Wednesday, March 14, 2012

On the Fourth Day they Ate...

So my next foray into food styling came in the shape of an editorial spread for  Country Living magazine with  photographer Carol Dunne. The editorial shoots are very different from the advertising and packaging shoots as the styling is slightly more relaxed and 'realistic' and it is usually focused on recipes rather than one product. 

Me and Carol taking a pic of the Chicken
The good news here is that editorial shoots are interesting from both a styling point of view and a cooking point of view. We made six amazing dishes, one of which was a roast chicken with a thyme and garlic butter smoothed under it's skin. I had never tried this before and so approached it eagerly but  very tentatively. On seeing my wimpy attempt at getting under the birds skin, Sharon took the butter, grasped the chicken and demonstrated a technique similar to that used in Chinese warfare. It was shocking to see and so satisfying to do! If you thought Maggie Thatcher had thick skin you should go and shove some butter under a chickens skin.

Beef  Noodles

So while the chicken roasted beautifully with its buttery lining going golden brown, we moved on to fresh mussels with an Asian broth. A few of the dishes had Asian flavours and even though I am confident with those ingredients, I learnt that while they can pack a punch they can also be very subtle and delicate. I had worried that chilies, garlic, ginger and lemongrass would overpower the flavour of the mussels but using coconut milk to form the broth really mellowed the intensity and worked a treat. The mussels were absolutely delicious. As were the beef with noodles and pak choi, the chicken and ham pies, the basil tagliatelle and of course, the Guinness and chocolate cake.

The food before the massacre

In fact it is here that 'good news' introduces us to it's evil twin - 'bad news'. The bad news is that I ate it all. It started innocently enough, having the mussels as our lunch. With seconds and then thirds and bread. The flag went up when it was thought best to 'sample' the beef. The last thing I can remember is Sharon handing me my third slice of Guinness Cake.
It had been such a  fun day, lots of laughs, I had learnt a tonne and we had got all of the food cooked and styled. I should have been happy with my lot and left it at that, but no. I wanted more. I wanted to eat my work. It was indecent and unnecessary, and I will absolutely 100 % do it again.

Setting the beef noodles up for the photo

My Nemesis


  • It may be common sense, but when making a sauce or mixture with something like butter or creme fraiche, loosen it up by beating it on its own before adding the other ingredients. This helps to keep the flavours from being 'overworked' but helps to make the mix easy to work.

  • Don't pigeon hole ingredients. Stout in a chocolate cake, chilies and ginger acting subtly. Beef and noodles out about with little more than a smile and a dash of soy sauce! I had forgotten that great produce speaks for itself and even the usual punchy flavours can be modest when needs be.

  • If putting flavored butter under chicken skin, son't be timid - it can take it!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Vegetables...The Good the Bad and the Ugly

So after a weekend in Paris where I ate my way through every Boulangerie that stood in my way, I returned to a week filled with vegetables. Similar to the steak and sausage shoot last week, this was for packaging/advertising (as opposed to editorial). Meaning that the product has to be perfect because the camera gets really close and very personal. We call the food that gets the main focus of attention 'The Hero', it's the pick of the bunch, the Angelina Jolie or George Clooney  if you will (and I know you would).

Me sorting the peas
Yes, Maybe, Definitely Not

 If you thought you had problems with wrinkles, bumps and lumps, spare a thought for peas and sweetcorn. If they aren't up to a stylists cut-throat standards they are literally pushed cruelly to one side. Myself and Sharon searched through mountains of peas, corn, sprouts, carrots and baby potatoes searching for Britain and Ireland's Next Top Veg. We were ruthless in the cull. Making  'Yes', 'Maybe' and 'Face only a Mother could Love' piles, we sorted through the miniature vegetables looking for our 'heroes'. Once our little caped crusaders were selected we arranged them, being meticulous in making it look like they just landed in that position - as a pea is wont to do. A splash of oil and a dash of va va voom later and we had a wrap!
So the moral of the story is - vegetables are like women, it takes a long time and a lot of work to look that natural.

Test shots of the corn

Sharon blotting the peas.

Close up of the rejects. Harsh but true.

Getting the peas ready for their close up

Lily and Zara with the 'Hero Peas'
Lily Markovic and the Leaning Tower of Carrots

Sharon, the Magic Stick and the Hero Corn. Would make a great movie.


  • When you're styling green vegetables always blanche never boil.
  • Brush veg with water or oil to keep them looking vibrant and glossy.
  • Even peas have a good side.