Food Stylists: “Make-Up Artists for Food”
If you are watching commercials on television these days it is almost inevitable that you will see an advertisement for a fast food restaurant. Often at the center of these advertisements is a big, juicy burger that looks absolutely delectable. The image of that burger often makes your stomach grumble and groan with desire. You eventually give into your stomach’s demands and order that beautiful burger that looks as if it was a handmade gift from God himself. Unfortunately, what you receive in the restaurant looks as if it had been pulled straight out from under a heat lamp it had been sitting under for hours upon hours. You may be asking yourself, how could this ever happen? Is this really the same burger I saw in the commercial? Unfortunately, this is usually the case. The beautiful burgers from the commercials are a creation of people who work as “food stylists.” In a nutshell, a food stylist basically is a “make-up artist for food.”
A food stylist’s main objective is to prepare food so it looks fresh and appetizing for advertising photos, television commercials, menu pictures, or any other situation that uses food imagery. They do this by finding different combinations, ingredients, and various methods to prepare the food to look its best. This is not a job for just anyone. In order to become a food stylist, it is strongly encouraged to obtain a culinary school degree. This is important because the occupation requires a broad understanding of how food acts both aesthetically and scientifically.
Now you might be wondering how a food stylist could possibly make an average, low quality fast food burger look so appetizing. First they start with the beef patty. The beef patty is only cooked approximately 20 seconds on either side so the beef doesn’t shrink. This means that the burger in the advertisement is often still raw and very inedible. After this, the beef patty is “branded” with a skewer in order to create those enticing black lines that create the illusion that the burger patty is straight off the grill.
Next is the bun. The bun is incredibly important to the overall appearance of the burger, so dozens and dozens of buns are inspected until one is found with the perfect shape. After the ideal bun is chosen, the stylist glues individual sesame seeds on to the bun using a toothpick and glue to give the bun the perfect fresh look. Finally, a piece of cardboard is placed on the bottom bun to soak up all of the burger grease so the burger bun does not look soggy. The cardboard also acts as a platform for the beef patty to sit on.
If the beef looks too small, or is scrawny looking when compared to the bun, the stylist takes two small cuts in the back of the burger in the shape of a V. Then they spread the beef patty out on the bun by splitting the patty a little bit where the V is, making the burger patty fit better and look nicer when placed in the bun. The viewer of the advertisement will never notice the cut because it is in the back of the burger and the ad is shot from the front of the burger. After all of these steps are completed, the stylist paints the beef patty with food dye in order to give the burger a rich color that looks great on television and in print advertisements.
Finally is the addition of the toppings. In order to find the best lettuce, the stylist goes through countless heads of lettuce to find the best. All of the lettuce is stored in ice water in order to give them a nice crisp, fresh look. Then the lettuce is pinned to the beef patty using straight pins and toothpicks so they stay in place. These same steps are then repeated with tomatoes, pickles, onions, and/or any other topping that goes on the burger.
Of course, I have to mention as a disclaimer, these are just the basic steps that are known to be used on fast food burgers in advertisements. That does not mean that every fast food restaurant uses these steps. Some restaurants may use only some of the steps or possibly use different techniques. But the bottom line is, the food stylist is almost always used in any fast food advertisement, and they create food images very different from the food that is received when ordered from the restaurant. But all this means is that the food stylists are doing their jobs well.