What Are the Different Types of Food Stylist Jobs?

M.C. Huguelet

Anyone who has ever felt her stomach rumble as she flipped past a magazine photograph of a steaming turkey or watched a movie character eat a hot fudge sundae likely has a food stylist to thank. While the fundamental objective of food styling is making foods look the way a client or director wants them to, the exact nature of food stylist jobs can vary. Generally, food stylist jobs fall under the following categories: preparing food for still photography, readying it for commercials, television, and film, and arranging it for cooking demonstrations and trade shows. In addition to a creative eye, many food stylist jobs require a background in professional cooking and experience working as a stylist’s assistant.

A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, likely prepared by a food stylist.
A photo of a plate of chicken piccata, likely prepared by a food stylist.

One of the most common food stylist jobs is arranging foods for still photographs, which may then be incorporated into a cookbook or magazine spread or used in advertisements. Perhaps the top challenge of this job is making foods look pleasing despite hot studio lights and advanced photography equipment that picks up minute flaws. To meet this challenge, food stylists working on photo shoots generally employ a wide range of tricks to make a dish appear more photogenic. For instance, the stylist may paint grill marks on a piece of chicken breast, or substitute a mixture of shortening and confectioner’s sugar for fast-melting ice cream. Stylists doing advertising work must also accommodate the laws enforced by many countries stipulating that food advertisements must depict the actual product being advertised.

Many food stylists prepare food for still photography or television commercials.
Many food stylists prepare food for still photography or television commercials.

Some food stylists work primarily with foods being shot for commercials, television, and film. In addition to making foods look as delicious or distasteful as the director or client dictates, stylists must also contend with the fact that an actor may be required to eat the food in question. Consequently, filmed foods must often be wholly edible, meaning that tricks used to increase a food’s attractiveness in still photography may not be an option. Further, the stylist may need to prepare a large number of identical-looking dishes to preserve continuity in scenes that require multiple shots or takes.

Perhaps the least talked about among food stylist jobs is prepping foods for live events such as trade shows and cooking demonstrations. In many ways, this type of food stylist faces the same challenges as stylists who work in television and film. Foods must be presented in a way that is aesthetically pleasing, but they must also be edible. Unlike film stylists, however, food stylists for live events do not have the luxury of multiple takes, but rather must get their styling right on the first attempt.

Those interested in food stylist jobs should have an eye for arranging objects in a pleasing or creative way. In addition, many working food stylists claim that a culinary school degree is a must for aspiring stylists. Many of these professionals also suggest that the best way to enter this field is to work as a stylist’s assistant.

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