Food or art?

Food or art?

You like food. But do you care about how it looks? 

‘Food stylist’ isn’t a job that comes up in school careers tests – but it’s a profession that has evolved over centuries. It’s rooted in the work of home economists; and in the 1800s, people started to develop a taste for artistry around food. 

It started small – but as women’s career opportunities grew, food styling did too

In the early days, the food styling industry was small. It was an art form practised mainly by women who studied Home Economics, and it wasn’t seen as a viable job for men. 

But as more women gained access to the workforce, there was more demand for ready meals and eating out – and that created advertising work for food stylists, who had the skills to make store-bought meals look appealing in photographs, film, and on the shelf. 

Spurred on by demand for design, food stylists developed more innovative ways to rethink the way they presented dishes. And a wave of magazines and cookbooks were picked up by publishers – featuring beautifully styled food imagery. 

And today, it’s a thriving and competitive industry

Food stylists play a crucial role in presenting food products in advertising, media, and in restaurants. Instead of a domestic skill, it’s a specialist creative field – and food stylists are expected to have a strong understanding of culinary arts, design skills, and modern media formats; in order to adapt their craft to different mediums. 

They have to be able to work seamlessly with chefs, photographers, videographers, art directors, marketers, and more. And they need to be able to communicate their vision, and understand the vision that the other creatives around them are working with. 

In short: it’s a complex and demanding role that exists at the intersection of a number of different professional skills. 

Stylist in focus: Holly Cochrane

One food stylist who has become well-known in the industry is London-based Holly Cochrane. She’s also a pastry chef, and she owns a community micro-bakery. 

Cochrane creates food presentations for numerous forms of media, and she’s known for her expertise in food science. Her client list includes UK TV chef Nadiya Hussain; Pret a Manger; and TV chef Tom Kerridge. 

Interestingly, she worked in the film and TV industry before becoming a food stylist. And this shows just how creatively demanding (and fulfilling) the role can be: it’s a job for people who are dedicated to their creative careers, and who understand creative industries from the inside out. 

In an interview with We Are White Fox, Cochrane shared her insider tips for effective food styling: 

  • It’s important to consider colour, texture, and shape – because “the first bite is with the eye.”
  • Don’t prioritise style over substance. Food styling isn’t just about how something looks; it’s also about how it’s cooked, and how you can reflect the culinary skills involved in the final presentation of the dish.
  • If you have ambitions as a food stylist, get comfortable with social media. It’s a great platform to showcase your personal styling portfolio. 

So what’s the future of food styling? 

In short: the future is bright. 

Right now, food style is shaped by consumer trends that are moving away from ultra-processed food products – so food styling has a growing focus on authenticity, using design strategies that showcase natural ingredients. There’s also a movement towards more artistic food photography; with creative composition and innovative use of light and shadow. 

A recent report by The Luupe suggests that women are playing an important role in shaping the future of food photography: enriching the field with storytelling, motion, animated GIFs and bold colours. 

And overall, the demand for food stylists is projected to grow by 14% from 2018 to 2028 – opening up new creative jobs for food-focused artists.

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