Sunday, February 26, 2012

Styling it up - Peasant chic

Jack and Carol taking test shots
Another week, another fabulous country estate... it's a hard life. We loaded up The Van with our Avoca swag and hit the road for The Village at Lyons where the Irish Country Magazine shoot was taking place. The focus of the shoot was four Irish food bloggers, Imen McDonnellLorna SixsmithElla McSweeney and Pat Whelan. The Fantastic Four were asked to bring along some of their favourite foods, edible nostalgia to capture what home cooking means to them.

The style brief was a picnic-y sort of vibe, or as Sharon christened it 'peasant chic'. We had the props, we had the location, we had the food. We did not have the weather. Standing shivering in the courtyard,  we said goodbye to the perfect (and colossal) wooden picnic table and retreated inside to warmer climes. Luckily there just so happened to be a gorgeous conservatory that was filled with warm light (this was Carol and Jack talking, I was just glad to be indoors). We shimmied the tables into place, brought in a few garden chairs and Sharon did her magic with nothing but a table cloth and smile on her face.

Quiche and clotted cream by Lorna
This shoot was different from the first one because there was no cooking involved, which meant that I could really learn a lot about the styling process. String and brow paper were never put to such good use! You can see some of Sharon's handy work in the pictures - pears sat on pillows of hidden paper giving the appearance of abundance, flowers were hog tied in such a way that they hung lazily over the edge of the wicker basket and if in doubt, use a kilner jar.
Pat Whelan's brawn and pink horseradish
styled up with string paper and Pat's labels.

The food that the bloggers brought was stunning (and delicious - we devoured it later on), Lorna's spotted dick looked gorgeous nestled in red gingham beside clouds of clotted cream. Pat's

Imen brought Cider cordial,
dulse butter and cardamon marmalade
sausage rolls were introduced to the now infamous string and brown paper. Dulse butter from Imen sat proudly beside her bread and cardamon marmalade, purple petals of dulse scattered close by. Ella had brought a leg of lamb....and a piece of the ground. Yes, an actual slice of the ground, a little mini lawn bordered by purple heather. So with health and safety in mind, the lamb was placed on baking paper and then perched on the tiny wild garden. As Ella and Pat said, this is what the lamb eats, so it's what flavours the meat. This was not all of the food, they had outdone themselves, brawn and pink horseradish, quiches, cordials, flapjacks...all scrumdidlyumptious!

Ella's lamb on a bed of heather

Imen, Lorna, Pat and Ella during the shoot
The style side of the shoot was great to see but it was hilarious to see the twitterati at work, the Fantastic Four, Sharon, Yvonne the editor, even little ol' me went into social networking overdrive while Jack and Carol snapped it all up. The buzz was great, the bloggers were able to dig in to their food and share and chat which made the whole thing really dynamic.

You can see the finished article in Irish Country Magazine out 29th March.

Packaging Shoot

With another successful day done, the next lesson came in the form of a packaging shoot.
The aim here is to make sure the product gets pride of place, looks extremely appetising and fits on to the available space on the package itself.
With the sausages we shaped them gently in our hands before lightly colouring them all over in a frying pan. The problem is that the skin can wrinkle easily so the heat can't get too high. Once they have been lightly fried they were transferred to the mini work station where Sharon was armed with lots of brushes and various sauces. Browning is to sausages as fake tan is to a pasty Irish girl. Careful application and a bit of trial and error left us with a batch of delicious looking but highly inedible sausages. I hate it when my food plays hard to get.

Sharon and her sausage beauty salon 

Giving a steak a little 'nip and tuck'
- using a pin to hold a rogue section of meat in place

Me using oil and browning to make the steak look extra tasty

Introducing 'The Magic Stick' -
when everything is in place and your dealing with the ideal position of a crushed peppercorn, the Magic Stick is your best friend.

 What I learned


  • Kilner jars, glass bottles, parchment paper, whatever it is, just remember that when your styling your food, packaging is everything. It's a shallow world we live in.
  • Don;t be scared to add a little lift or volume using paper or card. It can give the impression of abundance and in the steak pictured above, a little card was used to keep it sitting properly.
  • Always add to a plate or glass gradually. While a plate can be changed if a mistake is made, it's always easier to add to rather than take from.
  • On a similar vein, NEVER through anything away with out asking everyone involved if it definitely done. You never now when someone may realise you've missed a shot or thin of a new idea. 
  • If you have a glass in the shot, place the glass in position and then add the liquid. This avoids tide mars on the glass that happen when you walk with it filled.
  • Vary heights of objects in your photo as it adds more interest.
  • If the griddle lines on your steak or bacon aren't prominent, carefully hold a metal skewer over a flame and then sear it on to the flesh. This creates a similar effect.
Recipe Testing...
  • When thinking of new recipes use imagination and don't be put off if it doesn't work first time round. Make a few adjustments and try again. 
  • If you aren't able to think outside the box, look inside it for inspiration and put a new spin on a classic recipe. Play with flavours you like in a recipe you trust.
  • And as before, when testing recipes weigh the food as often as possible and take note of it at each step. Like the old saying can never be too rich, too skinny or too eager to weigh ingredients...


  1. "sausage beauty salon" - I love to see Sharon at work!

  2. Hi Caroline, yep, you should see her with a heat gun!