Today, says Grimes, food styling is more about storytelling, a narrative. There are crumbs and smudges in today's photography—subtle hints of enjoyment—"but hopefully all that half-eaten food is gone," he sighs, recalling burgers shot with big bites taken out of them, or the pièce de résistance, a chicken recipe image sans chicken, with only a picked-over, empty casserole dish left to convince the reader just how delicious the recipe must be. Overhead shots and deconstruction are big nowadays: A pizza photograph, for instance, will feature a partially assembled pizza and a few scattered ingredients, along with a freshly baked one, with slices removed—another kind of storytelling.
Then, of course, there's the element of chance. Romulo Yanes, former Gourmet magazine staff photographer, values Grimes' ability "to accept natural occurrences which happen on set and become happy accidents that make a food or a dish stand out and do its own thing." And for food photographer Miki Duisterhof, Grimes' gift is the deepest kind of instinct: "We speak the same language when we speak about food. It's not just a job for Paul. This is where he lives."
Amid the trends, and across countless collaborations, Grimes has developed his own signature. "I try to achieve these curvy paintbrush movements—the squiggly parts—reminiscent of the graffiti-like scribbles in my drawings and paintings," he confides to me. "It's like a mental game. The dips, the creams, they all have a sort of movement." Spoken like an artist, from the palette to the palate.