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Tanya Tandoc

The 'Reality' of Food Styling

Elke Wetzig / Wikimedia Commons

Among other things, I am a professional food stylist. I have been doing this weird job for over 25 years.

What a food stylist does is make food look fantastic on camera or video. Yes, it is fakery. Yes, it is somewhat dishonest. Yes, it is great work if you can get it. It pays well and a stylist gets to use her knowledge of food preparation, her skills as an artist, and an understanding of photography. It is very challenging.

In this age of Instagram, anyone can take pictures of what they are cooking or eating. Chefs work hard to make their plates look great, not only because people enjoy beautiful food, but because anyone with a phone will take pictures for anyone to see. We first eat with our eyes, so presentation is a huge part of what makes restaurant plating exciting.

Commercial food styling is a different process. I have worked for an international hamburger chain and have sorted through 2,000 buns in search of perfect ones. I have oiled individual strands of pasta and twirled them into perfect spirals. I have made grill marks on steaks with charcoal starters and seared peppers with a blowtorch, all to make a product look deliciously mouthwatering. I once pulled a live lizard off of a burger 20 times because the art director wanted the creature in a video, but it was hungry and lizards don’t like stage direction.

I’m not knocking the styling business. I’m part of it and it exists for a reason. But we all play into the fantasy. And the truth is, reality is always better.