A Day in the Life of a Food Stylist

Food stylist

If you are a people person, have strong culinary technique and know how to problem solve on the fly, chances are you might make an excellent food stylist. That is according to Los Angeles-based food stylist Adam Pearson, who for the last decade has been styling the dishes seen in catalogs, magazines and cookbooks for such clients as Target, Crate and Barrel, and The Food Network.

I was in culinary school trying to figure out what I wanted to do after school, and I read about food stylists. I really felt like it was a good fit for me.

Problem solving in the food styling world means fusing culinary and design techniques in order to make recipes or food items look as enticing as possible. Because many stylists work as freelancers, salaries vary widely depending on where they live and the clients they work for. Payscale.com estimates that a food stylist with an associate degree just starting out in New York City makes a median salary of $43,000 per year.

To get an in-depth sense of the industry, and learn how to become a food stylist, we give you a day in the life of Adam Pearson.

Q: What is a food stylist?

A food stylist is a person who prepares food for the camera, photography or film. My jobs consist of mostly photography for cookbooks and editorial work.

Q: What do you do in a typical work day?

As a food stylist my job starts before the shoot day. Usually the client has sent recipes and art direction about a week before. This allows me time to source any out of the ordinary ingredients and figure out any prep work that might be able to be done before we shoot. If there is a lot of baking to do, we typically do that the day before.

The day of the shoot we get to the location or studio early; the majority of work I do is shot with natural light, so our day is over when the sun sets. Having an early start time allows us more time to shoot. Once at the studio we start prepping the first recipes to be shot. Clients arrive about an hour after us. We have a chat about the shot list for the day, go over the props, and then get to it. Total number of shots per day usually depends on the type of job: Cookbooks 8-12 verses advertising 2-6. Each type of job has different requirements and expectations.

I work directly with the photographer, art director and prop stylist. We set up and plate each of the recipes, taking time to get the food looking its best, making sure the props are perfect, then get approval from the client. When the shoot is over, we pack it all up and divide the leftover food. We try not to create too much waste.

I don't often see the images again until they are in print.

Food Stylist Collage

Q. How did you become a food stylist?

I was in culinary school trying to figure out what I wanted to do after school, and I read about food stylists. I really felt like it was a good fit for me. Not knowing anything about it, I read what I could and started emailing local food stylists to see if I could assist or shadow them.

I sent about 10 to 15 emails and got one response! And it was a good one. I teamed up with an established stylist and for the next two years I followed him around the country from job to job learning the ins and outs of the industry. After two years of assisting, it was time I set out on my own.

There is no proper education or certification to become a food stylist. My best advice would be to go to culinary school, then try and find a stylist to take you on as an assistant. There are some stylists that teach workshops.

Q. What skills are required to be a great food stylist?

Confidence, people skills, the ability to problem solve and an eye for composition are a good start. You really need to know how to cook everything, from souffles to scallops and everything in between. I always say food styling is 10% technique, 10% managing clients expectations and 80% problem solving.

Q. What is the craziest thing you have ever prepared as a food stylist?

Off the top of my head, I'd say an eight pound suckling pig. It was a European recipe and trying to get a hold of a pig so small/young here in the States proved to be a challenge. Most butchers I called to source it thought I was crazy. It was a little sad, but delicious!

Q. Do you work solo, or do you have a team?

I've worked with no assistants and up to four on larger projects. Like in any kitchen, having a solid team makes the day smoother. I consider myself very lucky to have two awesome assistants. I'm not able to take them on every job; budgets dictate that.

Q. What type of clients do you work for?

Anyone who needs a food stylist and has a budget to book one. I work with authors and publishers, advertising agencies, PR agencies, production companies, major brands, fast food companies, small restaurants and major retailers.

Q. What advice would you give people who want to get into food styling?

Whether you have a culinary degree or just a strong knowledge of cooking, my advice would be to assist an established stylist. Food styling is different than working in a restaurant. When you assist you get the opportunity to not only learn to style food, but learn about all of the other parts of running a business like invoicing, bookkeeping, as well as building relationships with photographers and art buyers. It's not an easy industry to break into, so don't give up!

Ready to learn more? Culinary arts training such as Pearson's can provide a firm foundation for a career in food styling. Some culinary schools offer specialized coursework in food styling essentials. If you plan to work as a freelancer, taking a few business management courses may help bolster your invoicing and bookkeeping skills. Explore your training options and learn more about this unique career.


  • Adam Pearson, interview with the author via email, October 2015
  • Salary Report, Food Stylist, New York, New York, http://www.payscale.com/

Browse Culinary Arts Schools & Colleges

Refine School Matches
Hide filters

    See More


    See More



    Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
            Results open in new window

            Searching Searching ...

            Matching School Ads
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
            • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Provides students the opportunity to train at home in their spare time to get their high school diploma, train for a new career, or enhance current skills.
            • Offers programs in psychology/social work, business management, medical billing, criminal justice, and more.
            • Member of the United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), the Canadian Network for Innovation in Education (CNIE), and the International Council for Open and Distance Education (ICDE).
            • Features a fully flexible schedule with no classes to attend, leaving the study pace up to the student.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            1 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
            Show more [+]
            • Online Courses
            • Financial Aid
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Received the 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            4 Program(s) Found
            Virginia College , Fort Pierce
            • Instructors are typically real-world professionals with many years of experience in their career fields.
            • Ranked #3 in Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges 2014 by Military Times.
            • Presents the full tuition cost up front. In most cases, even textbooks are included in the total price.
            • Provides career services associates to help students review their resume, provide career counseling, help with job searches, and more.
            • Has 27 campus locations across the southern United States, plus offers online degree programs.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            2 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 11:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
            Show more [+]
            3 Program(s) Found
            • First opened its doors in 1980 as the Academy of Medical Art and Business.
            • Students can choose from a variety of diploma or degree programs, as well as continuing education courses.
            • Provides programs in massage therapy, dental assisting, criminal justice, cake decorating, and more.
            • 7.5 acre campus is located in the foothills of Blue Mountain, north of Harrisburg, PA.
            • Involved with many community service organizations, including the Central Pennsylvania Blood Bank (CPBB), March of Dimes, and Central Pennsylvania Food Bank.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            Show more [+]
            • Accredited
            • Financial Aid