Advice required: Food styling course and volunteer work experience Food Styling: Advice required: Food styling course and volunteer work experience
By Mayathebee81 (Mayathebee81) on Tuesday, April 11, 2006 - 11:17 pm: Edit


I am from Australia.

I’m considering doing a food styling course and volunteer work experience (in food styling) in New York – which I’m told is the food styling capital of the world…

So far the best course I’ve seen is the ‘Food Styling’ course that is offered by the Culinary Institute of America, taught by Delores Custers. Does anyone have an opinion of this course – or can anyone suggest a different course?

With regards to work experience – does anyone have any suggestions as to who I should contact about this. I’d like to do the work experience with a highly respected food stylist, or with a highly respected organisation that uses food stylists. I’m not familiar with food stylists and publications in America – any information would be handy. If anyone wants to offer me work experience – please do!


PS- I plan to do all this late this year or early next year.

By Kinglear (Kinglear) on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - 08:43 am: Edit

I don't know of anyone more qualified to learn styling from than Delores Custer. Her classes are great and thorough introductions to the business.
Almost all food stylists of any quality are freelance workers so it's best to contact them directly and offer to assist at no fee. Once you've proven yourself, you may start getting paid work.
Do not however, take the class then hang out your shingle as a food stylist without getting some serious experience under your belt. Your lack of experience will be obvious all the other pros on the team you'll be working with-the photographer, art director and prop stylist. Word gets around quickly.
Email me with any other questions you may have-I'd be happy to help.
I'm surprised that you are coming to NY. There are some wonderful stylists working in Australia. Check out the credits in Donna Hay's magazine and contact the food stylists there. They do beautiful work, although the photographers are the real artists in that case.

By Tamsin (Tamsin) on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - 09:06 pm: Edit

Maya there are alot of places in australia that you can get work experience. Where abouts are you in Australia (i'm in Sydney)? most of the test kitchens for the magazines are in Sydney (donna hay and womens weekly) I'm not too sure were abouts Gourmet traveller or vogue are but I would suspect they are either in Sydney or Melbourne.
I did work experience at the womens weekly test kitchen and most of the styling is done by a combination of both the chefs and photgrahers.

There really aren't many courses in Australia for food styling. One of the tafe courses that I did does a bit but not much. If I can help you at all let me know.

By Mayathebee81 (Mayathebee81) on Wednesday, April 12, 2006 - 11:20 pm: Edit

Thanks for the feed back Kinglear and Tamsin.

There are excellent food magazine and styling places in Australia, but it's impossible to get a break.

I did work experience the Woman's Weekly Kitchen and they said I'm on their list as a possible candidate for future jobs. Problem is, no jobs have come up. They also only offer a total of one week of work experience per person due to demands.

I have contacted several other food magazines, but none ever calls me back - they must get numerous requests...

The people at Donna Hay said they'd call me back next week about work / work experience. I would love to work for Donna Hay - the food styling is fantastic.

I'm interested in going doing the food styling course in New York, because there aren't really any food styling courses in Australia. I'm also facinated by American food styling. It's different to Australian food styling because food styling in Australia must be realistic - no using mashed potato for icecream!

I'm also hoping to win a AUS$3000 scholarship to help do the course...

Tamsin, do you work in food magazines / styling in Australia?

By Kinglear (Kinglear) on Friday, April 14, 2006 - 07:23 pm: Edit

Sorry to disappoint you Maya, but here in the US those tricks really don't get used all that much. I don't know anyone that uses mashed potatoes for ice cream. Truth in advertising laws have gotten much more stringent in the past 10-15 years. I have only used fake ice cream once or twice in the past 5 years and only for a Satellite Media Tour when a display of food had to stay beautiful for a solid 4 hours and then, the ice cream was only an adjuct to the whole theme of the show segment. I've only used real ice cream in spreads for magazines or other publications. When advertising, you MUST use the real product.
The real trick here, and with Donna Hay, is the photography. For the most part, the food photographed is real, natural, and according to recipe. Of course, there are always a few trash rags that employ stylists who use all those styling tricks, but they are generally the exception to the rule these days.
Do take the course with Delores-she's a good friend of mine and a great teacher. The info you will get and the exposure to helpful products will be invaluable to you as you develop your career.
There is a conference for stylists, photographers, publishers, and the like every two years in Minneapolis, Minnesota called Food on Film. The last one was May 2005 and if they continue, the next will be in 2007. There are people there from all over the world. Try to make it to that conference, if you can. The workshops are very informative and the networking might be a real boon too.
Good luck

By Tamsin (Tamsin) on Monday, April 17, 2006 - 02:53 am: Edit

Maya, no sorry I don't work into the food styling/magazine industry, I'm acutally a chef at a hotel in sydney (though I'm soon to be unemployed, of my own choice I hate hotels at the moment.....ANYWAY). I'm very much into food photography though and love to take shots where I work, nothing like a photo that captures the action in the kitchen. It's a field that I have always been interested in. I know that most of the places which work with food stylist like a person that comes from a food background, most of the people working there are either qualified chefs or have a background in home economics, while the people taking the photos are all proper photographers. A while ago (about 2 years ago) I applied for a position with donna hay, never got a reply so don't hold your breath but you could be lucky.
I guess what you have to really look at is what aspect of food styling is it that you are interested in(arranging of the food, preparing the food for photography or taking the photos) and if just by doing a course will that get you into the industry. Like I said before most of the people working in alot of those places have a background in the culinary field. Hope that helps.

By Mayathebee81 (Mayathebee81) on Monday, April 17, 2006 - 08:41 pm: Edit

Thanks again for the feedback Kinglear and Tamsin.

It's a shame that such styling tricks are no longer used - it would have been facinating to observe. However, on the up-side Australia's laws are also tight - so it would be more beneficial to learn how to style 'real' food.
I have heard about the Food on Film course. It sounds great - problem is, if I get the scholarship I have to use it within six months (by March 2007). Perhaps they can bend the rules for me... Chances are I won't get the scholarship anyway...
Do you know if Delores still works as a food stylist? Do you think she would be interested in having me as a work experience student for a few weeks? If so, are you able to pass on my details?

The lady from Donna Hay hasn't called me back yet :o(
But then again, we're only an hour and twenty minutes into the new working week!
I'm interested in both preparing and arranging the food - which seems to be two separate jobs in Australia. If I had to choose either I would probably go for the arranging.
Will keep you posted about Donna Hay.

I sent out an email to about 15 different New York food stylists on Thursday. To my amazement four have already responded. One said she hadn't considered her workload for the future - I'm taking this response as a no, but will contact her when I have more definite dates. The other three have all said yes for now. Now my only problem is the fact that I'd like to do work experience with all three of them - do you think they'd mind me doing this? -Or would they be concerned about me sharing their styling tricks with other New York Stylists? Not that I would do that!

By Kinglear (Kinglear) on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 - 04:49 pm: Edit

Yes, Delores still works as a stylist, although she seems to be teaching more and more. Depending on her schedule, she has interested students trail her on jobs from time to time. Of course, that all depends on the willingness of the client and how many other aspiring stylists have asked to work with her (she gets many requests).
If you want to ask her, just shoot her an email. You can get her info if you google her name.
Do not worry about trailing a variety of stylists. People really aren't that tight fisted about their techniques and everyone has their own way of doing things. Some people, for example, will trim their garnish herb stems, put them in a glass of water, cover with a plastic bag and refrigerate them. Some never refrigerate their herbs. Some people get meat out of plastic as soon as possible, some just leave it in the wrapper. It's hard to say which works best-different stylists have their own preferences. You will develop yours as you get some experience.

Don't necessarily think that if a stylist says she hadn't considered her workload that it means no. All that means is that she doesn't have many confirmed bookings in the near future. Unless you are on staff at some magazine, everyone works freelance and few people are booked much more than a few weeks ahead of time. Actually, I get calls all the time asking if I can work a shoot tomorrow!

One thing I can suggest is to hone your baking and pastry skills. There are a lot of stylists out there, but only a few bake and style baked goods very well.

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