Food Styling as Art

camera with appleSo I went to the book signing party the other day..” one of the food stylists I work for commented. “I walked up to the Chef and introduced myself as the stylist who worked on his book” my friend continued. “You know, he turned his back on me and walked away while I was in the middle of talking! Guess he didn’t like my work much!” my friend said with a little laugh and a shrug.

As we continued on the shoot, I recalled hearing similar exchanges – all ending with food styling being snubbed by the chef in question. I started to think about the relationship between various food professionals, chefs, food stylists, and food photographers.

So, we all know what a chef and a food photographer is, but what’s a food stylist you may be asking yourself. A food stylist is someone who certainly cooks but whose aim is to make food look delicious and fresh for the camera. They have a wide range of practiced skills such as cooking, baking, a deep knowledge of how food reacts chemically, and an excellent understanding of color and composition.

Your next question might be, “why would some restaurant chefs want to pick bones with someone who obviously works with food in a highly artistic, knowledgeable manner?” Well, I rely on the old proverb, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” First off, I venture to say that most chefs don’t think that food stylists actually eat their food, therefore creating food that will not be consumed loses its merit as artful food or haute cuisine. Secondly, many chefs who have certainly paid their dues working grueling hours for most of their lives – under hard conditions in industrial kitchens – feel slighted that food styling should be considered an art on the same magnitude as their own.

Having been on both sides of the fence, I can say that yes, working in a restaurant kitchen is the hardest job I have ever had and chefs deserve the utmost respect for doing it. On the other hand, I think styling takes a lot of training and artistic ability to be successful at it. And believe it or not, most of the food prepared for photo shoots is eaten on the set or spirited away to hungry mouths waiting at home.

Like the argument that painters once voiced against photography as an art form when it first came on the scene in the 1850’s, some chefs definitely take the position of the disgruntled painter. To them, I say: “Without media, photography and food styling – essential to food publications and magazines – who else would sing your praise to vast inhabitants of the city, those people who might never visit your restaurants? You see that styling and photography can preserve the delicate sensuality of your creations, for only the hungry photographic eye of the camera admires your dishes without hope of consumption.”

“Photographs beautify.”
-Susan Sontag

“[Photography allows one] to revel in the pure pleasure of form.”

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