Food Styling

I once helped my friend Stewart plate up food for a party he was throwing at his house. Stew is a chef with a resume about 8 times longer than mine, a Johnson and Wales degree, and experience running his own lucrative catering business. He’d bought a bunch of random things–asparagus spears, kumquats, etc–and he wanted me to garnish his plates. I made some wooden attempts to arrange these items artfully on his platters, but I wasn’t surprised when he quietly came behind me and adjusted pieces of things here and there. Stew had that feel for arranging food–how to do it so it looks both natural and elegant.

I’ve gotten a lot better at food styling since then, but it’s still one of my weakest knowledge points in the professional kitchen. I can repeat somebody else’s concept ad infinitum, but coming up with my own ideas is a lot harder. The ability to prettify a plate is one of the key skills true professionals possess. I really don’t mean to make it sound like my plates look like dog food–they definitely don’t–but I could use more skills in this regard.

Is there such a thing as a food styling class out there? I’m not so interested in learning to use varnish and toothpicks to make food look good for a photo shoot, although a little bit of guidance on food photographic styling would be helpful. (I style my own photos for the stories that run in the Martinsburg Journal every month, and, well, it shows.) Advice?


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