When Lucie Richard contemplated a career as a food stylist, she worried she was lacking a critical personality trait.
“I thought they were way too anal,” she admits. “They promised me they could make me an anal person and they were successful. I can spend a lot of time looking at five peas on a plate.”
That fine eye for detail is important for the make-up artists of the food world. A former chef, Richard (http://www.lucierichard.ca) prepares food for photo shoots and keeps it looking hot, cold, juicy or tender, depending on the item. The freelancer works in editorial, advertising and packaging.
“Basically, I’m being paid to play with my food, which I was reprimanded for as a child,” she jokes. “It’s a fun way to work with food and not be in a restaurant kitchen.”
Most food stylists have a background in food, but there is little direct training in North America. Tricks of the trade — like using tweezers and dental picks to shape food — are collected on the job. A deep knowledge of food is critical so that you know how a recipe will turn out before you start and how food behaves over time.
When Richard is done, she hands over to food photographers like Yvonne Duivenvoorden. Duivenvoorden (http://www.broaddaylight.ca) trained as a photographer at Holland College in P.E.I. and then Ryerson University. She works in Toronto.
“As soon as I discovered that people actually do this for a living, I was caught up,” she says of her preference for commercial photography over fine art. She started working as a photographer’s assistant and recommends such informal apprenticing.
“The irony of it is that I can’t cook a thing. I’m not even that interested in the flavour aspect of food. I see it very much as shapes and colours on a plate,” she says. “I see it as a still life.”
That gives her a photographer’s eye unbiased by a personal love of chocolate or hatred of liver. Like Richard, Duivenvoorden is quick to bust myths: Turkeys are not shellacked, mashed potatoes don’t pretend to be ice cream and food doesn’t sit under hot lights all day. At the end of a shoot, she says all of the dishes she photographs are edible, if a little tired, and she mostly relies on natural light.