When it comes to food, “You first eat with your eyes”. Food plating and the arrangement of food plays a role in how we experience food and imagine how it tastes. It’s true, a picture is worth a thousand words, but at FoodArtConcept, a picture is worth a thousand taste buds! Caroline Ismail, founder of FoodArtConcept, takes us in a cutlery journey to explain to us what does “Food Styling” means and how can she make a plate of food, come to life, in a picture!
Q: What is Food Styling? And how did the FoodArtConcept come to life?
Food Styling is the Art of crafting and enhancing your food photography, on your Menus, Packaging, Cookbooks or Food e-commerce Platforms. A Food Stylist prepares the food for the pleasure of your eyes and awakens your taste buds through the mix and match of colours, material and textures.
Raised by food lovers, gourmets and wine connoisseurs I was privileged to pursue my little girl dream and enrolled at the Lycée Hotelier of St Quentin en Yvelines, France. My hunger to learn and further develop my managerial skills allowed me to gain a Master’s Degree and specialise in marketing of services from the University of Finance at La Rochelle, France.
In 2006, I moved to Dubai, UAE and started my journey at renowned five star hotels. That same year a Dubai based famous photographer – Toufic Araman – and now a great friend introduced me to Food Styling. I am not sure how many times Toufic said that sentence “ just go for it Caro”…it was too early to consider food styling as a full time job.
5 years down my hotelier career, I was bored and decided to experience corporate marketing. I joined an amazing company; again worked with inspiring people but 4 years later that déjà vu feeling of not accomplishing everyday hit me again…I have always been surrounded by 2 great mentors and great friends. Everyone believed in me and in January 2015, FoodArtConcept was born.
Q: We see pictures of food plated in an artistic way in magazines and menus, but hardly any one thinks of the process of creating such a perfect picture. Walk us through of a typical shoot day.
Depends how many parties are involved but I usually start by meeting with the advertising agency and the client, understanding their needs, adapting the shoot look and feel to the audience and to the brand and finally agreeing on the brief.
Then we move to what is called in the industry “prep day” (preparation day) this is your mood boards and shopping day: when you get to imagine the recipe and what type of decoration will work best. Ensuring the food looks fresh, its shopping will be done as close as possible to the shoot day. The last step would be the packing: that is an average of 2 to 3 hours.
On the shoot day, you start by unpacking as fast as you can, keeping all your props visible. Then you sit with the photographer and quickly decide on the lens angle – of course in line with the client’s brief. While the photographer is fixing the light on a dummy plate, the food stylist styles the hero dish. Styling the food can go up to 3 hours, it all depends on the dish you are shooting. For menus styling we count an average of 60 to 90min per dish.
Throughout the shoot you need to be organized and focused. You also need to keep your workstation clean. The more organized you are the quicker the packing will be.
Q: Starting a business is not easy, why did you decide to move from your full time job and take the risk of becoming your own boss?
I reached a level in my career where I sat in front of the mirror and asked myself: are you happy? The answer was: yes I am happy but …what’s next?
So since October 2014, all my attention was set on finally launching my food styling platform. In January 2015 and with the help of some great people, I decided to make my dream come true. In April 2015, FoodArtConcept.com and its social media platforms were launched. In June 2015 we count 4 happy clients.
Now looking back I can confirm that the risk of loosing is tangible but the risk of succeeding is limitless. I was raised to follow my dreams and to overlook money. I trust my parents had it very right.
Q: What is the most fun cuisines/courses to style for?
The most fun cuisines are definitely the western ones. L’art de la table is unique to the French culture and no doubt that cuisine has so much to offer.
Nevertheless, one of my objectives when I started FoodArtConcept is to work on the difficult cuisines such as the Arabic and Indian ones. E.g: to make a traditional Lebanese Moghrabyeh dish looks innovative, inviting yet recognizable. Or again share another vision of Ramadan. Ramadan food pictures don’t have to be red…or dark (latest portfolio – Style of Arabia). There is definitely room for creativity in all cuisines.
Q: During your journey of starting and executing the FoodArtConcept project, what were the difficulties you faced and what lessons did you learn?
Everyday is a challenging day, however some difficulties are worth highlighting:
Human Behavior: After couple of months, even less, you realize that the less you say the better you are. Let’s face it, some people are not happy to see you succeed. So you quickly reset your group of friends and make sure to thanks the ones that are there for you.
Finance & chasing unpaid invoices: Need to clearly separate your cash flow from your revenue. One of the ways is to keep chasing your unpaid invoices. Even if daily reminders are irritating.
Discipline your emotions: I receive a good average of quote requests a month but only a few get confirmed. Therefore there is no more need to get all excited about it. Change your mindset; a quote is just a quote not a confirmed job.
Give Back: Be thankful to life; give back as much as you can. It doesn’t have to be money. Share your knowledge, share your smile and be happy: at the end of the day, you took this decision and happiness is definitely contagious.
Q: If you can give one advice to food lovers wanting to start their own food styling business, what would that advice be?