Smile For The Camera, Please…

Look at this sandwhich.

I found this photo on a friend’s feed on Facebook. Instantly I knew, I had to know the man who had created this sandwhich.

That man is Adam Pearson.

Adam is a food stylist. He is the man that makes food look good in the pages of magazines and commercials. He is the man who creates the ideal slice of pie. He makes you think that you, yes you, should be eating the food you’re looking at. Right now.

He has styled foodstuffs for such clients as Whole Foods, Food Network, Chiquita Banana (yes, THAT Chiquita), and POM Wonderful. Yes, this is the man who styled those fruits so beautifully that you HAD to buy and eat those lovely California pomegranates. You may even recognise his work from a previous post here on Passable.

He lives in California,with his partner, Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites and their super-cute dogs, Cholula, Bindi and Moxie.

Why food styling?

Why not! Actually I fell out of love with the idea of being a chef while I was in culinary school. It just wasn’t the life I wanted to live. TOO MUCH WORK! Late hours and I didn’t drink or smoke enough to hang with the cool chefs. I wanted to find a career where I could use what I learned in school that was creative and allowed me to be the boss.

But generally, culinary school and being a chef involves eating at some point. In food styling, the eating is removed to an idea. You’re preparing an idea or ideal of food. Isn’t that more stressful?

Don’t get me wrong, food styling is very stressful ! Clients are paying me big bucks to produce gorgeous food/images. There isn’t much room for error. Good communication with the client before the shoot gives me a better idea what they need and eliminates a little “stress”.

Are people becoming more aware of what is involved in food styling, or are they pretty oblivious to what it is?

I think people are more aware of what a food stylist is. They still ask a million questions about what I do with the food. There has always been a secrecy that surrounds food styling. Back in the days of film photography stylists had to develop tricks to make the food last for hours under hot lights. That’s where the Vaseline, dish soap, Scotch Guard, glycerin and Kitchen Bouquet came in. They were able to manipulate the food to make it look fresh. Now that we are in the digital era we are able to move quickly, doubling the amounts of shots that are done in a day. Food is cooked, styled and shot quickly so the need for old school trickery has become really almost unnecessary.

What is a typical day on a shoot like for you?

My job actually begins the day before, we shop and prep food for the day of the shoot. Most often if there is baking to be done we do it ahead of time. The day of we arrive on set with our bag of tricks, “tool kits”, bags and bags of food and get straight to work. Setting up the kitchen and organizing the work area. Then there is usually a chat with clients, art directors prop stylist and photographer, where we plan out the day and decide the order of the shots (meanwhile my assistant is in the kitchen prepping and making my life easier, love her!). Then we get to work, 8-10 recipes is the norm for a shoot day. That’s the norm for me.

Eight to ten sounds ridiculously ambitious. What kind of clients have you worked for?

Living in Southern California the majority of my clients are advertising and packaging. La Brea Bakery, Whole Foods, Bristol Farms, California Avocado and Chiquita Banana to name a few. I also work a lot in the Midwest for Kohl’s and the Food Network doing packaging and national ads. Cookbooks have become a big part of my work lately and those are so much fun!

What are some of the common tricks used, and why?

Oh we do have tricks, we do. First thing I do when I read a recipe is decide how I can cook it so it looks its best. Sometimes we deconstruct the recipe and cook things separately, or we might just build it differently on the plate. It’s common to see toothpicks holding things in place, syrup for pancakes sitting in the freezer until ready to pour (makes it thicker and a bit easier to control) cosmetic sponges propping up a piece of food and me burning everything and anything with my blow torch! It’s my job to make the food look good, so what ever it takes to keep things pretty and fresh we will figure out how to do it.

What is important in creating a great look? What kind of thought processes go into what you do?

Creating texture and movement play a big roll in what I do. I don’t want the food to just sit there, I want it to look fresh and have lots of movement. I might achieve this by laying each piece of pasta one at a time, or flipping a piece of lettuce upside down or sprinkling some extra crumbs on the plate next to the perfect slice of pizza. It’s the little things that are super important to me. I’m big on crumbs!

How would you describe your relationship to food?

I live to eat. Food has been very good to me. I’d say food and I have a wonderful relationship. It allows me to pay my bills and travel the world. I’m very lucky to have the job I have and very happy to work in such a creative and amazing industry.

Has your work changed your idea about how food should look?

Totally! I love the spills and crumbs of perfectly imperfect food. I want it to look real and as unfussy as possible.

What have been the easiest foods to work with? The hardest?

I try not to think about easy and hard. Granted ice cream is a pain, but you learn how to treat it and it gets better. No matter what the food is you need to figure out how to control it. For instance, a plate of refried beans, creating movement in something that’s pretty flat. That’s where I would incorporate some fun garnish, a few pieces of cilantro or a nice piece of lime. You just learn how to make things work.

You also work with your better half, Matt, on a lot of photo shoots. What is that like, to be working with your significant other?

People comment on that a lot, they don’t understand how we do it. It’s just easy, we work well together. A great team. In life and at work.

What do you want people to know about what you do?

That behind every photo of food is a whole team of people working together to make it happen. This job is very collaborative and that’s one of they many things I love about it. It’s really how I continue to learn and grow as a stylist.