating the look of a plump, juicy turkey.
While torching a turkey sounds difficult, Gallion calls ice cream the most challenging food with which stylists work. “It melts,” she says. Still, real ice cream must be photographed for product packaging, so stylists trained to create the perfect scoop work their wrists for hours, carefully replacing each spoonful as the hot lights take their toll. Shooting sundaes for magazines is far easier, though. Instead of the real thing, the pros use a potato-based concoction that looks like ice cream but won’t melt. “You would never want to eat the food used in a photo shoot, even if it really is what it claims to be,” Gallion says.
To make your real party food look as appetizing as the dishes seen in cooking magazines, Gallion suggests artful plating and a keen attention to detail. Even if you don’t have the knife skills to make radish roses, use colorful sauces and embellishments to spice up bland-looking meats. Arrange fresh fruits or vegetables in geometric shapes or on interesting, multi-tiered dishes to create drama.
Most importantly, don’t stop your styling just because the party is in full swing. Gallion points out the importance of monitoring the food tables throughout the gathering, cleaning up spills, and replacing empty platters to keep everything attractive. “Nothing says ‘party over’ like a skid marked dip bowl studded with wreckage,” she says. No matter how good it smells and tastes, your food presentation must first be pleasing to the eye, even if you have to resort to some food styling secrets!
Photos: Courtesy of Ryan Kurtz
Food Styling: Kate Gallion