Food on TV gets us every time. We could just have eaten a four-course meal and be stuffed to the gills but then a commercial for chicken tenders or pancakes comes on the TV and suddenly we are hungry again. Food stylists (yes, that’s an actual job!) have a string of secrets as to how to make food look super-appetizing for its close up and Sunny knows them all. Back in 2008 she explained how food is made to look so darn good for the camera.
Ever take a pic of food for memories or snap a photo of something you cooked for bragging rights? Like really, a souffle has a few seconds before you take a pic and it’s over. Well, I can’t help ya with taking a fast pic, but over the last two weeks I did my best to get some behind-the-scenes tips on making beautiful food – look beautiful longer.
Ok, here’s how it works. If you’ve caught Cooking for Real, I begin by welcoming you to the show, then I list what recipes we’ll cook during the show. While I’m describing what I’ll cook, on screen is a camera shot of each dish completely cooked and plated. Those are called the “beauty shots” and if say, I make a pie, the one slice used for the beauty shot is called “the hero”. Look, I hate to sound like I know things I don’t so just know all this info I’m giving is very new to me as well … so we can learn together :-). Anyway, the studio for my kitchen is huge. In one corner is a camera set up with lighting and all kinds of technical stuff with a back drop and this is where they take the beauty shot of the heroes. We’d tape a show and then the funniest thing would happen, right after I said, “yummy, see ya next time on Cooking for Real!”, someone would rush in and take my plate from me! The first time around taping, there were so many moving bells and whistles this process got lost in the sauce, so to speak. So, this time around I had in my head that I wanted to take a few things home to eat for dinner after I made them on set because taping just takes everything out of me and how neat would it be to not have to cook dinner when I get home from cooking all day?
So anyway, the first day in we did a breakfast show and I wanted to continue eating it because I was hungry lol … next thing I know someone is like “Wait!!! hold on don’t eat those, they are for beauties!!!” I was like huh? yes, they are beautiful and they are going in my mouth! … that wasn’t gonna work obviously and the plate of food got whisked away to a dark corner of the studio. Now, my first time taping I’m sure this happened and went right over my head, but this time I was like “beauties? what’s up with a beauty?” and I got some knowledge! I’m ready to share too.
We’ll start with Young Sun. This is her food-styling a piece of my citrus pie. She cut a slice, then made the sides pretty by removing crumb bits that came off the knife and attached to the custard part of the slice. She then evened the slice and made it flat vertically. Look, she basically deconstructed my pie to get the meringue she wanted on the slice she wanted … very frankenstein-ish … and neat.
Now, she’s pretty shy so I couldn’t get the typical person-standing-next-to-work-smiling photo, but I think the ones of her in action are great too. Young Sun attended the Institute of Culinary Education and upon graduating worked at Daniel and Tabla before becoming a freelance cook for Food Network Kitchens. Now, she’s a part of the staff and in addition to working in the kitchens testing recipes and developing them as well, she has styled food for Guy’s Big Bite and has worked on the Next Food Network Star as well as styling the food on my show :-).
Throughout the 10-day shoot, I peppered her with questions here and there and took notes. It’s important to note, she doesn’t take the pics, just makes the food as pretty as possible for it’s close up. I do have a future meeting planned with the person that takes some of the pics for FoodNetwork.com and plan to give you some camera tricks, but for now all I have is food tips. Plenty of times, I’d make a dish while taping and because the picture wasn’t going to be taken until maybe an hour or so later, there was plenty of preservation of color and that gloss and sheen food has when it’s freshly prepared. There are also times, when I made a plate to eat and they’d recreate the plate for the picture because it wouldn’t look yummy with a bite mark missing. For this, say maybe I’d make 4 cornish game hens, I’d plate one for myself at the end of the show and take a leg off it to bite, then Young Sun would use the remaining 3 hens to figure out which looked best for a close up. One day we had a very funny exchange where I wanted to eat some of my fried oysters for lunch and we stood in my kitchen set debating over which ones were pretty and which ones were not so pretty. I ate the not so cute ones and left Young Sun the ‘pretty’ ones … your guess is as good as mine as to what differentiates the two, but she’s a pro and knew just which oysters to hold on to. Takes some food lovers to really debate what makes a fried oyster ready for it’s close up. Anyway, I thought it’d be neat if she could just sum up all my notes I took watching her over the weeks and give us a few tips on making food stay as pretty as it is the second it is made so you can take your time setting up the shot. So here they are …
5 Tips For Beautiful Food in Pics
- Spray oil on burgers or meat to keep it looking juicy or moist
- Don’t pick the prettiest piece, try something with character that isn’t too neat or symmetrical
- Overlapping looks more natural and alive. (food hanging over edges of bowls, pieces of chicken stacked on each other)
- Use vinegar and water solution to clean off fingerprints from dishes AND THE TIP I HAD TO BEGGGG FOR … turns out just a mere mention of this technique seemed taboo, but also effective and a secret among food stylists …
- SANITARY NAPKINS for fake steam!!! Ok, look this one blows my mind!!! I have long laboured over how to keep food hot and pretty at the same time so I can get a good steam shot. So, the food stylists were all in agreement when discussing this technique. Use either a tampon or pad, soak it with water and then microwave it … the steam that comes out of those babies is thick and long lasting, so you can click and change angles and click and change plates and still have steam. Put them either in the stunt food (like say inside a baked potato) or hide them behind a plate or dish you have the food on. If you take the pic at the right angle the sanitary napkin is out of sight and your steam will be outta sight!!! teeheehee … I know, a bit yucky to think about, but really. When I was asking for tips to put here someone chimed in and said hey tell her about the sanitary napkins! I was like whaaaat??!!! I thought what place do they have in pretty food pics … and now we know. A group of food stylists standing by all shook their heads in agreement.
Ok, here’s some pics of my food getting it’s close up and first a pic of Young Sun’s tray of tricks.
The plastic bowls have water and vinegar water for cleaning. The toothpicks are for precision movement of the smallest of things like saaaaay a fennel seed too close to another fennel seed on jerk chicken. The spray bottle is for the oil and brushes and such are pretty self explanatory.
Here’s Young Sun and Hugh, one of the camera men. During taping he did plenty of the close ups of my hands and movements they made while cooking or cutting. So it makes sense he does the close ups of the food, right? Many days I’d come back from our lunch break and he was still in the studio filming beauties of my food, I thought to myself … when does Hugh eat lunch???
That’s some top secret flavored pancakes getting the close up treatment. Hugh is ready to shoot and Young Sun is adding some top secret syrup. Then a bowl of a pop corn getting a close up …
Up next is a quick post about the person I called the “Head of thePrettification Board” while taping. I’ll chat with her and her team. They find all the neat dishes, containers and utensils that give each show it’s style. I get plenty of requests for stores or places where you can find stuff on set … hopefully I’ll be able to help with some answers.