Culinary Stylist Meal Makeovers

Ever notice how, when you’re leafing through a cookbook or a culinary magazine, you tend to gravitate toward the recipes that have pictures associated with them? Maybe you see a particularly appetizing shot of a raspberry torte that makes you hunt around for the recipe. Or perhaps you’re considering a recipe for grilled salmon with scallion aioli, and you flip around, looking for pictorial proof of its appeal before you commit.

When you find the shot, thank a culinary stylist.

A culinary stylist is the food professional who makes food seem even more tasty than it is. Often, a culinary stylist is a jack-of-all-trades, addressing tasks like recipe development, food photography and art direction.

A good culinary stylist knows…

Food science inside and out. This means knowing every step in the process that brings food from its raw form to your table. Don’t be surprised if you meet a culinary stylist who can tell you exactly which cow your steak came from, where your apples were grown or what kind of flour was used to make your pasta.

About the technology that surrounds food. This goes beyond the tools used in the kitchen. Knowing food styling means knowing methods of preservation, packaging and processing.

About food safety. Sure, we all know that washing our hands after touching proteins prevents the spread of fooodborne illness. But culinary stylists have whole lists of “best practices” when it comes to food safety – particularly both local, state and federal laws regarding the storage and preparation of food.

The tricks of the trade. Steaming vegetables brings out their color. Brushing food with corn syrup can help it look fresher longer. And adding water to a beverage can allow more light to filter through it, making it sparkle more. Food styling means knowing these tactics.

So the next time you’re leafing through an illustrated cookbook, looking for the right recipe to bring to the covered-dish potluck you’re scheduled to attend this weekend, take a moment to raise your glass to the culinary stylist who made sure all those recipes look as great as they taste. The food gods will smile on you from above.