What Does a food stylist actually do?

Telling people you’re a “food stylist” results in everything from confused looks to blank stares to hearing, “That sounds really fun. What do you do exactly?”

Food stylists do a lot and I like to think of myself and others who do this for a living as “food artists”. Just as any artist creates a work of beauty, food stylists do the same thing, only with food instead of clay, marble or a canvas. They turn food into art so people want to buy it. Food stylists are artists who encourage sales!

So what exactly does a food stylist DO?

As mentioned above, creating a body of work that is all about food that is beautiful to look at is the primary role of a food stylist. We are hired by photographers, advertising agencies, food companies and restaurants to make food look beautiful for still and motion photography. Pictures in magazines, photographs on packaging, television commercials, gorgeous looking food on a menu are all items that are extremely important because customers make buying decisions based on how appealing the food looks in photos. A good photographer is definitely needed to make great food photos but the food stylist is the other part of that necessary equation. Think of a food stylist as the hair and makeup person for the food. Kind of a funny visual but this is really what happens.

Food stylists grocery shop in a way that is a bit like a scavenger hunt. We look for perfect pretty buns or apples or delicate herbs for garnish. We look for green tomatoes in winter, candy canes in summer and strawberries with stems in January. We are resourceful to say the least. Magicians at times. Never letting our clients know the tall buildings we had to climb or little old lady’s garden we needed to pilfer. Food stylists cook and bake, often under pressure and sometimes with a make shift stove or hot plate depending on the location. We are experts in all types of food preparation. We are food scientists too. We need to know (quickly) why that sauce isn’t thickening and why that bread dough isn’t rising and what to do about it. We need to know if that cheese sauce is thick enough to hold the perfect drip but not so thin that it will run all the way down the wedge of lasagna on camera. Food stylists are also thrill seekers…adrenaline junkies….a little cray-cray as I like to say. We must do all of this plate twirling and fry pan flipping while 8 people are watching us and the clock and are worried about budgets and time and end results. We FEEL the heat (yes pun intended) but we don’t let it show. We smile and are efficient and sometimes perfectionists and most of all, we love what we do.

The other thing a food stylist does is work with the entire creative team (anywhere from 3 to 12 people) to create an end product that is ultimately able to be used to sell food products, books, and magazines. The idea of team work is the key ingredient. We are hired to create with food someone else’s vision. Not our own. There is a team of marketing and sales, creative direction, management, branding, and kitchen or food representation, R&D, and photography. At the end of the day, everyone must be happy with the resulting food image. The goal of our food photos are to get customers to take the next step. Sometimes this is to purchase the actual food, and sometimes it’s to purchase the venue in which the food is highlighted. An example of this would be cooking magazines or cookbooks. Food stylists create works of art and beauty so that customers want to buy. We can’t forget this. It’s art with purpose.

So there you have it. Now you know what a food stylist does!