Everyone thinks food styling is just showing up and putting some cookies on a plate. I’m here to tell you it’s much harder than that. The photo shoot for July’s “Rollin’ on the River” story proves it.
The shoot was in upstate New York. It was a really hot day with really hot people, so we were all extremely distracted. When the models peeled off their layers and got into the river, the prop stylist was so beside herself she had the vapors. One of the assistants came into the kitchen and said, “Oh…my…God. The sweat running down their bodies…”
I had other things to think about. The shoot was in a boathouse (with no kitchen) at the bottom of a hill; I was cooking at the top of the hill. When I have an awkward location like that, where I have to transport the food down a long gravelly road, I get so exhausted I feel delirious, like I might not be thinking straight. But I was clearheaded enough that day to know that I couldn’t carry the assembled Mascarpone-Filled Cake with Sherried Berries all the way down the hill. I had to put it together on the spot.
I halved the cake, spread the cream, pressed on the top, and piled on the fruit. I’m pretty fast; I try not to make my food look overstudied. But I have to be careful. On that river dock, I didn’t even have the luxury of a sink. I couldn’t say, “Oh, I spilled the sauce all over the plate.” If the raspberries and blackberries rolled off the top, they’d stain the tablecloth. There couldn’t be any accidents.
We got the cake just so. Three minutes later, the bees started buzzing around. They were going all over this beautiful cake, aiming for the fruit on top. So we waved away the bees with our arms, cardboard, anything, then backed off and snapped a picture. We did that for a while: wave, back off, snap, wave, back off, snap. Then we realized the shadows of us waving over the cake showed up in the photos, so we had to move the cake from one location to another until we got our shot. Bees are a drag.
The one good thing about the shoot? The Beef Tenderloin with Smoked-Paprika Mayonnaise was one of the most beautiful shots I’ve ever done. Like all of the dishes in the River menu, the beef should be served room temperature. That made it easier for me to style—no congealing fat!—and easier for you to serve at home.