Yesterday, I wrote about the Food Styling course I took at Leiths School of Food and Wine with Sarah Cook from BBC Good Food Magazine. There were lots of lovely comments (thank you!) including a link to another lovely student’s Blueberry and Vanilla Cake, which is very much worth checking out.
Following the course, I was able to have a chat with Sarah about her journey into Food Styling, as well as picking out some of the ‘top tips’ I gleaned from the course for budding food bloggers wanting to improve their skills.
There are lots of routes into Food Styling, but Sarah styled her first recipe about five years ago, jumping right in at the deep end after taking a Professional Food Diploma at Leiths School of Food and Wine.
“I won a six-month internship at Good Food Magazine after taking a course at Leiths, so now that I am teaching there I have come full circle! I think the best and easiest way to start is by styling your own recipes because you have a very clear vision of how you want them to look when you write them. It’s also a great way to build confidence before you begin styling anyone’s and everything!”
As to the qualifications and skills required of a Food Stylist, Sarah is Leiths qualified. Having said that, not everyone has a chef’s background, but it is helpful:
“If a recipe suddenly fails on a shoot I hopefully have the skills and know-how to put it right… Say the loaf cake has a sunken middle? Probably too much raising agent. If you’re a really competent home cook, then at the least I’d probably suggest a short baking course, because that’s generally the more sciency bit to put things right! And a good eye, an artistic flair – it’s the perfect job if you’re creative and you’re a foodie, you get to combine both bits! I would say that the key attributes for a Food Stylist are to be a good cook and baker, organised, a team player, artistic, versatile and calm!”
Although Food Styling and editing sound like the ultimate fun job, Sarah finds that there are challenges:
“Working mainly editorially (for a magazine) the hardest parts are shopping and shooting out of season. I spent this week arranging cakes for a Jubilee street party feature on a freezing, rainy day! By August I’ll be steaming puddings, with all the ovens raging, and trying to find nice looking Brussels Sprouts when most people are eating berries and barbecuing their dinner!”
There are, however, plenty of perks and highlights of being a Food Stylist:
“I’m biased because I think I pretty much have the best job in the world. Every day I get to be creative with food, try great recipes, explore great shops and work with lots of different, but equally passionate people. It is hard work, the days are long and you’re on your feet from 9am till 6pm, but it’s definitely worth it.”
I was also keen to ask Sarah about her ‘rise to the top’ at BBC Good Food Magazine and how her role differs now that she is also Deputy Food Editor:
“Now I’m working for one magazine, I spend more of my time planning what I want to put in each issue, writing recipes, editing other people’s recipes and briefing and organising shoots. The cover is my baby too, which is probably the most important food picture in each issue, so that’s an exciting (and nerve-wracking!) job each month. As we’re monthly, our working months are quite cyclic too…2-3 weeks of frantic writing and testing, then 2-3 weeks of shooting features.”
The big question – is Sarah beginning to see more food bloggers interested in a career in Food Styling?
“Lots more! Most bloggers I know are happy doing what they’re doing but looking for tips to step-up their skills. For those who are looking to become a food stylist, I would say try to assist as many different stylists as you can – I’m still picking up new things when I work with someone different for the first time. Offer yourself for free and always remember to take a pinny!”
Top Tips for Food Stying
Keep an eye out for food trends and develop a more critical eye. For example, look at some of the different styles within magazine, websites and other blogs – Donna Hay always styles her food in a very bright, fresh and simple way with blue or white backgrounds and simple crockery. Other styles include shabby chic, using vintage kitchenalia, or old-fashioned props. Some shots are taken against a darker background and are more intense. Other shots are minimalist, for example, shot against white wood with only white plates. Summer features are more outdoorsy, depicting a desire perhaps for healthy eating, natural and organic produce
Start a Food Stylists tool-kit including knives, spatulas, palette knives, brushes, measuring spoons, piping bags/nozzles, small scales, timers, tongs and thermometers, rolling pins, sieves, skewers, straws, funnels, blow torch etc.
Don’t use the same plate for every photo you take, pick up mis-matched crockery from charity shops and vintage fairs.
Keep a list of where to buy out-of-season produce and more unusual items, such as micro herbs, banana leaves, courgette flowers…
Try and assist on a food shoot to pick up practical and first-hand styling tips.
Thank you Sarah for the extra interview and words of wisdom!