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Diary of a food stylist

I have my dream job - I work with food, but not in a hot kitchen, I create interesting recipes, and make food look great for pictures, but like all jobs, after a little while the exciting seems everyday and the noteworthy seems mundane, this is my normal week.

Monday

This morning I took a booking for next Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. It is a shoot with a photographer who I like working with, although the journey to the studio is 1 ½ hours. It is unconfirmed, but he will let me know more details.

After the editors have had their morning coffee and Monday morning meeting, eventually at midday this Thursday’s recipes arrived. They are complicated scientific chef’s recipes and after carefully reading them, I phone the photographer to give her my impression of how they will look so that she can create the shot. I also speak to the stylist to tell her what size the tarts will be, or exactly how much ice cream the recipe makes, otherwise on the day we may end up - and often do - sending across town for the right sized plate or perfect glass. Once I have made the shopping list, allowing for testing the recipe and several attempts at getting it right, I really need to hit the shops. The butcher is the best for miles and doesn’t flinch when I ask for a rabbit with it’s kidneys or 6 pigeon breasts. I leave the order with him and go and search for lemons in different sizes - the photographer wants a whole lemon in the shot, so various sizes have to be bought, to get it right on the day. I start with Sainsburys economy lemons, the supermarket salad will not hold up under the lights, but the parma ham is excellent and I can buy the groceries here. Then it is back to the butcher and on to the greengrocer for bunches of herbs and salad. Before I buy the right sized terrine for the rabbit, I check with the chef and make a note on the copy. One more stop at the cheese shop and then home to start testing….with nothing for dinner!

Being chef’s recipes, they often take 2 days from start to finish, sometimes more, so I need to get cracking, and by 9pm all the rabbit is chopped and packed into the terrine, which is cooking at an impossibly low temperature for 4 hours. It needs a day rest in the fridge, so if it all goes wrong I will be back at the butcher first thing in the morning. I start to make the pastry, which was a mistake - I could see it would never work, all that butter and ground almonds too it just fell apart in my hands - I will sort that out tomorrow, it’s been a long day already..

Tuesday

The terrine is in the fridge weighted down with cans and looking good. For the pastry I alter the amounts, as little as possible to stay faithful to the original, and bake off a few to test it, they work fine. The recipe will work for the readers, but I can’t use it for the shot, it will disintegrate under the lights. I use an almond pastry which looks the same, now for the wobbly set filling…..

I start a jelly recipe - straining fruit through muslin overnight, which makes a beautifully clear jelly.

Wednesday

I make the jellies up from the strained juice, only to find that the recipe makes 2 tiny jellies and we need at least 6! And I haven’t got another overnight -

Thursday

When I arrive at the studio, the set for the lemon tart with the wobbly centre is ready - at a 45 degree angle! The tart is never going to hold up the filling will shoot straight over the edge - I change the recipe again…The jellies get on the set and immediately run all over the plate, but the rabbit terrine cuts beautifully - one success.
Still no brief for next week - just wait.

Friday

I make the final amendments on the recipes and send them through - the deadlines are so tight that the subs have been on the phone already checking tin sizes and suppliers of obscure ingredients, which is so much easier over the internet. Still no brief for next week.

Monday

I am still chasing the brief for this week, it is a packaging shoot and these products are in development. It is not unknown for products to be pulled at the last minute leaving me and the photographer with an empty diary.

Tuesday

The brief comes through at lunchtime, they want to shoot ingredients and mainly beautiful wine labels. I have to immediately search wine merchants for the most lovely sauternes, chardonnay and brandy labels - making sure they are straight and the brand is not obvious, and that I can buy 6 of the same! I order the rest of the ingredients and prepare for a studio day.

The rest of the week was fairly straightforward as weeks go. I hope you enjoyed reading about my week in food.

Re: Diary of a food stylist

This is a great piece. I don’t think I will ever look at a magazine photo of food with my usual dismissal. I had no idea there was so much to it.

Re: Diary of a food stylist

There’s a great article about styling food for movies in today’s NY Times Dining & Wine section. It talks about the upcoming movie Julie & Julia, which I am sure you’d love. Check it out. I wrote about it on my Nutritioulicious blog.

Re: Diary of a food stylist