There are so many career paths you can follow after graduating from culinary school. The obvious ones include working in a restaurant, for a catering company, in a hotel…but there others that are a little “off the beaten path.”
It’s a competitive industry, but becoming a food stylist is a great choice if you have the right personality: you have an entrepreneurial spirit, love working with people, and have an eye for design. You can combine these wonderful traits and work as a food stylist.
Here are some things you need to know if you’re going to walk this unique career path.
You’ll have to hone your cooking skills.
Not every food stylist is a trained chef, but the successful ones have a solid grounding in the culinary arts. Training at a culinary school is the best place to start, but the hands-on experience will help, too. We also recommend that you spend time in a commercial kitchen working alongside a professional chef…at a restaurant, with a catering company, or a bakery.
You have to know your subject matter: good food. And you have to know how to make it look so good other people want to eat it. Working in a busy restaurant with other professionals will give you an understanding of what appeals to different consumers. You’ll learn tips and tricks for food preparation and presentation…as well as food trends.
Networking with other culinarians helps, no matter what you want to do with your career in the food and hospitality industry.
You’ll have to hone your people skills.
It’s important to be a good communicator – no matter what job you choose after getting your degree or diploma from a culinary school. As a food stylist, though, you’ll be working with a wide variety of professionals. You’ll be side-by-side with other chefs, magazine or book editors, graphic designers, photographers, movie producers, art directors, brand managers…
Be prepared to work with a range of personalities. You have a specific skill set and personality…and so do your colleagues. Knowing how to accommodate diverse personalities and add value to a project will take you a long way as a food stylist.
Be prepared to work with glue.
That’s right. Food stylists work with some odd ingredients that aren’t necessarily edible or palatable. Getting multiple shots of that breakfast granola with fresh blueberries in a bowl of milk – over a span of several hours – will probably involve substituting the milk with white glue. Otherwise, the granola will turn to mush.
Here are some other weird and creative cheats for getting a good food shot that don’t always include food…or palatable food:
- Whipped egg whites can be used to create foam on a perfect artisan latté. Motor oil is much more photogenic than real maple syrup on pancakes.
- Toothpicks keep layers of a cake, sandwich or dinner entreé in place.
- Spray-on deodorant and hairspray give a beautiful sheen to apples, tomatoes, peppers, and other waxy-skinned produce.
- Undercooked meat keeps its visual appeal much longer than a properly cooked steak.
- Mashed potatoes make a great, affordable filler when staging wraps, calzones or burritos.
- Plastic ice cubes keep their shape long after the real thing has melted.
Your culinary training is important, but your creativity and ingenuity will also come into play as a food stylist.
Be prepared to actually feed people.
You’ve opted out of working in a restaurant. Most of your food will be used for show and then thrown away…but sometimes an actor or model will have to eat your creation. This is when your culinary education will be most valuable: you have to make a dish that looks great and tastes good.
It’s an interesting challenge…because you may have to create the dish quickly, over and over, for a photoshoot. Knowing how to plan a single meal and then deliver it quickly and consistently is very important.
Be prepared to keep learning.
You’re going to learn while working alongside peers, and that’s invaluable. Continuing your education – online courses or workshops, for example – will keep you current.
Whether you’re a freelancer or working with a publishing company or movie studio, you should take time to invest in your education so you continue to build your knowledge base. There will always be new tricks and techniques your peers have discovered, and you’ll learn them – along with the tried-and-true methods – if you keep seeking out the knowledge.
Escoffier student Laura DeVries describes how the online program helped further her career in culinary education and food styling.
If you’re interested in becoming a food stylist, start on that career path with training at a culinary school. You can learn more about our programs here. We’re happy to answer questions about financing, too, including some scholarships and grants you can access.
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This article was originally published July 28, 2016, and has since been updated.