Tampons In Turkey Cavities: Food Styling Secrets From The Christmas Food Adverts
The Debrief: Microwaves made from fish and steamy tampons — the world of food styling isn’t as delicious as you’d think.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year for food, food, food. There’s the comforting scent of mince pies and mulled wine in the air, while every other advert serenades our senses with festive foods being sliced, drizzled, melted and oh, so oozy, all over our TV screens.
It makes you wonder though, how do professional food stylists – those creating these ‘come hither’ portrayals of food – do it? We decided to get hold of two women who know what they’re talking about, Joy Skipper and Mima Sinclair.
Joy has been a food stylist for 24 years, working with everyone from M&S to Galaxy chocolate, while Mima has worked with Ribena, Leon, Tesco and more.
So, make yourself a cup of tea, close the door and prepare to never look at washing up liquid and Marmite the same way again — you’re about to hear some super juicy food styling secrets.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve had to do on a food shoot?
Mima: I once had to make a microwave out of fish. A microwave company wanted to publicise how they could be used for healthy recipes, so we recreated the shape of one from fish and Mediterranean vegetables!
I also made Tower Bridge out of gingerbread and had to stuff a pig’s head, then sew the skin back together so that the stuffing didn’t come out.
Joy: I’ve done a lot of work on commercials for TV, which is a different thing entirely — lots of cheating going on! For a cereal commercial, I once spent three days sorting through cornflakes to get the perfect shapes and sizes for a pouring shot, which then had white emulsion poured on them to look like creamy milk.
Another one involved a hand model refusing to break open a bread roll in case she broke a nail, so I spent a day perforating bread rolls with a pin!
Have there ever been any disasters?
Mima: Oh yes! I spent a good hour making a slice of cheesecake look absolutely perfect for a packaging shot, then just dropped it right on the floor in front of the set.
Joy: My last small disaster was a herb-crusted rack of lamb that I dropped when moving it from the pan to the plate — superglue came in very handy!
Can you reveal some food styling secrets?
Mima: I try not to fuss with food too much, because you can tell when it has been poked around with, but some things you need a little help with. I have a special plumbing pipe freeze spray that I spray over ice cream on set to keep it cold for longer.
I also mix water and glycerine in a little bottle and use it to spray on glasses when you need them to look cold and refreshing. The sugar in the glycerine makes the droplets stay put, so you don’t have to keep spraying the glass.
Are there any Christmas-specific food styling tricks?
Joy: Turkeys are a food stylist’s nightmare, mainly because if they’re not a good shape it’s hard to change them. Obviously, you can control it a bit by not over-cooking them and then using Marmite or similar to give them a golden shiny finish. If steam is needed, a tampon in the cavity works a treat!
Mima: Undercook the turkey, because it takes so long to cook and you have lots of other shots to do that day. That’s when you can use the Marmite trick – a mixture of Marmite and washing up liquid is painted over to give it a nice, even golden colour and the washing up liquid helps to make the Marmite spread easier.
Which are the most difficult foods to style?
Mima: Layered recipes, like lasagna or cottage pie, because you can’t just take a slice out and pop it on a plate — we all know what that looks like when you do it at home. You have to build the layers up on a plate one by one.
Wraps are also a bit of a nightmare because they don’t stay put and unravel all the time – that’s when the superglue comes back out of the kit!
Cups of coffee can be difficult too, because you can’t control the steam, so quite often you have to do the shot over and over again, refreshing the coffee until you get the perfect swirl of steam.
Joy: Nothing is too difficult if you have a good team around you, including a photographer who understands the pressure you may be under and can move fast to accommodate that. Ice cream is obviously tricky, but fine if you all work quickly — it can actually be great fun!
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