Does that picture of vanilla ice cream slathered in chocolate syrup with a dollop of whipped cream and cherry on top have you hankering for a taste of the real thing? Especially when you find out that picture of perfection is actually scoops of mashed potatoes covered with motor oil and some shaving cream? The only thing real in the picture is the cherry sprayed with a mixture of water and corn syrup to keep it looking fresh.

These are just a few of the tricks of the trade used by a food stylist to ensure food is perfectly prepared for maximum impact in a photographic shoot. It doesn’t have to taste good, but it sure has to look good. Food stylists are indispensable as they pull out of their arsenal of culinary and artistic knowledge, a plethora of tricks, tools, techniques and props to make food look photogenic.

Most food stylists work on a freelance basis, and if they know their trade and are easy to work with, they can more professional relationships.  Advertising agencies need their services for food clientele consisting of restaurants, bakeries, caterers and food production companies. While working with agencies, it is imperative that food is true to the form, taste, texture and size of what is being offered – no deceptive tricks can be used for these types of services due to truth-in-advertising laws.

 However, everything is game while working for other food niches. Magazines which feature recipes and kitchen products often rely on a stylist’s expertise to make them as attractive as possible to compel readers to try the recipe or purchase the product.  Newspapers have special food sections that require the arrangement of food for large photos of featured recipes. Pictures of completed dishes in cookbooks must be irresistible enough to capture the interest of readers to encourage them to purchase the book.

After conferring with the photographer and designer, food stylists will often purchase the necessary food ingredients and props needed for the shoot. They are responsible for the cooking, preparation and arrangement of the food to make it as visually pleasing as possible. Often times they may have to come up with an additional ingredient to enhance the appearance of the dish. Food stylists may find themselves preparing a dish several times to achieve the right color and texture – especially when time on the shoot causes colors to fade, items to crack or fall over, or food to melt.

Since food styling is all about working with food, it’s essential that food stylists have an extensive culinary knowledge. Many successful food stylists will concur that a culinary education along with lots of kitchen experience is a must for this profession. Culinary school trains students to understand all of the various dimensions of food – the textures, colors, aromas, and tastes. They learn how these elements work together and the techniques used to properly prepare them to present food as visually appealing as possible.

This article is presented by Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts offers culinary arts and pâtisserie and baking training programs. To learn more about the class offerings, please visit for more information. 

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