5 tips on how to be a food stylist from a professional

How to be a Food Stylist: 5 tips from a professional

So you want to be a Food Stylist and have no clue where to begin? Here are my top 5 tips for getting started in the industry.

1. Learn to Cook

The big number ONE, I can’t stress this enough. And cook well, confidently and quickly.

Learn cooking terminology and techniques. Learn to be comfortable and confident with different appliances, especially learn knife skills which will save you a lot of time in the future.  Understand how ingredients respond to different situations. Essentially food stylists cook for a living.

Styling a pretty picture is the top of the iceberg, the 10 -15% that you see. The other 85-90% that you don’t see in the food magazine, involves prepping ( schlepping – see Tip #5) and cooking. 

The more proficient you are at testing, developing and cooking recipes the more confident you will be and you’ll have more time for the pretty part that everyone loves.

If you don’t already know how to cook sign up for a course at a local college. Get a good knowledge of culinary skills and terms. There is no better launching pad for your career into food styling!

Coconut cupcakes food styling photography
Styling by @tarynejakobistyling | Image by @roelene.prinsloo

2. Practice, practice and practice your food stylist skills some more

Try new recipes, and techniques.  Bake on days when it’s humid and raining and see what happens, how does it affect your product. Can you make meringue? Have you tried different techniques? Swiss meringue, Italian meringue. Have you got a tried and tested recipe for hollandaise, do you know what to do if it splits and curdles?  Practice. Practice. Practice. 

3. Stretch your food stylist cooking skills

Learning new kitchen skills, applying them in practice and then stretching yourself with both techniques and ingredients. Try different or unusual ingredients. Have you tried chicken feet, or grubs? Can you cook tripe? What about goat?

Having a working knowledge of the preparation and taste of unusual ingredients will mean you’re not thrown a curve ball when you’re ask to style them. Having an open mind and being willing to experiment will set you in good stead.

4. Learn to Improvise

A food stylist must be able to think on their feet,  pull rabbits out of hats (sometimes literally) and solve problems quickly.

The more confident you are the quicker you will be able to respond in a crisis. You will often be required to multi-task, or drop everything and start on something else. Being flexible and adaptable will make the job a lot less stressful.

homemade coconut iceblocks with coconut icecream
Styling by @tarynejakobistyling | Image by @roelene.prinsloo

5. Prepare for the Schlep

There is no nice way to say this. Food styling requires a lot of non-glamourous work.

When I brief my new assistants they are often amazed at the amount of work that goes into preparing for a job. From shopping for ingredients, tracking down an ingredient Amazing Race style, packing and unpacking equipment, lugging props and styling surfaces. All this before even starting on the cooking or recipe testing. If you want to be a food stylist be ready for hard work and grind before you reap the rewards of those perfectly put together, mouth watering pics.

Most of all – go for it! If this is your dream it is well worth chasing.

About the author:
Taryne Jakobi is a  professional food stylist, chef and recipe developer. She specialises in food styling for advertising, packaging, publishing, editorial content for print or digital, and videos for online or TVC. For the past 16 years she has worked as a food stylist, recipe developer and recipe tester for some of the largest and most well-known brands in South Africa. 

For more resources, tips and training visit Taryne's website and sign up for her monthly newsletter at tarynejakobi.co.za

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