Food & Drink » Glenda Bartosh on Food

Food and Drink

Food stylists have their challenges – especially when it’s for TV



In the world of TV commercials, it’s known as a “bite and smile”, but I think they should rename it a “bite and spit”.

It’s when the actor bites into a big, juicy something, in this case let’s say a hamburger, and smiles a big, wide, juicy smile while munching away in front of the camera. Once the shot is in the can, so to speak, so is the mouthful of burger, since the burger has been partially assembled for the camera using substances that, while edible, are best left un-swallowed.

This procedure, as you can imagine, can be a bit dodgy with child actors who love the taste of fast food and can’t resist chowing down a bite of each burger, even if the lettuce has been stuck to the bun with gelatin. And lord knows they might go through 20 or 30 burgers to get the right shot.

All of these behind-the scenes marvels were revealed recently by Nathan Fong during a public lecture hosted by Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design on Granville Island.

Nathan is an award-winning Vancouver-based chef and food stylist. Besides writing about food and styling food for cameras and audiences both still and moving, he has cooked up a number of conceptual projects, including one for the CBC Radio show, Ideas. For that he replicated the meal — or at least part of it — that Kubilai Khan served to a young Marco Polo and 40,000 other guests in 1275.

Whether it’s for radio or TV or Whistler’s own Cornucopia, Nathan leads an interesting life making food look or taste as good as it can get.

Given the old adage, we eat with our eyes, it’s no wonder a good food stylist can command $25,000 and up to make a hamburger look appetizing, tantalizing, even sexy — in short, like a star — for a one-minute TV commercial.

To be clear, it’s not just a single stylist at work earning that kind of dough. Don’t laugh, but it usually takes an entire team doting on that hamburger.

First of all, they might go through 200-300 buns to find the perfect specimens, and even those are a composite. Someone will go through the entire rack fresh from the bakery, matching tops to bottoms, avoiding misshapen ones, thin ones, ones that are too brown, ones that aren’t brown enough, the ones with the single dark sesame seed.