By Carly DeFilippo
One of the common misconceptions about culinary school is that it prepares graduates for one thing: to cook “on the line” in a restaurant. While all our students graduate with the skills they need to succeed in restaurant kitchens, the variety of careers that can spring from culinary education is endless. For students with an artistic eye, one such path is that of a food stylist. Culinary Arts (’09) graduate Dana Bonagura takes us through the paces of her creative culinary career.
What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE and what attracted you to the program?
I completed my undergraduate degree at George Washington University in 2006, and soon after, I landed a fabulous (but only partially fulfilling) job in Merchandising and Branding here in NYC.
I fell in love with the program at ICE based on the flexibility of the class times, but most importantly the externship. At other culinary schools, the field work required being in a kitchen behind the line. ICE gave me the opportunity to apprentice in any culinary field, anywhere in the world. That kind of creative freedom is what attracted me to this program above all else.
Where was your externship?
I fulfilled my hours in San Francisco under one of the most talented Food Stylists in the country. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and gave me the necessary tools to feel confident in my new industry. Because I was not in New York, the connections were limited, but my experience was unparalleled. My connections do stem back to ICE, however. One of my instructors introduced me to the Food Stylist from Gourmet Magazine. That introduction changed my career and opened almost every door I needed to kick start my new profession.
What have you been up to since graduating?
I have been working as a Food Stylist ever since 2008, when I began culinary school. I started out assisting and have stepped into the role of lead stylist for about a year. I style for both print (cookbooks, magazines, etc) and video (television, online videos, etc).
Briefly describe a day in your current working life.
My morning always begins with packing up boxes. In this industry, we basically build a restaurant style kitchen in a photo studio and set the scene of the recipe (i.e. dinner party, holiday, BBQ, etc). I usually describe my day as “cooking Christmas dinner, every day”. My assistant and I cook between 6-10 recipes a day and prepare for camera. I also collaborate with the Art Director, photographer and prop stylist to determine what story we want to portray to the viewer.
What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
We cook all of the food and 99% of what we cook is the authentic recipe. Everyone assumes we use glue and fake food in photographs, which is untrue. Perfecting how to best show a dish is an art, and I learn more and more every day. We do, of course, have tricks and methods to stick extra sesame seeds to a hamburger bun or to create condensation on a glass to appear cold.
Did you ever think you’d be doing what you’re doing now?
Five years ago, this was the dream, and now it’s my life. It has been very fulfilling.
Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
I would love to broaden my clients, travel more with work, and grow in my personal style.