Food styling tricks revealed

If you’ve ever flicked through the pages of a glossy food magazine you’ve seen what a food stylist can do.
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  • Updated:24 Jan 2002

03.Behind the scenes

We started with identical chooks, muffins from the same batch and the same ingredients, and it was a hard day’s work for four professionals to get these shots looking perfect — especially compared with how they looked without titivation. No wonder yours doesn’t look the same.

Click on the image to see the before and after effects.

The perfect chook

The styling challenge: Regular roast chook dries up, shrinks and browns unevenly. And while it may smell great at the dining table, it looks pretty unappealing in a photo (right).
How to style it: First decide on the chook’s best angle — in this shoot, the stylists consulted the photographer and his assistant and the raw chook’s credentials were discussed at some length. Then the skin at the foot and neck ends is trimmed and sewn in place. It’s carefully trussed, firmly stuffed with paper and oven-cooked for about twenty minutes to ‘set’ the flesh. The skin is ‘cooked’ to brown crispiness using a coat of soy sauce and paprika and a heat gun. A coat of oil makes it look hot and juicy. In our shot a skin graft has even been used to get a pasty area near the wing looking perfect.
The result: Plump, juicy, perfect roast chicken.

Muffin magic

The styling challenge: Cake and muffins can look flat, dry and uninteresting (left).
How to style it: The muffin is carefully broken apart and placed on the plate. Tweezers are used to tease out the crumbs to give pleasing shadows and a moist, crumbly look. The fruit in the muffin is excavated so you can see it more clearly. Fresh blueberries — only ever handled with tweezers or gloves to avoid fingerprints — are blue-tacked in place. The blueberry leaves were the most difficult part of this shot. It took 25 minutes to get them arranged to the stylist’s and photographer’s satisfaction. A shake of icing sugar and an artistically placed fork finish the shot.
The result: Still life with muffin — true art.

A beautiful burger

The styling challenge: The meat is heavy and squashes everything beneath it. The salad slides sideways and the sauce and beetroot ooze out (right).
How to style it: The meat is only lightly cooked and the edges browned with a blow torch. The bun, like the other ingredients, is selected for perfection (in this case the top and base come from two different buns). After lettuce frills are carefully pinned in place, a cardboard platform supported by pieces of toothpick is constructed to hold the weight of the meat off the lettuce and bun. The other ingredients are artistically arranged and may also need to be pinned in place. Make-up remover pads do a good job of soaking up beetroot juices. The final touch is an artistic injection of tomato sauce thickened with tomato paste.
The result: A tall, symmetrical, balanced hamburger creation.

A spectacular stir-fry

The styling challenge: Stir-fries and pasta sink flat onto the plate and rarely do the ingredients land in a balanced way. The noodles look dull and cold and some ingredients may end up overcooked (left).
How to style it: First the carefully selected ingredients are cooked individually so they’re perfect. A mound of instant mashed potato is used as a base to get some height and stability. Noodles are coated with liquid glucose to make them look hot and shiny. The ingredients are arranged to give a casual appearance that belies the amount of time spent with tweezers to get perfectly looped noodles and balanced colour.
The result: An appetising and colourful stir-fry that looks fresh and hot.

Photo credits — Stylist: Beryl Crowther, Assistant: Anne Bollard, Photographer: Paulo Bursato


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