Photo by Jon Edwards
Last year, local food legend Violet Oon invited me to attend a one day workshop being conducted by one of America’s most famous and most talented food stylists. Having never had any real food styling training previously, I eagerly accepted. The class was amazing. I learned things that I never knew before and some shortcuts to making food look great which are pretty mind-blowing. I do have to admit that I don’t actually use most of them — mostly because I usually try to eat anything I shoot at home — but if I ever started to take on more professional photo assigments, I would most definitely find the tricks I learned invaluable.
Denise Vivaldo, who led the course, is coming back next month to teach two more 1 day Master Food Styling Classes. These courses are geared towards culinary professionals, chefs, publishers, ad agency personnel, bloggers and culinary students with an interest in food styling for print, television and film. In other words, these are pretty serious, professional level courses. And if you fit into the above categories, the investment in one or both would be money well spent.
When I heard Denise was coming back, I quickly emailed her and asked if I could interview her for the blog. Here’s our little Q&A. Also, please take the time to check out this link here which contains loads of cool images of one of Denise’s classes. And yes, Matt from Matt Bites is among the participants.
Photo courtesy of Denise Vivaldo
What do you look for when you look at a photograph of food? What makes a food shot beautiful or ugly?
I’m looking for appetite appeal – and what the photograph says to me! I want to eat great food photography with my eyes and get hungary! Every picture tells a story! Food styling is about selling a product, a lifestyle, a plate, a chef, a restaurant , a recipe – something. Food styling is an American invention that has it’s roots in cookbooks and television. Editors, producers,people noticed that food -needed help to make it more appealing -to create movement, color, contrast, heighth and definition. To me, the lighting of the food is the most important thing, then comes the composition and then the styling. Photographers that can LIGHT well – are masters. Working as a team is the key to success in food styling. The photographers will thank me and tell me it’s the styling – but honestly – it’s a team!
How edible is the food that you or other top food stylists work on?
Depends. Sometimes perfectly edible, other plates not. I do alot of packaging – for food wholesalers- the product must be representative of what the consumer gets – but it also must look delicious – to compete with the other 10 similiar products sitting oin the shelf next to them. An example is: beef stroganoff. Usually, we trim the pieces of meat to give a consistent look, make a false bottom out of cotton balls or Crisco – so the heap of noodles will stay in place and look inviting instead of a spreading mass. The sauce is painted on so that the pools of sauce are even – building a frame, if you will, on the plate but not obsuring the shape of the meat, mushrooom and noodles. A lovely piece of fresh herb or a artisianal roll can make the packaged food become FRESH! A lemon wedge or fork can create movement. The lemon implies a hand is about to squeeze it or a bite is coming with the fork. By the time I’ve manipulated that beef stroganoff – and touched it for an hour – nobody should eat it. Not to mention I’ve glossed it up with PAM or vegetable oil and it’s pretty oily.
Photo by Jon Edwards
What was the craziest experience you’ve ever had when working on a production?
So many things come to mind. Let me share a few (or as I call them, “I can’t make this shit up”):
The cooking talent of a cooking show doesn’t know how to cook and drinks too much vodka in the dressing room before the taping because she’s nervous and is slurring as we roll … the voiceover has to be done several weeks later. The producer then asks me if I made the talent the drinks. I say, “No, she must have been her own bartendar.”
Their isn’t a leek to be found in 15 stores in Hollywood on Monday and the theme of the cooking show on Thursday is Cooking with Leeks. We finally find leeks in another state and they fly first class to the studio, in time for the taping.
The flames of the BBQ aren’t bright enough for the director – he wants me to use BBQ lighter fluid and pour more fluid to embellish the flames. I try to warn him but… The bigger, better flames set off the entire fire safety system in the studio. Water, water everywhere. The set is watermarked and the couch never dries out completely.
The awful stench of a Thanksgiving turkey on a buffet – after it has sat for 4 days. It is a million dollar episode, but the production won’t pay for a second turkey. Camera men are gagging. I spray Lysol spray – nothing helps.
What are the key things that people taking your workshop here will learn? Who should take this class?
In any of my workshops what I’m trying to do is save new stylist’s some of the tough times. There are tricks of the trade in food styling – by showing them to student’s in my master’s class – what happens is -they build technique and hopefully, confidence. It’s necessary to know about food and how it reacts under the camera lights. But it can take so many jobs and years to get the experience to really get what you need. When I was starting out, there weren’t stylists that would share tricks or tips or any written information out there on Food Styling. It’s taken me 25 years to learn all that I know. It seems a shame to me that I can’t share this information, so I teach seminars and have signed a book deal for publication in 2010. Hopefully, new stylists, chefs, new photographers, art directors, bloggers, editors, writers, and other interested people will want to read about food styling and better understand it.
What’s the hardest thing to make look amazing on film?
Overcooked, brown food. I takes experience and alot of patience.
After a long day manipulating food, what do you most often want to eat for dinner?
Infomercials are a huge part of my business. Not only do they pay well, but I help develop the recipes, the set, cooking demos for the script… you name it, I’m involved. I often work with the product engineer trying to adapt a new piece of machinary to the American market. After 8 days of 14 hour taping days, cooking and styling every kind of food being shown, re-styled, propped, held, and photographed, I almost always scramble myself some lovely, brown, organic eggs, with rye toast and think, wow, these taste good. I want to know that nobody else touched my food.
Denise Vivaldo is a professionally trained chef with more than twenty-five years experience teaching and consulting in all areas of the culinary and hospitality industry. As a food stylist, Denise has worked on nationally televised shows, infomercials, movies, cookbooks, and many TV cooking seriesIn her work as a creative consultant she has developed original recipes for cookbooks, many of themNew York Times best sellers. Denise is also the author of four well-received books on cateringentertaining: Do It For Less! Weddings, Do It For Less! Parties, How to Start a Home-Based Catering Business, and How to Start a Home-Based Personal Chef Business. Denise is currently writing The Food Styling Handbook, to be published in 2010. Her book The Entertaining Encyclopedia will be in stores later this year. For more information on Denise Vivaldo please see her websites: www.DeniseVivaldo.com and www.FoodFanatics.net
Master Food Styling Class presented by the Culinary Entrepreneurship Program
SINGAPORE, March 13 & 14, 2009
Friday, March 13, 2009
Eggs and omelets: cooking methods, holding, patching holes, filling.
Pancakes: making perfect pancakes, butter and syrup, and garnishes
Food in bowls: soup and cereal, false bottoming, garnishing.
Styling packaged foods: making it look as good as possible.
Coffee and beverages: using foam, garnishes, fake ice products
Saturday, March 14, 2009
Poultry: shaping, trussing, browning.
Burgers and condiments.
Pasta: plating, saucing, building height and movement.
Sauces: stabilizing, coloring, application techniques.
Ice cream: fake ice cream, use of garnishes and dessert sauces
Styling Asian foods: adding movement, interest, contrast.
Salads: dressings, extending life, using color, texture, contrast.
Class schedule: 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. with lunch and tea breaks.
Class held at Palate Sensations in Singapore. Directions and Student Info Package provided upon receipt of payment.