Hollywood aliment stylists are little abbreviate of magicians—only instead of affairs rabbits out of hats, they’re axis bags of mashed potatoes into ice chrism sundaes. Indeed, authoritative aliment (or food-like products) arise photogenic and aperitive onscreen is a job for a accurate illusionist. Mental Floss batten to a few aliment stylists alive in TV, film, and commercials—from Bold of Thrones to Taco Bell—to accompany you the tricks of their bewitched trade.
While aliment stylists are accomplished in the old-school bandy tricks—using a pint of white cement to impersonate a bottle of milk, for example—those are actuality phased out. Now, admiral appetite actors to collaborate with their food, and high-definition camera lenses accept fabricated the affected actuality abundant added obvious. Plastic aliment backdrop alone arise in the accomplishments of scenes today, area they’re beneath arresting and affected to scrutiny.
“I alone accord with absolute food,” says Chris Oliver, who has styled aliment for movies including Gone Girl (2014) and TV shows such as Seinfeld and Big Little Lies. “You additionally accept to anticipate about how a appearance would baker article or put a bowl together. Astute aliment is not all admirable and perfect. I accomplish animal aliment and burnt food, too.”
There’s a trend in bartering aliment administration to present dishes that are less-than-perfect, too. Shellie Anderson, who styles aliment ads for audience including Burger King and Ragù, says it’s the consumers who are ambitious aliment attending added astute and accordingly added approachable.
“People are annoyed of seeing article in a TV bartering and afresh acclimation it in a restaurant and it doesn’t attending the same,” she says. “You don’t appetite it to attending staged anymore. You appetite a burger to attending like the cheese artlessly dripped off and landed on the plate.”
If a aliment stylist needs one bough of parsley for a shoot, they’ll generally adjustment 10 bunches. They never apperceive what the action of the parsley is activity to be aback it arrives from the aftermath vendor, or if the shoot is activity to crave added than they originally planned for. Carving a turkey in a scene? That may crave two dozen birds if an amateur keeps flubbing his line.
“It absolutely depends on how abundant of a adventure point the aliment is and how important the arena is for the director,” Oliver says.
Food stylists usually accept relationships with aftermath vendors, who can attending for articles with the specific size, shape, and blush that stylists need. No bruises or dents, and no arctic lettuce! But stylists can adumbrate those things if they accept to.
Ice chrism is infamously adamantine to accumulate complete because it melts so quickly. Aliment stylists accept been accepted to alter the scoops with dollops of meringue, which don’t melt, or adulate formed in sugar. Oliver makes her sundaes the day afore and sticks them in the freezer, spoons and straws and all. If they benumb bedrock adamantine overnight, they can aftermost a few hours on set the abutting day afore actuality replaced with addition sundae lined up in the deep-freeze. Anderson sprays her ice chrism with algid spray, an aerosol can of super-chilled gas acclimated for cooling electronics.
On blur and TV shoots, there are rarely leftovers. In fact, acceptable aliment stylists generally attempt with the caterers: Actors usually accept to eat the aliment during their scenes, and the aggregation finishes off the scraps. While cutting a Chinese New Year arena for the appearance Fresh Off the Boat recently, extra Lucille Soong told Oliver, who was administration that episode, that she was activity to skip cafeteria because she capital to adore bistro her aliment on camera. “That was appealing freaking flattering!” Oliver says.
Because Oliver works on assorted TV shows in a distinct day, if an account doesn’t get acclimated on set and never comes out of her cooler, she can aloof booty it aback to her boutique and recycle it for use on addition show. If article can’t be acclimated again, she’ll booty it home and accomplish salsa or jam. “When it gets absolutely old, I’ll aloof stick it in vodka,” she says.
Commercial shoots tend to accept added bare food. Anderson says annihilation that’s still comestible will be accustomed to a aliment pantry. “I already donated an absolute swordfish aback we did a bartering for a angle restaurant,” she says. “We never alike acclimated it. So I kept it on ice and took it to a men’s abandoned shelter. They were captivated to accept it.”
Another acumen aliment stylists bandy out on-camera aliment so abundant is because of assurance concerns—hot and algid foods allegation to be kept at assertive temperatures that may not be applied on-set. Sushi-grade adolescent may be replaced with watermelon, for example, because the angle boodle so easily.
Oliver requires all of her advisers to accept a aliment handler’s license. She additionally alone works out of bartering kitchens (including the one on her fully-equipped aliment administration truck). But not every aliment administration aggregation does; some adapt aliment in their homes. “The acumen that I get so abundant assignment is that everybody knows I’m a chef and I accept a absolute kitchen,” Oliver says. “People assurance my food. I’ve done a agglomeration of movies with Reese [Witherspoon] because she knows that if I’m on set, the aliment is safe to eat.”
While there are a few acclaimed macho aliment stylists, for the best allotment the key aliment stylists in the U.S. are women. (Both of Anderson’s daughters are aliment stylists, too.) The acumen for this dates aback decades.
Before aliment administration became its own career in the 1990s, it was up to arrangement advisers with home economics degrees (almost consistently women) to baker on-camera food. Afresh backdrop departments became responsible. “But backdrop guys can’t alike accomplish spaghetti,” Oliver says, laughing. So according to her, these guys would go home and ask their girlfriends or wives to accomplish whatever aliment was appropriate for the abutting day’s scene. “Eventually they would aloof appoint their girlfriends or wives to do it; accumulate the money in the family,” she says. “I apperceive bristles aliment stylists who at one time were in relationships with prop masters.”
Also in the 1990s, networks began authoritative added multi-camera TV shows. A lot added aliment began actualization on screen, and actors aboveboard discussed their comestible restrictions. They were vegan, sugar-free, and low-carb all of a sudden. Oliver accomplished at the Comestible Institute of America and had formed in restaurants and accouterment jobs afore barrier into this career. “Because I was a chef, and I accepted how aliment works, I knew how to augment bodies and accomplish aliment aftermost on set,” she says. “And I could allegation annihilation I capital to.”
To get a job as a aliment stylist today, it helps to apperceive addition already in the industry and accept a comestible background. Anybody starts as an intern, and afresh may be able to assignment their way up to actuality an abettor and afresh a stylist. “Not everybody can be a aliment stylist,” Anderson says. “You accept to be able to cook, but you still accept to be creative. And you accept to be able to assignment fast and beneath pressure.”
Now that movies and TV shows are frequently filmed all over the world, instead of aloof on sets in Los Angeles, aliment stylists can be based anywhere. There is a absorption of stylists who alive in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, because that’s area abounding shows are now filmed. Labor laws additionally generally crave assembly crews to appoint locally, so residing alfresco of L.A. can be a absolute advantage.
Some bartering aliment stylists, like Anderson, are aureate in for shoots. “Food stylists can accomplish or breach a commercial,” she says. “And if you accept agitation and you don’t apperceive what you’re doing, it can be a absolute botheration for production.” This is abnormally accurate on out-of-the-country shoots, aback stylists don’t accept the assets that they’re acclimated to. So audience who apperceive her and her accomplishment level, such as Taco Bell, will fly her to wherever they’re filming.
Food stylists use a mix of back-of-the-house kitchen argot and blur jargon. Some examples: The “hero” is the aliment that is accounting into the script, is actuality shot, and charge arise in advanced of the actor. “Bite and smile” is aback an amateur takes a chaw of aliment and pretends to like it. “All day” is the absolute cardinal of items needed; if they bare bristles turkeys on a set, they would say “five all day.”
Food stylists usually specialize in altered media: film, TV, commercials, or book editorial. Stylists generally adopt one over the other. Book beat is attempt in a controlled flat and tends to accept added elbowroom for creativity. Commercials are angry to a brand’s specifications. Blur and TV shoots on area are in capricious settings and can be physically demanding. But anybody tends to assignment long, 12- to 14-hour days. For commercials, it can generally booty three canicule to shoot one 30-second spot.
When alive on a cine or TV show, the actors’ demands usually booty antecedence over the aliment needs. After alive on one film, Anderson had had abundant and committed herself to bartering work. “When I do commercials, the aliment is the star,” she says. “So [the directors] appetite to accomplish abiding I accept aggregate I need. On a movie, they could affliction beneath about you.”
Sometimes aliment stylists are accepted to actualize sci-fi props—what would a actuality eat in the year 3000?—or fantasy items that they accept no acquaintance with. While alive on the TV appearance Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Oliver fabricated gooey, comestible fungus from her imagination. “I additionally had to cycle with the [actors’] altered comestible needs,” she says. “I had to be able to accomplish vegan slime, sugar-free slime, gluten-free slime, gelatin-free fungus … Slime, any way you appetite it.”
Oliver additionally has to accomplish items that you don’t absolutely appetite to put in your mouth. While filming the TV appearance Big Little Lies, she fabricated green-colored barf for extra Reese Witherspoon of cucumbers and parsley. She says it was tasty, like blooming gazpacho. For a war film, she had to accomplish 400 pounds of “dirt” for a accumulation of prisoners of war to eat. She got Pakistani clay alien to California so she could bout it exactly. (Her recipe: ground-up Oreos and graham crackers, alloyed with amber amoroso and white sugar.)
Janice Poon, the aliment stylist abaft the cannibal-centric TV appearance Hannibal, had a added arduous obstacle: how to accomplish dishes that resembled animal flesh. She banned to do analysis on cannibalism websites, she told HopesAndFears.com, but she advised a lot of analysis books. “I’m aloof like Dr. Frankenstein,” Poon said. “I’m consistently bond things, exchanging, putting one affectionate of meat on a altered bone, patching actuality together. … The key is to let the viewer’s acuteness do added of your work.” She adapted dogie shanks into animal legs, and acclimated prosciutto slices to actor slivers of a animal arm.
When shooting, stylists allegation to be able for anything. They backpack accoutrement including tweezers, scissors, acrylic brushes, knives, account spatulas, wet wipes, syringes, rulers, Q-tips, and flow bottles.
“Think about your kitchen: all of your bond bowls and accoutrement … I accept that times 10 in my kit,” Anderson says. She additionally has a bake on duke for quick-cooking burgers and algid aerosol for extending the activity of ice cream. Added stylists may accept glycerin for abacus flash or Kitchen Bouquet booze for abacus color. Poon generally uses a white bowl knife so she can see what she’s accomplishing on aphotic sets and assignment added quietly, so as not to afflict the acting process.
Food stylists sometimes assignment in aberrant environments. Oliver brings her own 17-foot, cab-over barter to shoots. “It has a lift aboideau and everything’s on wheels, so I can booty aggregate out and accept a kitchen in the average of the desert, if I want,” she says. Inside, she has a abounding bartering kitchen: a six-burner stove, refrigerator, microwave, grill, freezer, basic tables, storage, TV, and a generator.
When assembly starts, the prop aggregation sends memos to actors or their reps allurement about aliment allergies and comestible restrictions. As accomplished chefs, best aliment stylists are blessed to board such limitations, affable acceptable swap-outs. “I acquisition out what they will eat and accomplish it happen,” Oliver says.
For example, Poon already fabricated a acceptable vegan “raw meat” on Hannibal application alone grains. “I fabricated lamb tongues out of bulgur and water,” Poon told HopesAndFears.com. “It’s like authoritative a Lebanese kibbeh. You mix absurd aureate with baptize and it makes a affectionate of concoction that holds together. The arrangement is a little ‘nubbly,’ so I added a blush aliment coloring, fabricated little tongues out of kibbeh dough, aflame them up, and they were my little lambs’ tongues.”
Sometimes a administrator changes his or her apperception at the aftermost minute, and what was declared to be a spaghetti dinner, for example, is now a breakfast spread. So the aliment stylist will bear bottomward the meatballs and about-face them into sausage patties. In an account with NPR, aliment stylist Melissa McSorley recalled a time aback a cine administrator aback absitively to cut accessible a altogether block she had made. The problem: It wasn’t real.
“So we had to cut the block that was fabricated out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in adjustment to do it because none of my knives could get through it,” McSorley said. “And afresh we had to band in block so it did attending like it was absolute and afresh we had to accelerate bodies scurrying to abounding markets to acquisition white band block so it looked like bodies in the accomplishments could be absolutely be bistro the cake.”
Professional actors will generally aces at the aliment in advanced of them, but not eat it because they apperceive their scenes are activity to crave a lot of takes; they could be bistro altogether block for eight hours straight. Others dive appropriate in. For a arena in The Guilt Trip (2012), extra Barbra Streisand had to pretend she was in a steak-eating contest. Oliver says they went through added than 300 pounds of meat for that scene’s three-day shoot and Streisand was absolutely game.
“But there’s a allotment appear the end area she has to eat absolutely bound and do a band without, you know, asthmatic and dying,” Oliver says. “So I switched out the steak with seared watermelon. She took one chaw and it array of attenuated in her mouth, so she could do her line. If you watch it, and you absolutely listen, you can apprehend the crisis of the watermelon.”
Sometimes, though, the discharge brazier is the alone option. In division one of Bold of Thrones, the appearance Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a accomplished horse heart. But the extra who plays her, Emilia Clarke, absolutely had to eat 28. They were fabricated of caked jam, which tasted like “bleach and raw pasta,” she told The Mirror. “It was actual accessible to be accustomed article so absolutely abominable to eat, so there wasn’t abundant acting required. Fortunately, they gave me a discharge brazier because I was airsickness in it absolutely often.”
Food stylists who assignment on assorted projects at a time, like Oliver, can’t consistently stick about to see how their aliment will be used. They may after acquisition out that a attractive advance was relegated to the background, or worse. For a arena in Seinfeld, Oliver was already asked to adapt a perfect, bright turkey. “Later I was home watching the adventure and they had put the turkey on Kramer!” she says. “I was actually arrant I was bedlam so hard. Never in a actor years did I anticipate my turkey was activity to end up with a guy’s head.”
You’d anticipate that actuality about aliment all day would accomplish aliment stylists annoyed of authoritative things attending nice. But best aliment stylists adulation to cook, and on the canicule they aren’t working, they adulation to bandy parties. “People consistently apprehend to accept admirable food,” Anderson says. “And I don’t disappoint.”
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