The role of the food stylist is to make the food look attractive in the finished photograph. The main difference between how a home cook or chef may present food and what a stylist does is the time and effort a stylist takes to carefully and artfully arrange the food. Also required is the visual know how, and ability to translate the perception of taste, aroma and appeal that one gets from an actual dish, to a two-dimensional photograph.
Food stylists have culinary training; some are professional chefs or have a background in home economics. In addition to knowledge of nutrition and cooking techniques, food stylists must also be resourceful shoppers. As creative professionals, they envision the finished photograph and style the food accordingly.
In addition to choosing, preparing and composing plated food, food stylists use numerous techniques to make appear the food as attractive as possible. These may include:-
- Creating steam with cool air nebulizers or a combination of chemicals that give off smoke that gives the appearance of steam.
- Spraying food with water or mixtures of water, corn syrup, or other liquids to keep food looking fresh.
- Making a mixture of solid shortening, corn syrup, and powdered sugar (essentially a very stiff frosting) that can be scooped to simulate real ice cream.
- Using a variety of browning agents (usually mixtures used to brown gravies or sometimes heat activated liquids used in commercial bakeries) to enhance the color/brownness of cooked meats and poultry.
- Using heavy cream instead of milk in bowls of cereal to prevent flakes from becoming soggy too quickly. The use of white glue is generally discouraged, and is not usually encountered. (as most cereal companies prohibit this practice).
- Blanching green vegetables to just bring up their bright color, rather than cooking them completely. Other vegetables and foods may be cooked just to color, so they do not brown or become wrinkled if they must stand under the camera for a while.
- Adding water to beverages so light will filter through better and add sparkle to the drink.