Food styling work is similar to working in a professional kitchen. If you’re an aspiring stylist you better be prepared to deal with the same process of ordering, cleaning, organizing the refrigerator, mise en place, working quickly and efficiently. If you can’t do this or think it may be too much to work 10-12 hour days, than this is not for you. Turn away now and find something else to do.
Food Network Stars Aarti and Sunny with visiting fans
On the set, you’ll be expected to do all this and wash the dishes at the same time. There’s no such thing as a dishwasher budget. Loading and unloading equipment on and off site is part of the job description. And when you’re starting out, you are not going to be the chef. You will most likely trail the first assistant stylist, or as restaurants may refer as sous chefs.
Behind the scenes for a Kitchendaily production
My first styling gig was working on Kitchendaily’s Pantry Project starring Gail Simmons. The crew ranged from culinary, to lighting, cameras, producers, makeup artists, wardrobe, PA’s. I worked as the second assistant stylist and my tasks included picking herbs, organizing the fridge, washing dishes, until I proved my competence in the kitchen and the stylist allowed me to cook off a few recipes for the stills while prepping out a duplicate copy of the mise en place for the on camera demo. From there I worked on a Smuckers advertisement where the food we made was product driven showcasing less of the culinary expertise but rather set styling with props and products. I left that set with cases of penut butter that should suffice a year’s supply of P&J sandwiches.
Chris Bradley on the set of Tasting Table Sous Chef Series
A few other styling jobs welcomed me as the assistant stylist for the Tasting Table sous chef series. I got a chance to work with James Tracey, the chef de cuisine at Craft as we taped one recipe for an entire day. Not that much work in the back end but swapping out five versions of roasted chicken in various stages including every ingredient was a juggling act since none of the cooking steps you see in a television or video production is filmed in order. A few weeks later I got called back for another Sous Chef video featuring Chris Bradley.
The magic of food styling made for television
I recently worked on two jobs back to back, one for a product driven website featuring store brands and the second for an educational series featuring Jamika Pessoa who appeared in Season 5 of the Next Food Network Star.
We had to recreate this shot 2 days later, thank goodness for the iphone camera!
It was on the first job that I truly proved myself and went from being one of four assistants to the first assistant stylist by the end of our three-day production. The natural progression of a food stylist starts off at the bottom, you will be the first, second, third, etc stylist depending on the size of your team. After becoming a first assistant stylist for a while, the next step will be to work as the lead stylist and then culinary producer.
Michelle Bernstein for the Macys Red Campaign. The call time was 5:30am
I woke up at 5:00am every day we were in production and arrived on the set at 8:00am. A very good call time as other jobs required arriving on the set at 3:30am. I didn’t sleep the night before the Smuckers production as the evening courses at FCI had me leaving the campus past 11:00pm. Considering I live about an hour away- that left no time to sleep, not even for a minute. I contemplated sleeping in the car and going to work four hours later. It’s not as glamorous as many believe it to be. When you’re working behind the scenes for any television or print media production it requires diligence, organization, and fast execution skills. You’re not just answering to the lead stylist but rather an entire team of producers, directors, clients.
Inside the production kitchen @ Food Network studios with Miriam Garron
A few months ago I got a chance to visit the Food Network production studios inside the Chelsea Market. I have to admit that it was their channel that drew me into enrolling at FCI. I watched food shows for the past five years and never missed a season of Iron Chef. I wanted to learn how to sous vide and play with liquid nitrogen too. And then I saw the advertisement featuring Mario Batali who graduated from the French Culinary Institute. I called the 800 number the next day to go on a tour and at first sight of the FCI kitchens, I was hooked. I knew that’s what I wanted to do.