The ability to make dishes look exceptionally appealing and appetizing like they do in magazines is not an easy task. All the pictures in food magazines and cookbooks that we salivate over is an art that requires styling and precision just like any other photograph. Not many people have knowledge about the field of food styling, so we had the privilege of speaking with food stylist Jenny Park about her food aesthetic, food shoot process, and why ice-cream is the hardest food to work with.
In your own words, what does a food stylist do?
A food stylist is sort of a food artist. We create beautiful food presentations for multi-media outlets such as magazines, cookbooks, product packaging, etc. We pretty much try to make the food look as pretty and tasty as possible.
How and when did you start food styling?
I began food styling about 3 years ago while attending culinary school. Cooking and writing recipes are definitely my passions, but I realized that working in a restaurant just wasn’t for me. I wanted to find another way to keep myself in the culinary field…enter food styling!
Describe your food aesthetic. How does color, composition, texture, and props play into your styling?
I like to keep things clean and simple, but depending on the project I’m working on, I don’t always get that option. When I do have a choice in the matter like working with unique props that don’t necessarily match perfectly, the composition, textures and colors all depend on the dishes I create and the overall photo shoot itself.
Where do you look to for inspiration?
I usually get my inspiration from three places. The first is the farmers markets; I love working with fresh, seasonal ingredients and creating dishes based on what I can find at the markets on any given day. The second place I look for inspiration is when I travel. I love to travel and international cuisine…of all varieties, is something that just excites me. I also look to some of my favorite food magazines for inspiration; Donna Hay, Jamie and Saveur are some of my favorites.
What does a typical food shoot look like? And, we’ve always been curious, do you get to eat your work after you’re done working with it?
A typical food shoot is actually not all that glamorous. I usually shop and prep for the shoot the day before and come in and begin cooking. I usually have a shot list to work with and pretty much just start preparing, styling and fluffing dishes for each shot. I also love cooking food for real.
Many people have a misconception that food styling is all faked, but that’s only partially true. As often as I can, I make the food for real. I just think it looks better and more natural doing it that way. Faking everything is sort of an old school method of styling. So yes, most of what I make can be and is usually eaten after it’s photographed. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely had my fair share of painting chickens to make them look roasted, stuffing paper towels under certain dishes to make a plate/bowl look full without using as much food, and it’s a great time saver, but my preference is always to make real food.
What has been the most difficult food to work with?
Ice-cream, definitely ice-cream. Simply because it melts and if it’s not photographed quickly many swap outs are needed.
Aside from food styling, you also develop recipes. What’s your process when creating recipes? Do you tweak/adapt recipes, or start completely from scratch?
When I develop recipes I type them out first, then test them and finally I edit them. I write recipes from scratch and rarely, if ever tweak/adapt. I think one of the things people really like about my recipes are that they’re unique to me and I always like to add a little something to my recipes to set them apart from others.
Oh jeez, this is a tough one because I like almost ALL Korean foods, but a few of my favorites would have to be Galbi Jim…you just can’t go wrong with a slightly sweet and savory beef rib stew with root vegetables…SO GOOD. Kimchi Jigae, Yook-Gae-Jang, Mandoo Gook, Dak Jook, Haemul Pajeon, Kimchi of all varieties, Soon-Dae, Mool Nangmyun…see, I told you this would be tough!
Lastly, any tips for food bloggers and prospective food stylists who want to improve their food presentation?
I always think less is more. Simplicity is key and don’t over think anything. Playing with food is something that’s fun and it should always be something that’s fun to do!
[Photos: Courtesy of Jenny Park]