Food Stylist Tricks

Ever wondered who makes the restaurant offerings in the movies look so darn delicious? What about who the person arranging the Bon Appetit and Chef magazine spreads is? These detail-oriented individuals are food stylists. People in the baking and pastry arts, as well as anyone studying in culinary arts programs, may be surprised to learn that a lot of the prep work that goes into these photo shoots and films doesn’t even use real food. Here are some tricks food stylists use to make the dishes look so good:

Always have multiples 
Shooting a movie scene often takes several hours. For shots that involve eating, the particular dish is remade over and over so that it is fresh when it is in the shot. In an NPR article, food stylist Melissa McSorley said she and her team created around 600 Cubano sandwiches for the filming of the movie “Chef,” about a man who starts his own food truck. Why so many? The actors had to actually eat the food. They couldn’t let it go stale from sitting for a while so nearly every take involved a new sandwich. Director and actor Jon Favreau, who played the main character in the movie, said he wanted to be sure the actors were as excited about the food as if it was the first time they tried it for every single take.

I can’t believe its not
Many of the ingredients you see on screen or in print are not actually what they claim to be. Ice cream, for example, is often made with butter or lard and coated in confectioner’s sugar to give it the look of different flavored swirls. As for stacked foods like pancakes, sandwiches or burgers, they usually contain cardboard. This keeps the items from going flat as the shoot goes on. Another common stage effect is grill marks. Foods that need to achieve the iconic black-striped grilled look are painted, or the stylist may use a heated metal skewer to make each individual mark by hand.

You don’t actually have to cook it
According to Reader’s Digest, many images of cooked birds are actually featuring a totally raw one. Because a turkey or other fowl is not going to be eaten after fulfilling its purpose at a shoot, only the outside is cooked. How do they do it? Food coloring, browning sauce and a blow torch. The insides are often stuffed with paper towels to make the bird look bigger. While the food looks good, it’s not edible.

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