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Art on a platter

india Updated: Nov 26, 2010 02:41 IST
Rupali Dean

Have you ever looked at food on a page of a magazine or an advertisement and wondered how it looks so appealing? It’s all thanks to food styling, done by a food stylist (who may or may not be a chef), who aims to seduce the senses with the most irresistible desire — to feed ourselves. As the saying goes, "Eyes eat first".

I had come across Trengove, a special effects store in New York, and have been interested in food styling since then. What caught my fancy at the store were the fake ice cubes, which obviously didn’t melt.

Interesting aids

Some food stylists use various aids like dummies, substitutes, glazing, coating, colour, locations, designer crockery and cutlery or undercooking for visual appeal. The food needs to look fresh and straight from the oven/fire, which is often done with a spray of oil or water. Sometimes, Vaseline is used as food glue, corn starch is added to sauces for that trickle, and hence, the look does not match the actual product.

Edible styled food is a different proposition altogether. Here, the chef offers the complete package, together with instant feedback. A good chef would normally like to style his own food shots, and would almost always eat them afterwards. As a matter of fact, different countries have very different laws when it comes to what is permissible with food styling. In Australia, for example, everything has to be natural.

ChickenThe perfect shot

To start with, the plate should highlight the food and not take attention away from it. Colourful food works best on a white plate. The garnish should always contrast the colour of the food. Other things that can make a picture great is sauce dripping from the steak, frosting dripping from the cake or honey from the cheese. A good food stylist will use less of props and focus mainly on the food and its colours. Sometimes, however, props, like a good background or a fresh herb on the side, beautifully complement pictures.

Top 5 Food Styling Tricks

Meat is usually half cooked and browned with a torch. A coat of oil adds a juicy look.
Mashed potatoes are often replaced with ice-cream.
Swiss cheese is given extra holes for that decadent look.
Motor oil used instead of maple syrup.
Layering a sandwich with cardboard to avoid it from crumbling.