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A Day in the Life of a Food Styling Expert

In the Fire

While the rest of us are sleeping, Bianca Henry is perfecting a tray of buttermilk fried chicken for its national television debut. The life of a food stylist can take you to some strange venues, like the set of NBC's Today show, where Bianca lifts the daily cooking feature to high art with her creative styling.

Culinary Arts

Meet Unusual Culinary Challenges as a Food Stylist

Fusing cooking and design, food styling makes food look as appetizing as possible. "It's like a restaurant job, but opposite," Bianca told the food blog Serious Eats. For her, the job means getting up before dawn every morning to create the treats Matt Lauer and Ann Curry drool over on television.

Studying the food styling trade gives you an idea of the tricks and techniques food stylists use to make that bowl of cereal look more attractive on television. For example:

  • Using motor oil instead of syrups for that perfect glistening shine
  • Pouring white glue instead of milk on cereal
  • Spreading brown shoe polish on roasted meats to improve their appearance

Many food stylists view the above techniques as unethical. Food styling purists will rise to the challenge of only using the food itself in photographs. Then, photographing a hamburger for an advertisement can mean buying hundreds of burgers in order to assemble the perfect-looking sandwich.

Working as a Food Stylist

The job comes with some strange requirements. Stylists have to be creative, whether they're melting a pat of butter with a hairdryer or mixing a pinch of salt in with root beer to give it that extra foam. Getting creative with food often means understanding the way food reacts to certain conditions and substances.

Salaries vary widely for food stylists. Because many stylists work as freelancers, their earnings change from client to client and can change from week to week. A head stylist like Bianca Henry will likely earn more than a freelance stylist working on local advertising campaigns. Payscale.com reported salaries for food stylists between $26,898 and $58,462 in 2010.

Training to Become a Food Styling Pro

Many food stylists find their way into the industry by starting as chefs. A culinary arts degree is often preferred or required by hiring managers. Classes in photography, art, and design are often helpful, because they give you a firm grasp on the various elements that make for a beautiful plate full of food.

Ready to learn more? Culinary arts training can provide a firm foundation for a career in food styling. Some culinary schools offer specialized coursework in food styling essentials. If you intend to work as a freelancer, taking a few business management courses can give you a boost in the right direction. Explore your training options and learn more about this unique career.