Playing with food is just part of the job for Catrine Kelty. The culinary stylist explains, “It’s like being an artist and food is your medium.” Both food and art are familiar territory for Kelty, the daughter of a butcher and baker who studied filmmaking before getting into the business nearly 20 years ago.
Kelty works with photographers and art directors to translate a chef’s vision onto the page. “They have an incredibly good eye and know how to present their dish in their restaurant,” she says, “but the camera doesn’t always see that.” Armed with tweezers, cotton swabs, paintbrushes and a host of other tools, she offers another analogy: “We’re kind of like makeup artists for the food.” There’s heavier equipment, too—blowtorches burn, heat guns melt and steamers lend a glistening effect. She might use oil and water to add moisture or beet juice to intensify color. Such natural ingredients (no shellac here) mean Kelty can style her cake and eat it too—once the job is done, the crew tastes about 95 percent of the treats.
“The result is glamorous,” Kelty says of the final images, which have appeared in many regional and national magazines, from The Improper to Bon Appetit. “But the process is not.” One of the biggest challenges is getting the food, be it out-of-season produce or melting ice cream, to cooperate. “You don’t know when it’s going to have a tantrum,” Kelty says, comparing her medium to an unpredictable toddler. And after hours spent on set wedged between reflectors, tripods and cables, she may have to wait up to a year to see the finished product if it’s a project like a cookbook. But it’s worth it for images that make stomachs growl, which, Kelty says, is “what we aim for.”
Photo Credit: Kristin Teig
Let There be Light: Find a spot in your home—it may not be the kitchen—or venture outside to get the best natural light.
Create a World: Use items like cutting boards or dish towels to set up a background.
Dress it Up: Accessorize the dish as you would an outfit by adding utensils or other props.
Shine and Dine: A tip Kelty picked up from a friend: Reserve a table by the window while eating out.