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Job: Food stylist
What She Does: If you’ve picked up a packaged foodstuff at the grocery store, glanced at the latest issue of Bon Appetit or flipped through a cookbook for recipes, you’ve seen food styling. These artists are in charge of making these pictures look as tasty and as tantalizing as possible. They obtain ingredients and props, cook dishes, and plate and garnish them attractively.
Though they use a lot of tools you’d find in most kitchens, they also break out some odd gadgets to get their subjects camera-ready. Cherkasky uses a child’s aspirator to move gravies and sauces around, a jeweler’s torch to brown steaks and a clothing steamer to melt cheese. “A lot of what I do is about keeping the food moist,” Cherkasky reveals. “A wet lemon can make the picture.”
Would You Want This Job? Food stylists need to be nimble and attentive. “You can’t be a bull in a china shop,” Cherkasky says. “If you bump something, you’ve ruined hours of work.” The labor itself can incredibly stressful, because stylists sometimes spend an entire day trying to get a single dish to look just right. “You can’t say, ‘This is perfect. I’m done,'” Cherkasky says. “The client can pick at it for as long as they want. I’ve worked on a single forkful of rice for hours.”
How She Got This Job: Cherkasky started out her career in food in the kitchen, as a cook for a family while she was still in high school. She attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York and went on to work as a chef at D.C. at hot spots such as the Tabard Inn.
Ultimately, she wanted to take a break from the restaurant world, so she found a job working on Time Life Books’ “Healthy Home Cooking” series as a recipe developer, which required her to do food styling. This was a lucky break. “It’s hard to get into this field,” Cherkasky admits. “No one wants to train you, because they don’t want you to take their job. There’s a very limited amount of work out there, so you don’t want to share it.” Luckily for Cherkasky, she was paired with food photographer Renee Comet, and the two developed a partnership that exists to this day.
Weirdest Assignment: Clients sometimes want to photograph highly unusual dishes. “I’ve styled muskrat,” Cherkasky says. “It was for the ‘Smithsonian Folklife Cookbook.’ They were hard to get, but I finally got them from some guy in Baltimore who just happened to have some in his freezer.”
How You Can Get This Job: Since it isn’t possible to get a college degree in food styling, the easiest way to get started is to take an online course. Offered through websites such as Photostylingworkshops.com and Foodesigns.com, these interactive classes help beginners learn the basics. For more advanced training, Cherkasky recommends taking a hands-on, in-person workshop taught by an established food stylist. Additionally, aspiring stylists can attend the annual International Conference on Food Styling and Photography, which offers numerous educational opportunities.
Written by Express contributor Nevin Martell
Photos by Jason Hornick