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Food and Drink

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

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I should point out that in the case of commercials, either TV or print, truth in advertising rules. That means what you see is what you get.

It all harkens back to a bad move Campbell’s soup made in the States. For a print ad featuring one of their soups, a few marbles were placed in the bottom of the soup bowl to make the veggies float to the surface so they would be visible for the camera.

Somebody must have said, hey, my Campbell’s soup doesn’t look like that when I make it, and bingo, Campbell’s was in the soup.

Since then professional food stylists and their clients have been very careful, indeed. With only a few small structural and cosmetic exceptions, the food portrayed must be made exactly as it would be created in the restaurant or fast-food outlet it comes from. Besides, customers expect the food they’re served to be what they see in the poster or commercial.

So if you’re doing a commercial for, say, A&W Teen Burgers, someone has to stand there and carefully weigh the pickles, and the Teen sauce, and the all-beef patty to make sure each is the same-sized portion as you’d get in the restaurant.

In terms of visuals, key elements are subjected to a huge amount of attention, almost like each has its own personal assistant and make-up artist.

Take the patty, for instance. Once the correct weight has been determined, patties are carefully shaped and cooked — and it is patties, plural, for even if there is only one hamburger in a shot, it may take dozens to complete the commercial, as actors bite away and succumb to all the foibles of acting, or the burger simply wilts after an hour or two of shooting under hot lights, or wasps take over the subject, if you’re shooting outdoors.

In the search for perfection, a food stylist will drag out a ruler from his extensive “tool kit” to make sure the patties are the right diameter for maximum visibility in a side shot. Then out comes the blowtorch to make the edges a nice, appetizing brown tone.

According to Nathan, some stylists will make up patties up to a week in advance to save time on the set, a good idea when there might be a crew of up to 30 standing around if there’s a delay. These pre-mades have to be submerged in oil to prevent them from turning dark from oxidation.

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