If you love food, but the cheffing lifestyle isn’t for you, why not be a food stylist? Phillippa Spence, junior stylist in training for Jamie Oliver, talked to us about what it is, and how you can do it (NB it doesn’t involve putting a skirt on a roast chicken).

What does a food stylist actually do?

Food styling used to involve completely inedible products, because the end result would be quite fake looking. Now, people like to see what they could make as opposed to showing them something they could never achieve. You work with the photographer, make sure you have natural lighting and focus on the angles and the colours. Do the colours in the food complement the props? Is it arranged to look at attractive as possible?

Every job’s different – we do editorial, TV, the restaurant menus… basically anything and everything relating to the food. You’re either given a brief or someone will come and tell you what they want – sometimes there’s a theme, sometimes there are props they need etc so you go and do shopping. There’s usually a prep day for you to do the cooking and practise.

If it’s a TV shoot, you’re working alongside and supporting a huge team so you do a little bit of everything. You end up being a jack of all trades.

Any food that’s particularly tricky to style?

Oh yeah – spaghetti! You have to fold it in and make sure it doesn’t look weird, which can take time. And stews or soups as well are quite difficult, especially if they’ve got loads of bits in them; you have to show a little bit of everything in the picture. But we don’t like to give away too many secrets, it’s important to keep an air of mystery…

How did you become a food stylist?

There’s no set path, but you have to have a background and an interest in food. I did a food GCSE in school and always knew there was more out there as the classes were quite regimented so decided to become a chef and go to catering college. The chef lifestyle wasn’t really for me, so once I’d got my NVQ I did a degree in Food and Consumer Management, which was quite science-based. Every year someone from my college got to do work experience with Jamie Oliver’s company, so I did it when I was 19. And I’m still here at 24!

What’s the best advice you have for people wanting to be food stylists?

Apart from loving food (you don’t have to be the world’s best chef, or even a chef at all – one of the girls I work with did a fine art degree but had a farmers’ market stall while at uni), networking is so important! Have a look in food magazines, they’ll show you who styled the food and, if there’s someone you particualrly like, contact them directly and see if you can do some work experience. Usually when people are freelance they have assistants for various things, but even if you just observe a shoot, it’s really important to have that experience.

What’s the hardest part about food styling?

The hours can be long – if you don’t get the shot, you have to stay until you do – but it’s important to just get on with it, and support the rest of your team. It’s also lots of fun and every project you’re asked to do is different. Another great thing is how much you learn as you go along; there’s always something new happening.

If you liked this article, why not have a look at… 

How to get into the food industry

Five ingredients for succeeding in the food industry

How to get into the food and drink industry