How to Become a Food Stylist

by BJ Fairfax
CulinaryEd Columnist
May 19, 2011

Have you ever noticed the difference between that fast food hamburger on your tray and the one on the TV commercial? While the real deal may satisfy your hunger, chances are it was the commercial's glistening, flame-broiled beef patty — piled high with crisp lettuce and deep red tomatoes, oozing the perfect amount of secret sauce from a toasted bun — that got you to the fast food counter in the first place.

Welcome to the persuasive powers of food styling, a whole new level of culinary artistry. It's the food stylist who transforms standard fast food fare into mouth-watering visions, captured on film or in photographs and advertised to the masses.

But restaurant advertising is only one angle on a career as a food stylist. These gifted folks just know how to make food look good — a talent often cultivated in culinary school or honed by previous culinary career experience. Food stylists put their skills to work for all sorts of clients, from soda companies and pineapple distributors to moviemakers and culinary magazines.

"To be a food stylist, you need a very good knowledge of cooking, accuracy and patience," said Trish Hurel in an interview with Ideas Factory magazine. Hurel has 20 years invested in her culinary career.

"One of my most challenging jobs was making a four-foot-tall Carmen Miranda hat for a cable and wireless campaign," she said. "I created a wire framework and had to wire each individual grape, apple, and banana in place."

Starting with Culinary School

Culinary school is a good place for aspiring food stylists to start. You can learn the ins and outs of every nutritional group, from basics like beef and carrots to more exotic options like kumquats and sprouted bread. Understanding the look and appeal of many different kinds of foods colors the creations of the food stylist. For example, what people think of when they see the pale, tart green of a ripe green grape is very different from what they think of when they see the deep, healthy green of a fresh head of broccoli.

But not all the tools of stylists are edible. Like Hurel, you may need to use wire to achieve a desired effect. Cotton, air guns, glue, paint and hairspray are other items familiar to those who have a career as a food stylist. Whatever it takes to give that plain apple pie the look of a fresh, steaming, heaven-sent dish — even if you can't eat it in the end.

Training the Stylist's Ideal Eye

In a career as a food stylist, perfection is the buzzword. You might sort through hundreds of oranges to find the perfect one, or the "hero," as these professionals call their ideal edibles.

Although no formal training is required to become a food stylist, culinary school can help you understand exactly how ideal foods should look — fresh, hot, and shapely — and what it might take to make them appear that way.

"For coffee, I'll use an eyedropper to put little bubbles at the edge of the surface, as though the cup was just poured; it's actually detergent, said Ricki Rosenblatt, a veteran New York City food stylist, in an interview with Muse magazine. "Cereal holds up better if you put it in Elmer's Glue."

Thinking outside the box, like Rosenblatt, coupled with culinary career experience can make for success as a food stylist. Your level of success depends wholly on your talent and networking skills, as there is no lack of demand for those food stylists who know how to sell a company's product.

Power of Persuasive Food

And with the increasing popularity of food-as-hobby — with celebrity chefs, entire TV networks, and piles of articles devoted to food worship — those who enter the career called food styling are taking part in an art form on the rise.

And the pay isn't too shabby, either. According to CNN, a beginning food stylist might make $150 a day, while a more experienced culinary artist could earn anywhere from $850 to $1,000 for one day of work.

If you think you have the perfection, patience, and curiosity to fill the niche of food stylist, check out culinary schools today.


  1. CNN
  2. Ideas Factory
  3. Muse

About the Author

BJ Fairfax holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia. She writes for a variety of print and online publications.

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