Mar 17, 2015

San Francisco's Personal Chef Garbo proves that improving your food photography improves your business! Loved meeting her in one of our classes in 2008 and am have loved watching her grow and thrive. This article is very informative for anyone looking to burst to the next level in their culinary ventures.

Mar 10, 2015

Using Photos and Recipes to Effectively Sell your Catering Business

Appetizing food photos and well-written recipes engage readers and tell a story about your food, your style, and your expertise. To get photos and recipes worth sharing, you’ll need to approach them from your viewers’ perspective. People are busy; don’t make them work at understanding what they are looking at. Make your photos simple and colorful and your recipes brief and easy to understand.

Jon Edwards Photography

Before whipping out your camera, or even making your food, decide what you want to accomplish. Do you want to create interest in one of your catering menus? Are you celebrating a season, an occasion, a special type of food? Make sure your photograph isn’t cluttered with irrelevant elements that distract the eye.

Will the photo be used large or small? The smaller the photo, the simpler the elements should be. Who are your intended viewers? Where are they from, and what would they find interesting? Are they be put off by photos of upscale food? Or would they be bored by anything as pedestrian as comfort food? A June newsletter featuring an incredible wedding cake will have a completely different look and feel than a web page featuring barbecue recipes.

Whenever you cater an event, make an extra dish and set it aside to photograph during a lull or after you have served your guests. Keep sauces separate and greens undressed. Cover the food with several damp paper towels to prevent it from drying out. Arrange your entire menu on a counter or polished table. Use your smartphone, digital camera, or iPad to take a picture.
Learn easy photo-editing techniques with free apps. Not only is it fun, but you will have marketing pieces of your food at your fingertips!

I teach food-styling classes as well as catering across the United States. My career keeps growing. But, truly, my entire platform is food presentation. One of the food-styling workshops I teach is marketed to caterers, bloggers, and personal chefs. My goal is to make any artwork you put on your blog or website, in a newsletter, or on a recipe card look appealing.
Below are some cheap tricks for anybody to apply to his or her food photos. When I catered exclusively, I never had enough money in my budget to hire a professional photographer. That’s why I learned to do it myself. 

Jon Edwards Photography

Tips for Making Food Photos Appetizing
Undercook your food. Food loses moisture as it cooks and shrinks as it cools. Cook food only long enough so that it no longer looks raw. You can always color too-light areas or apply heat with a kitchen torch, such as one you would use for crème brûlée.

Have an extra of what you’re shooting so you can fill holes, prop up, or replace anything that doesn’t look good. For example, make two grilled chicken breasts—one to photograph, one to use for patching.

Make sure your prep is meticulous. Go through the product and get rid anything wilted, old, or unsightly. Cut, chop, and slice precisely.

When designing a plate, consider color (contrasting or complimentary), texture, and balance.

Create elevation and movement. Prop pieces up from the back to create definition. Make a hidden base under food to hold it in place, using shortening, damp paper towels, cosmetic wedges, or even mashed potatoes.

Plan for the use of garnishes. Have appropriate herbs, lemons or limes, or extra ingredients to use if needed.

Know that cool food photographs better than hot food. Make cool or room temperature food look hot by adding moisture and shine. Brush with oil or mist with spray oil. You can also spray your food with water or brush with a little corn syrup.

Use any available light. If needed, use a shiny sheet pan, a white cutting board, or a hand mirror as a reflector for added light.

Study food photographs you like. What do they have in common?

Less is more. Appreciate how the camera’s eye is different than your eye. You don’t need to have a sliced mushroom in every square inch of your food to know that it contains sliced mushrooms; one or two will get your point across without making the image messy.

A Caterer’s Food-Styling Kit
You can improve your photos by using professional food-styling equipment and tricks. Keep these items in a small tool bag and have them with you whenever you cook:

  • Butane kitchen torch-top with fuel
Purchase the inexpensive top that fits onto eight-ounce butane canisters (the same canisters used in portable burners) to quickly cook food surfaces, melt cheese, or brown fatty areas.
  • Corn syrup
Brush corn syrup onto the surface of meats to emphasize highlights and shine. Stir into thin sauces to add body or into thick sauces to thin down.

  • Cosmetic sponges, wedge-shaped
Use sponges to prop up food and adjust the angle for your camera. Use small pieces of sponge to lift and separate similar elements that look flat in photos (like pancakes).
  • Cotton balls
Give stuffed foods lightweight structure. Pull cotton balls apart a little bit and fill the center of omelets and burritos to keep them from collapsing.
  • Cotton swabs
Use cotton swabs for cleaning those tiny, hard-to-reach places.
  • Denture cream
Denture cream, like Polygrip or Fixodent, is designed to stick surfaces together in a warm, moist environment, making it a perfect glue for food. I use it to solve all kinds of food problems, including fixing broken pieces of meat; gluing pita bread together; holding fillings inside sliced items like stuffed meats, burritos, and wraps; and keeping slippery items in place.
  • Fruit Fresh
Fruit Fresh is an anti-oxidizing agent that keeps foods from browning. It also revives wilted greens and herbs.
  • Heat gun or paint stripper
It may look like a hair dryer but it gets much, much hotter. Use a heat gun to melt cheese, warm food surfaces, or even brown small areas of food.
  • Kitchen Bouquet
Kitchen Bouquet is a gravy browning agent made from caramelized vegetables. It can be used to color all kinds of foods and liquids. Add a tiny bit at a time to darken sauces or brush onto meats. Dilute it with water (about six parts water to one part Kitchen Bouquet) and store in a small spray bottle; spray lightly over meats and poultry to darken. Gravy Master is another popular brand.
  • Museum Wax, Quake Hold, or Florist Clay
Use these to hold items firmly in place. Sometimes that fork just doesn’t want to stay on the rim of the plate—put a small bead of Museum Wax underneath the fork and it won’t move.
  • Rubbing alcohol
Rubbing alcohol dissolves fat and grease. Dip a soft paintbrush in rubbing alcohol, then wipe very gently across the surface of a cut cake to remove excess frosting. The rubbing alcohol will evaporate in a few minutes and the cake will look perfect. This trick also dissolves the white fat that rises to the surface of cooked fish. Just remember to keep cleaning the fat or frosting off your paintbrush.
  • Spray oil
Lightly spray foods to add shine. This works for nearly everything except greens. Oil on greens looks greasy and makes them wilt very quickly. Spray oil will also make food look moist and hot long after it has cooled down and dried out.

  • Small paintbrushes
Have a dozen in a variety of sizes. I buy the cheap sets from discount and craft stores. They work great, are easy to replace, and I don’t worry about ruining them.
  • Spray bottles
Have small (two- to four-ounce) bottles filled with water and browning spray. Browning spray works on most proteins; water refreshes the look of greens and, if you’re close enough to see it, adds droplets of water to raw vegetables.
  • Squeeze bottles
Use these for precise placement of sauces and liquids.
  • T-pins
These work great to secure things together, like the slices of a spiral cut ham, wayward pasta, or layers of a sandwich.
  • Toothpicks
Use these like you would use T-pins, or use in place of your fingers to move stuff around and to keep food in place.
  • Vaseline
Use this to glue broken food together. Only use Vaseline on room temperature or cooler foods—it liquefies if it becomes too warm. Combine Vaseline with crumbs of food to patch holes.
  • Windex
Spray Windex on cosmetic sponges or swabs to remove smudges and mistakes from plates and glasses.

Jon Edwards Photography

There are a couple of rules to keep in mind when writing recipes. It doesn’t matter how much or how little cooking experience your audience has, you should be as clear, consistent, and brief as you can. Follow a standard recipe format beginning with a title, header, and serving size, followed by ingredients and directions.

Use a title that is descriptive but not too long. Cinnamon Coffee Cake doesn’t give very much information; Grandma Bea’s Cinnamon Crunch Raisin Coffee Cake with Caramel and Fresh Blueberries is exhausting; but Grandma Bea’s Cinnamon Crunch Coffee Cake is nice.

Headers are where you can expand upon the ingredients, origins, ethnicity, and preparation notes, or insert your personality, sense of humor, and memories. A header can be placed before a recipe or between the recipe name and the ingredients.

Serving Size
Serving sizes should be kept to four or six servings unless you are giving a recipe for cookies, sauces, or other items usually made in larger batches.

Always list ingredients in the order they are used in the directions. If an ingredient is used twice, put both usages on the same line, such as “2 tablespoons plus 1 cup olive oil.”

It makes no difference whether you use “tablespoons” or “tbsp.” as long as you are consistent. If you shorten “tablespoon” to “tbsp.,” you should also shorten “pound” to “lb.” and “ounce” to “oz.”

When using a packaged amount of an ingredient, like canned whole tomatoes, specify the package or can size: “1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes.”

If an ingredient needs to be at room temperature (or warm or chilled), state this in the ingredient list: “1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature.”

Be specific when listing ingredients that are available in different varieties, like milk (whole, low fat, nonfat?). Include garnishes in your ingredient list.

Be specific, simple, and clear. List steps in the order that you prepare them. (See Ways to Write Clear Recipes, page XX, for excellent recipe writing tips.) End recipes with serving instructions: “Let cool 5 minutes before slicing and serving.” Or “Spoon sauce over top and serve immediately.”

Recipe Example:Tangerine Spinach Salad
Makes 6 servings

This colorful, fresh salad has pistachio nuts, dates, and a slightly sweet dressing that complements the spinach. This recipe can be doubled or tripled, and the dressing can be made up to two days ahead if refrigerated in an airtight container.

1 (5-ounce) package baby spinach
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tangerines, peeled and segmented
6 dates, pitted and sliced
1/3 cup thinly sliced red onion
1/4 cup shelled pistachios
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

Place spinach in a large bowl. Place olive oil, vinegar, salt, and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk until creamy. Pour over spinach and toss to coat. Add remaining ingredients, tossing to coat. Serve immediately.

Ways to Write Clear Recipes
There is no one better than writing and editing everything culinary than Dianne Jacob. She is the author of Will Work for Food: The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More. The suggestions below are from her fun and informative blog,

Writing is rewriting, as the saying goes, and that applies to recipe writing too. When I’m editing recipes for clients, whether individuals or publishers, part of my job is to line edit. That means rewriting to make the instructions clearer.
Line editing requires constant vigilance. I tighten, choose the most specific word, clarify, and strive for elegance. There’s a fine line between spelling everything out and not being too obvious. Sometimes I vote for the reader and common sense instead of more explanation.

Avoid mixtures. This kind of instruction makes me crazy: “Mix together two mixtures with a mixer, and then mix the mixtures together in a mixing bowl.” First of all, there are six uses of versions of “mix” in one sentence. That’s just nuts! If you keep referring to “mixtures,” your reader has to go back and figure out which ones you’re talking about. And trust me, you never want to mix up your reader. Substitute specific words or terms for a mixture, such as batter, custard, wet ingredients, and dry ingredients. And for heaven’s sake, don’t add more “mix” words to make your sentence even more confusing.
Set aside “set aside.” I don’t like overused terms, especially superfluous ones. Here’s an example: “Prepare a pan. Set aside. Combine the apples and sugar. Set aside. Prepare the mixture. Set aside.” Stop setting things aside. Just go on with your recipe.
No need for two words that mean the same thing. You don’t need the word “in” for these examples: “Add in the cold water.” “Gradually add in the flour.” Just add it.

Trim, trim, trim. Verbosity is one of the most common problems for editors, and I’ve got plenty of examples:
“Roll out the dough with a rolling pin.” What else are readers going to roll it out with? Stick with “Roll out the dough.” Similarly, “Place the cookies 2 inches apart from one another” works just as well by eliminating the words “from one another.”
Replace the sentence “Transfer to the refrigerator to chill” with the word “chill.”
No need to say “Place in the oven” when just “bake” or “roast” works fine.
There’s rarely a reason to tell people to remove food from the oven either.
No need to top with a topping. “Spread the chocolate topping on top of the cake.” Hmm. I’m either getting rid of top or topping, since both don’t work in one sentence. I changed it to a sauce. A chocolate topping and a chocolate sauce are similar enough.

Things don’t begin to happen—they happen. There’s usually no reason to say, “When the soup begins to boil.” Nothing is lost if you just write “When the soup boils.”
Write like you talk. I like recipes that read the way that someone talks. No one ever says, “To a large oven-safe sauté pan, add the butter and melt it.” Besides, starting a sentence with an action verb is livelier. So try “Add the butter to a large oven-safe sauté pan and melt it over medium-high heat.”

No permission needed. No need to let or allow objects to do things, such as “Allow the cake to cool” or “Let the soaked beans sit on the counter overnight.” For the first sentence, the word “cool” is sufficient in its entirety. For the second, “Soak beans overnight at room temperature” is sufficient and specific.

Don’t state the obvious. If you end a recipe with “Serve hot, cold, warm, or at room temperature,” what’s left? There is no other way to serve it. I deleted the sentence. Since the writer had no preference, there’s no need to mention it.

I’ll leave you with a good one, on the same theme. I found this line at the end of an ice cream recipe: “Serve frozen.”

Feb 26, 2015

Laugh at the Horror. An interview with Denise.

Photo Source

Whenever possible, I always take the time to speak with students. They are the future! The lovely Amelia St. John from Emerson College asked me to share some of my experience.

During the process of drafting up a professional, yet friendly email that captured the essence of this assignment, I spent about an hour carefully wording what came out to be about a significant paragraph in length. After sending it on a Tuesday evening, almost immediately, I received a response; a very informal, “Yes-I am in Peru! Can talk this Thursday or Friday!” followed by “Sent from my iPhone.” Again, I sent a formal follow-up that was met with an equally informal and straight to the point response telling me that if I send the questions, she will answer. From these first few messages, it could easily be seen that Denise Vivaldo is a busy woman who means business.

Growing up in San Francisco, Denise had two sisters and began a career selling real estate in her family’s business. She now makes her career as a professional food stylist, former culinary professor, and author of eight books including The Food Stylist’s Handbook. This wide range of business ventures Denise has dived into perfectly exemplifies the advice she gave to anyone interested in food styling: “You have to be able to wear a lot of hats. Be bold. Develop a tough skin.” She did just that. “My parents were horrified,” she replied when asked how they reacted to her decision to start her career in food. “I was selling real estate in my family’s business [and] I made a lot of money. They wanted me to stay selling.”

Although she dreamed of becoming a princess as a child, a dream that she jokingly says did not change through middle school and high school, Denise attributes her inspiration to pursue culinary training to her love of cooking and giving parties, adding “When I realized Prince Charming was not coming...I thought, I’ll cook.” She said of being a newcomer in the area of food, “You need to be prepared to be broke for a year or two. […] Expect life to be hard. It’s the journey, not the finish.”

After her career change, Denise began her culinary training at the Ritz Escoffier and La Varenne in Paris. Catering, she says, was her first stepping stone on the path to becoming a food stylist. “You transform a backyard into a dreamland…and I love colors and beauty. It comes naturally.” Of course though, Denise faced obstacles as she broke into the business. Male chefs, she answered, were a big obstacle but she, in her own words, “learned to laugh and get over them,” before strongly stating that she does not give up. Denise’s many hats can also be seen in other aspects of her life, one I noticed as I watched videos on her blog displaying one of her classes in the area of food styling for photography. She was inspired by the idea of paying it forward when she came up with the concept for instructing a class based on her knowledge. “It’s a small industry and a whole lot of great people helped me.”

Denise experienced a very strong outpouring of support and interest in teaching food styling classes. She has taught for 10 years in countries all over the world but she is also very interested in writing. She chose her favorite area of expertise as being her experiences with writing a cookbook. “I love to compose a picture […] You start with an idea and 244 pages later…you have a book!” In order to be successful and happy, food, she said, needs to be your whole life, just as it is in hers. “You need to love food…more than money, shoes, or your family.” Denise related one of the best days of her life to her love for food and where that has taken her, saying that her most memorable experience has been working with Betty White for a day on TVLand. She left me with some advice before concluding the interview: “Learn to prioritize. Be focused. Laugh at the horror […] follow your dream.”

Feb 9, 2015

Gluten Free Nutty Fudge Cake

Jon Edwards Photography

Gluten Free Nutty Chocolate Fudge Cake

This dense and rich cake will keep for up to a week at room temperature if stored in an airtight container.

8 ounces chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup almond meal
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 cup chopped walnuts

1.         Preheat oven to 350°F.

2.         Spray an 8-inch springform pan with non stick cooking spray.

3.         Place dark chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl and heat on high at 30 second intervals, stirring between intervals, until chocolate has melted and is smooth. Set aside.

4.         In a medium bowl stir together almond meal, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt.

5.         In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat sugar and butter until creamy.

6.         Add eggs one at a time to butter mixture, beating well after each addition. Continue beating until mixture has turned pale and creamy, about 5 minutes.

7.         Beat in melted chocolate and vanilla until just blended.

8.         Fold in dry ingredients and walnuts.

9.         Pour into prepared springform pan and bake until cooked through, about 35 minutes. Let cool before cutting.

Makes 8 servings.

Dec 10, 2014

Food Photographer Michael Ray Reviews The Food Stylist's Handbook

Michael Ray is a Pittsburgh-based food photographer, and we were delighted that he took the time to review The Food Stylist's Handbook!

Even though I’m a food photographer and not a food stylist, I found this book very interesting and quite informative.  I’ve been around more than a few different food stylists over the  years, and I’ve always found it to be fascinating, how different stylists attack the same problem in different ways.  Food Photographers probably have this in common with them.  I think the reason for this is that we are all in our own little bubbles, and afraid to share the tricks of the trade with our competitors. I know I’m guilty of this, so it’s nice to see someone willing to share and teach the next generation. Denise, you did a great job.

As you can imagine, this book is full of some amazingly beautiful food photography and some  great behind the scenes photos too. I can only ponder the hours she took to write and assemble all this information and great content.

Table of Contents:

Food Styling as a career
What a food stylist does
The Different Niches of Food Styling
Starting a food styling business
Building a styling kit
Marketing your food styling business
Making money and selling your services Preparing for magic time
Tricks of the trade

The book spends a lot of pages talking about the career of food styling, including a brief history, FAQs, the traits of a good food stylist, the importance of a culinary background, who the clients are, and how to get started in the career. AND that’s only the first chapter! This book is a treasure trove of information for the aspiring food stylist, and would be a great textbook of any future course taught about the subject of food styling.

That’s all well and good, but as food photographers, what’s in it for us, you might ask…?  After all, why would a food photographer want to buy a book about food styling?
This is what I took away from the book:

1. First off, it’s kind of interesting to see the behind-the-scenes photos from so many different food photography studios.  In my career, I’ve only seen one, and that one is mine.  So it’s nice to at least get a glimpse at other studios.  And the food photos are inspiring too.  They’re definitely fist class, and I’m going to have look in the credits of the book to see who I should add to my “100 Best Food Photographers” list.

2. A little while back, I assembled my own little food styling kit to take on location, as sort of a “just in case” collection of useful tools for when I was forced to do a little styling on my own.  Boy, what a good idea that was!  I’ve used it several times and have even loaned it to one of my regular stylists when she discovered that she had inadvertently left her kit at home one day.  I would highly recommend that if you are a food photographer, that you put together a similar kit, and what should you put in that kit?  Well, Denise goes into great detail about what’s in her kit.  Your kit doesn’t have to be as extravagant, but her kit is a really great source for ideas of the items that you might want to include in your own kit.

3. The chapter of the book that generates the most sales is probably the one entitled “Tricks of the Trade”.  Denise goes into great detail on the following subjects:

Tricks for shooting poultry
How to make great grill marks
How to make different cuts and types of meat look good
How to make waves in your bacon
Burger making tricks
Coloring your meats to get the correct tone
The tricks of cutting and placing condiments
How to “build” a sandwich
How to fluff up pancakes
How to substitute glue for milk in cereal shots
And the tricks go on, and on, and on, and on…

If you’re a beginning stylist and you don’t have this book, you’re CRAZY!

And if you’re a photographer, you probably should get this book too, because you never know when you’ll have a shoot where the stylist is struggling a little.  If she (or he) is, and you might be able to “tactfully” make a suggestion or two that can save the day.  If nothing else, you’ll be able to talk a little shop with new stylists and with clients so that they actually think you know what you’re doing, even if you don’t.

Or… You might be on location some day, working with a chef that makes really good tasting food, but maybe not really good looking food, and you can “tactfully” come to the rescue there too.   Just remember that “tactfully” part…

Click here to enjoy the review in its entirety.

Dec 8, 2014

Association Of Food Bloggers Learns How To Style

"As I stood in the check out line at the grocery store the other day, the beautiful images of the food splashed across the covers caught my eye. I couldn’t help picking up one to flip through as I waited. But I’m a little cynical now when it comes to these gorgeous spreads. You see, I recently attended a food styling class that gave away many of the tricks of trade to creating the images you see in the glossy magazines."

I had a great time teaching at The Cook's Warehouse in Atlanta recently. This is a lovely write up of our time by The Association of Food Bloggers based in Atlanta. Click here to enjoy the post in its entirety.