By Carly DeFilippo

In the realm of culinary careers, food styling has historically gotten a bit of a bad rap. From mashed potatoes standing in for ice cream to marbles boosting the hearty look of a soup, it’s a profession that was once better known for trickery than honest beauty. Thankfully, recent trends in food media are pointing toward the less polished look. Among the media outlets popularizing this more natural approach to food styling? The celebrated source for all things cooking, Food52.

Spaghetti with eggplant and brussels sprouts, styled by ICE students.

Spaghetti with eggplant and brussels sprouts, styled by ICE students.

A student practices photographing fresh produce; first attempts at still life food styling.

A student practices photographing fresh produce; first attempts at still life food styling.

Yet, however more appealing it may be, this approach to styling isn’t without its challenges. Narrowing your primary tools to good lighting, beautiful props and high quality ingredients makes a talented food stylist’s skill — and speed — even more valuable. That’s why ICE asked Food52 creative director (and ICE Culinary Arts alum!) Kristen Miglore and freelance food stylist Kristy Mucci to share their top food styling tips in our recreational course Food Styling with Food52. Starting with the premise that every dish must be both beautiful and edible, here’s how the pros style food:

  • Start with great ingredients. This is the time to splurge at the greenmarket. Find the most beautiful products you can, as they’re the base on which you’ll build a beautiful plate.
  • Think about how food will change over time. Whether you’re tossing a salad or icing a cake, think about how your ingredients will transform over the course of the cooking process — and how quickly they’ll wilt, melt or dry up while waiting for their close-up.
  • Go easy on the salt. If you’re looking for a golden-brown crust on your steak, salt is your friend. But if you’re sautéing vegetables, wait to season them until after the shot, as the salt will break down their structure as they cook.
  • Give it a spritz. Recapture that freshly cooked look with a few well-placed drops of olive oil or a light spray of water.
  • The two-part freeze. For objects that melt easily (like ice cream), scoop them into the shape you want, and then put them back in the freezer on a sheet pan. That way, each painstakingly crafted quenelle or spherical scoop will have the longest shelf-life possible. (Added tip: When working under hot artificial lights, professional stylists often sift pellets of dried ice over easily melted objects.)
  • Don’t be afraid of the mess. Gently place your base components on a plate, then reposition any stray bits and add extra ingredients for texture or color. If you try to individually plate every strand of pasta or salad leaf, your plate will never look natural.
  • Clean without chemicals. Don’t use Windex on perfectly edible plates of food. Clean streaks or fingerprints with cotton balls or q-tips dipped in a solution of white vinegar (or vodka) and water.
A student plates lentils in the "brown foods" challenge.

A student plates lentils in the “brown foods” challenge.

Kristen and Kristy also shared a few of their theories on what makes (and how to consistently achieve) a great shot:

  • Focus on the food. If your content is all about cooking (or eating, for that matter), then make the food your focus. Don’t be afraid to keep the styling simple or zoom in for a close-up.
  • Shoot raw ingredients and finished dishes separately. As Kristen and Kristy aptly pointed out, there’s a common trend where food stylists use raw ingredients to decorate a shot of a finished dish. Instead, they suggest preparing two separate photographs: a beautiful “before” shot of the raw ingredients and a plated “after” shot to demonstrate the end goal.
  • Explore the negative space. Have you ever eaten something so delicious that you forgot to grab a photo? That’s the idea here. Sometimes crumbs, a leftover streak of sauce or a rumpled napkin tells as much of a story as a perfect-looking plate.
  • Go through the motions. If there are utensils in your shot, think about where you would most naturally place them. (Additional pro tip: Struggling to prop up your fork at a certain angle? Little balls of wax are a perfect non-toxic tool.)
  • Get a safety shot. Does that roasted chicken look pretty good in the pan? Are your pancakes stacked up perfectly pre-syrup? Take the good shot while you have it, and then consider plating your chicken or attempting to get that coveted syrup-pouring shot. If those efforts fail, at least you have that first shot in the bag.
  • Give yourself more than one option. Always have an extra plate, bowl or utensil or two on hand. Sometimes it takes a few tries to create the perfect shot.
  • Keep your eyes open. Sometimes the best photos aren’t the ones you plan. The more time you spend styling and shooting food, the more you’ll begin to notice the visually stunning moments that are a natural part of the process of cooking.

For more information about food styling and media classes at ICE, click here.  

Kristen and Kristy pose with some of their food styling students.

Kristen and Kristy pose with food styling students during a recreational course at ICE

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By Steve Zagor — Dean, School of Restaurant & Culinary Management

I was recently invited to dinner at a long-standing restaurant on the Long Island waterfront. It was 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday and the restaurant was half empty. What’s more, the service was slow. I was hungry. Eight of us were seated at a round table not far from the restrooms. An occasional whiff of pine-scented cleaning fluid swirled by our seats. My new table acquaintances droned on with their unabridged life stories. Enter my chicken Parmesan — at last there was some relief, or so I thought. It was massive: an inch-thick alien creature that totally enveloped the extra large platter. I thought animals like this were extinct eons ago. Without my touching, tomato sauce oozed over the edges of the plate in a lava-like flow and onto the white tablecloth, like blood from a wound staining a hospital sheet. Wedged on top of the beast loomed a towering pile of cheese-soaked ziti, perched like a yellow-capped mountain range on the plains. There were pounds of food on the plate. Only Joey Chestnut, the Nathan’s Hot Dog champ, might have had the fortitude to finish this dish. The whole experience — the pine scent, the huge portion, the sloppy presentation, the long wait, the boring guests — equaled a big turnoff. I lost my appetite. While the restaurant can’t control my dinner companions, they can do something about the rest.

This is not just for restaurants. In the food product world our desire to eat is similarly affected — it’s the packaging; the title titillation or name of the product; the room lighting and location on the shelf; the color of the label; the font; the logo. It’s the price; the ambient room noise or music; the noise the package makes; the sound the food makes in your mouth; the scent of the room where the food is sold; and much more. In our minds, we “eat” the package — it’s a direct link to the product inside. Our minds control our mouths.

And don’t forget our own individual preferences. Each customer has a lifetime collection of stimuli and experiences that affect our judgements and make us unique. Spicy to me may be mild to you. Exciting to me maybe routine for others.

Nowadays, competition in the food industry is scary. Hundreds of restaurant seats go unfilled and thousands of artisanal food products go unsold. If food producers only looked at the full picture, they would fare better. Study after study tells us that taste and food appreciation is only partially from the tongue — the rest comes from various stimuli affecting our minds. It’s called the science of gastrophysics, and it’s important for your customer’s taste buds and for your bottom line.

Though this is not new science, it’s often overlooked. We hear of menu psychology and scent stimulation, but we focus on what we know —the food — without a full appreciation of the vast array of other things that equally affect success. Each time we serve or sell food, we create an emotional bond with the purchaser. The better we are at controlling the brain brattle — the many incitements that rattle our brains causing us to judge, appreciate and react — the more likely we are to succeed.

Walt Disney was known for over-managing the customer experience. In his opinion, no detail was too small. Maybe we should consider his perspective more seriously when our product doesn’t fly off the shelves or our seats go unfilled.

None of our group from that Saturday night will return to that restaurant on the waterfront. Despite the great chef and the picturesque location, the experience didn’t click. Regardless of how tasty my massive chicken Parmesan was, the other stimuli turned me off completely. Just another case of mind over mouth.

Interested in learning to run your own food business? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

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Tina Ye (Culinary Arts, ’17) is not just our newest student blogger, she’s also one of the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge winners. In this post, she shares her path from interaction designer to culinary student at ICE — and how she discovered the superpower of food along the way.

By Tina Ye — Student, School of Culinary Arts

I wasn’t supposed to end up in culinary school. The way I got here was quite by accident. In fact, I started out my adult life very much wanting to be an interaction designer. An interaction designer is someone who makes digital products and services user-friendly. If you looked up directions on your phone today, and it felt as natural as picking your nose, then we did our job right.

I got to be on the path to interaction design because I’ve always been a huge nerd. In the sixth grade, I started building websites for fun, filling them with adolescent treasures like Spice Girls song lyrics, listicles and drawings of Sailor Moon. Eventually, adults picked up on my computer abilities and I was given the opportunity to trade them for money. While my peers toiled away at the local Baskin-Robbins developing asymmetrical bicep syndrome, I made logos at $250 a pop — not a bad rate for a 16-year-old.

culinary student Tina Ye

Food wasn’t really on my mind until college. By then I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to be an artist, but I reassured my mom that I’d be employable by dual-majoring in architecture. Neither turned out to be more than just a degree (I was too naive back then to know that college was for asking questions, not picking a life path), but still, they took up most of my time. To fill the social vacuum that comes from being a closeted dual-major, I turned to cooking with my roommates.

At the time, I was living in a rather unique situation. Four friends and I—one of them my then-boyfriend (now spouse)—decided to move off-campus into a big, creaky colonial house: two stories, a huge eat-in kitchen, and front and back decks for grilling. It was collegiate paradise. My roommates and I felt so adult when we signed that lease. We even had a car that we drove to visit fun and exotic places like…the grocery store!

The five of us were obsessed with grocery shopping—it felt like going to Six Flags. Every Saturday, we would explore the local Costco and load up on cheddar cheese, bacon, orange juice, chicken breast, ground beef, salad, canned beans, bread, bags of onions and potatoes hefty enough to crush a German shepherd, and yes, bulk boxes of Pop-Tarts.

When we got home, we’d drink half the orange juice within minutes, then I’d bust out “The Boston Globe Cookbook,” “101 Fast ‘n Easy Recipes,” or cookingforengineers.com (nerd pride!) and set to work. We made shepherd’s pie, jerk chicken, chili, New England clam chowder, meatloaf, sugar cookies with our own royal frosting, even Caesar dressing from scratch (I’ll never forget that moment my friend Elliot taught me you could eat raw egg). Friends of friends heard about our feasts and “casually” rolled by. My social life bloomed like the rind of a good Camembert. Who needs frat parties? All I needed was a good wooden spoon and the kitchen table of 82 Bristol Road!

Before long, we all graduated and moved on from that first experiment in communal living. But I continued those experiments elsewhere, with other roommates, in other shared apartments. The cooking got ever more ambitious (at one point I attempted to make puff pastry from scratch in 90° heat — poor life decision, turns out). Through it all, I felt a growing sense of comfort, community and pride. I loved having friends over and filling their bellies with food and their heads with conversation. With a stove and a pot, I discovered I could salve a wounded heart, crack open barriers of indifference, create warmth and fill emptiness (even if it was just stomachs). I started to have an inkling that food harbors immense superpowers, and somehow I was able to harness and direct those powers in positive ways.

Eventually, I moved to New York to study Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts. The rolling snowball of my previous computer-y accomplishments just kept…rolling. I graduated and went from tech startup to tech startup. It all felt very logical, orderly and well-calculated. I had a professional salary even my family could approve of. What could possibly be missing?

I wouldn’t blame my growing restlessness on any one factor. But as I worked on project after project, I began to notice patterns. Tech startups are volatile places to be. The rewards are immense if you succeed, but so are the risks, and every day, teams of dedicated, hard-working people operate in stress-inducing environments of high uncertainty. When people are faced with so many unknowns, one natural tendency is to grasp for certainty. We fall back on assumptions instead of examining facts. We avoid dissent and seek the comfort of those who agree with us. We dig in and harden and stop listening.

I have seen this happen in many tense product meetings and feedback sessions, sometimes to the detriment of the organization’s mission. I began to wonder: in today’s world, where we have no shortage of uncertainty and immense challenges ahead as a society, can we learn to become better listeners, more willing collaborators and more open-minded friends, colleagues and neighbors? I thought back to those moments around the kitchen table, when even a sulking roommate will come out of hiding to check out the soup. Too busy chewing, even the most voracious talker becomes a good listener.

In March of this year, I made a video that posited that we can build bridges with food. I envisioned traveling around the country, learning about the lives of people who are very different from me, and sharing their stories in the form of evocative dishes. I entered the video into ICE’s Find Your Culinary Voice scholarship challenge. To my surprise, people responded with immense enthusiasm, and with the votes of friends and total strangers alike, I was awarded a full scholarship to ICE’s Culinary Arts program. Goodbye, old life of pushing pixels. Hello, new life of…who knows! Anything could happen.

Since beginning culinary school, I’ve been on a whirlwind tour of learning how to think and act like a world-class chef. I considered myself a pretty decent ingredient wrangler before, but now I’m really discovering how to treat these things with finesse and respect. Under the tutelage of chefs Lorrie, Michael and others, my cuts are straighter, my mise en place neater and my heat control more accurate. I am learning not just cooking techniques but also discipline, humility and professionalism. Just as important, I am meeting people from all walks of life in my classmates. (Who knew the hopes set out in my video would so soon be fulfilled?) Though our backgrounds are different, we support one another with tips and stories from our past lives, and cheer each other on through the critiques and exams. If I could convince people to gather around a table before with my slightly overcooked chicken, just think what I can do with these skills and this network after graduating. 

I came to ICE not necessarily to become the next Top Chef, but to answer this question: what is food’s real superpower? And can I harness it to do what I’d always wanted to do as an interaction designer: make a tiny, positive dent in the world? There is much work to be done, but I’m grateful for this chance to train for all the challenges ahead at ICE.

Interested in discovering where a culinary education can take you? Click here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.

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For 15 years, Kelly Newsome (Culinary Arts ’17) dreamed of going to culinary school. Though her infatuation with food and cooking was sparked during college, various factors (like concerns from family and friends) pushed her off that track and into office jobs. It’s not an uncommon situation, but what set Kelly apart was her tenacity — it drove her to take small steps toward achieving her ultimate goal. First, she enrolled at New York University’s master’s program in food studies and spent three years working full-time while burning the midnight oil between classes and assignments. Then, she landed an attractive marketing position with a food science company, edging ever closer to the kitchen. Finally, at age 38, Kelly decided she couldn’t ignore her true passion any longer, and enrolled in ICE’s Culinary Arts program. “I just realized I’m never going to be happy unless I follow this passion inside me, which is to work in food.”

Why culinary school, instead of diving directly into the kitchen? Kelly explained, “I don’t have the luxury of working my way up in a kitchen at this stage in my life. So going to culinary school will certainly give me confidence when I walk into the kitchen for the first time.”

 

Want to gain kitchen confidence of your own? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Arts career training program.

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By Danielle Page

Pursuing an education in culinary arts opens a ton of doors for potential career opportunities — far beyond the traditional roles confined to a kitchen. A few decades ago, working in food media meant only a handful of paths to consider: authoring cookbooks or editing food magazines, with not many other options in between. But thanks to social media and the age of the internet, culinary expertise can be translated into a wide array of viable career options — as demonstrated by these ICE graduates who have gone on to do just that.

From styling food for avant-garde startups to founding a media company dedicated to culinary video production, these ICE graduates are making big strides. Here’s what they had to say about leveraging culinary training to land a job in the media world.

Eden Grinshpan

Photo courtesy of edeneats.com

1. Eden Grinshpan, Food TV Personality

Having been the host of two cooking shows on a major TV network, Eden Grinshpan is proof that networking will get you pretty much anywhere. “Through ICE, I was introduced to many people in the field that have helped me along the way with my career,” Grinshpan says. “Since leaving ICE I have worked on ‘Eden Eats,’ a show that I created with my business partner Samantha Schutz, and ‘Log On And Eat with Eden.’ I had such a great time in the program [at ICE]. I met so many people from all walks of life that were just as passionate as I was about food and the culinary industry. The school gave me a great platform to learn about the service industry and also allowed me to network and meet great people in the industry. Since graduating from ICE, I have been able to pursue my dream of food television and I am very grateful to the Cooking Channel for taking me under their wing and believing in me and my shows.”

Julie with husband and co-founder Dan (credit: Lindsay Morris)

2. Julie Resnick: Founder of feedfeed

What happens when a former digital marketer turned ICE graduate has an excess of produce from her CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] to prepare? She takes to social media for inspiration — and ends up building a following of over one million in the process. “I began by posting pictures of my own food and then asked people to share what they were making by also tagging their food with #feedfeed,” says Resnick. “That started to develop a community of people who were cooking the way I was. I would do a search for sweet potatoes and find some really cool sweet potato dishes, and I would follow those people and engage with them and comment on their posts. Then I would say, “Hey, by the way, don’t forget to add #feedfeed to what you’re cooking and that way we can all share with each other.” It was my need that was driving it. It took off from there.” Of course, curating a hit Instagram account isn’t going to happen overnight. But if you’re looking to start cultivating a following, Resnick does have a few words of advice to share. “First, I would say that it’s important to be active on social,” she says. “Don’t just spend time composing a beautiful, well-lit shot, posting it and then logging out of Instagram or whatever social media platform you’re using. Spend the time looking at what people you follow are posting, like the content and comment on the content. I think there’s also this perception that you shouldn’t be following too many people — I disagree with that. If there are people out there who are putting out nice content that you’re interested in, follow them, engage with them and get to know the people behind these accounts. Read what these people are writing, don’t just look at the pictures. It’s about relationship building.”

ICE alumni Jamie Tiampo of SeeFood Media3. Jamie Tiampo, President and Founder of SeeFood Media

Jamie Tiampo is the founder of a company that fills a niche in which it has no real competitor: a “one-stop shop” featuring seven kitchen sets, a rooftop for outdoor cooking segments, separate prep kitchens for food stylists, an in-house prop shop and a team of seasoned professionals who have produced several hundred food-centric video and photo shoots. “I started with the fundamental question of how to make food look better,” says Tiampo. “From there, it was a matter of engineering the systems and facilities from the ground up to support that mission. If there was one thing I learned from living through the first dot-com bubble, it was that nothing is sacred. SeeFood Media started in an era of big TV cooking shows with custom sets in gigantic studios. Yet we’ve witnessed—and benefitted from—an evolution where food brands have realized they can also leverage digital video, and hire us to script, produce and edit extremely high quality videos which speak directly to their consumers,” Jamie explains. “What drives our business is bandwidth. Today, people can watch a video on their phone while they walk down the sidewalk. For brands, that means video content can reach an audience anytime, anywhere.”

 

Kim O'Donnel - Food Writer - Interview4. Kim O’Donnel, Cookbook Author and Food Journalist

“I worked as a reporter for about five years before exploring a culinary career,” says O’Donnel. “Once I realized I wanted to work in food, I pursued a job under James Beard Award winner Ann Cashion in Washington, D.C. It was in the days of pre-internet communication, so I typed her a note (on an electric typewriter) asking about openings at Cashion’s Eat Place for rookies, like myself, who wanted to learn. Ann came to be one of my mentors, and what I learned on the job in just five months really set me up for culinary school.” Since attending ICE, O’Donnel has become one of the country’s most respected food writers, celebrated by the M.F.K. Fisher Award for Excellence in Culinary Writing and serving on the James Beard Foundation’s Journalism Awards Committee. “My newly released cookbook, PNW Veg: 100 Vegetable Recipes Inspired by the Local Bounty of the Pacific Northwest is my third over the past seven years,” says O’Donnel. “I’ve made a name for myself as an omnivore writing vegetarian cookbooks, inspiring folks like myself to make more room for plants. But there’s other news as well: I’m the chef-in-residence at a Seattle branch of the YMCA, overseeing programming for its new Healthy Living Kitchen. I’m rolling out Meatless Monday demos, and the branch will be a CSA pick-up spot this summer. Additionally, I’m going to Houston in July as a returning volunteer chef with Culinary Corps — my first trip with CC was to New Orleans in 2007.”

Jiselle Basile5. Jiselle Basile, Chef and Food Stylist, Extra Crispy

Traditionally, food stylists are utilized in the commercial or magazine world. But thanks to the wide world of startups, there’s a need for food stylists beyond the fold — like at Extra Crispy, a website dedicated entirely to breakfast. “There’s not a typical day, which keeps it interesting,” says Basile. “At Extra Crispy, there’s a startup mentality — within a major company — but it’s still a startup. Most of us take on a lot of different roles so no two days are similar. Usually I’m either researching recipes at my desk, or I can be at a video shoot with a chef, or testing and styling in the kitchen. Tomorrow, I’m going to be making Scotch eggs with an ostrich egg on Facebook Live. I have to pick up ostrich eggs at Union Square Market at 8:00 a.m., so I’ll start here whenever I get back.” As far as the current food media landscape goes, Basile says there’s a major shift happening. “The whole foodie culture thing is having an impact,” she says. “People are either talking about things more than ever or social media is having an impact and brought to life how much people talk about it. People are more aware of their food. I’ve seen restaurants focusing more on where their food is coming from and I guess it’s in part because people are so concerned about the surrounding issues. It’s interesting how owners and chefs now look at how social media affects their restaurants. Nowadays a lot of people, before they set foot in your restaurant, will see if you have an Instagram and check out what your food looks like, which has a huge impact on whether someone will eat in your restaurant.”

Ed Behr - Natalie Stultz - Interview

Photo Credit: Natalie Stultz

6. Ed Behr, Founder and Publisher of The Art of Eating

Ed Behr had quite the journey to where he is now — heading up the respected quarterly journal, The Art of Eating, which he created. “I was working as a carpenter and builder, which I did for about a dozen years,” he says. “I decided I wanted to open a restaurant, and to do that I felt I had to go to cooking school, not because I wanted to cook in the restaurant, but because I knew I didn’t know enough to recognize and hire a good chef. In the end, I never opened a restaurant. Since 1986, I’ve been writing about food and wine as the editor and publisher of The Art of Eating.” Behr earned one of the food industry’s most prestigious honors: an induction into the James Beard Foundation’s “Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America” in 2015. But he’s more than humble about the work he’s doing. “Like so many other people, I spend most of my time looking at a computer screen,” he says. “I try—but rarely succeed—to devote the morning to my own writing. My days are a mix of editing, writing and emailing (writers, editors, photographers, illustrators and people who can help with research). Actual interviews, in which I might quote someone, I normally do over the phone or in person. Now and then I look up something in an ink-on-paper book, as most of what I want to know is still not anywhere online. I also spend a fair amount of time on the nuts and bolts of publishing.”

Sara Deseran7. Sara Deseran, Director of Marketing and Branding for Tacolicious

“After some 20 years of working as a food writer, I’m now the marketing and branding director for Tacolicious, a restaurant group my husband Joe Hargrave and I own,” says Deseran. “We have five restaurants in the Bay Area, plus a cantina called Bar San Pancho and a tequila bar called Mosto. We started as a little market stand at the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in 2009. As someone who’s written cookbooks, done food styling, food writing and even worked in restaurants in the kitchen way back in the day (and pretty much sucked at my job as a prep cook), this job allows me to kind of do it all. Barring straight operations, I do a lot of everything. It’s also given me a lot of humility in regards to how unbelievably hard it is to run restaurants! Every day there are about 10 fires to put out. I’d tell students to immerse themselves in different elements of the food industry, but veer towards your strengths rather than your dreamy ideas of being that big name chef. Not everyone is cut out to work in a kitchen (like me, for instance). It took me catering, cooking, serving, writing, styling, hard work, plus an element of luck to get where I am now. Figuring out what you’re truly good at is empowering. There are a million ways to get into food.”

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