Chances are that the attractively presented burger, salad or steak may well have been through the expert hands of 45-year-old veteran food stylist Angela Chia.
After graduating from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts with a diploma in product and advertising design in 1987, she worked as a graphic designer in the advertising industry. In 1996, she turned to full-time freelance work.
Her career change came about by chance. She had taken on a freelance project handling the packaging design for food brand Knorr.
During the photography when the assigned food stylist failed to deliver, the client turned to Ms Chia.
“The client knew I could cook. So she approached me to take on the food styling part,” she says.
After that, the projects that streamed in for her were invariably from the food and beverage industry.
Often, she was required to style the food for photography to be used as product packaging or in cookbooks, advertisements and television commercials.
Her work includes projects for household names such as Marigold, Long John Silver, Pizza Hut, Heinz, Knorr and Jumbo seafood restaurant.
Her latest assignment is a cookbook with a Japanese food and beverage brand.
A good food stylist must have an eye for details, she says.
“When you’re styling a plate of chocolate cake, for instance, you should be able to style it so you would be tempted to eat the cake. Then you know you will have a good photo.”
Cook, prepare and style
In the course of her work, Ms Chia often has to source for props, ingredients and road-test recipes. And yes, she gets to taste the food, too.
She says: “As a food stylist, you are required to cook, prepare and style the food to match the visual provided by the client. If I’m working on cookbooks, I will usually work with a chef who will prepare the dishes.
“When people ask about my profession, they will go like, ‘Ah, a make-up artist for food. Fun job.’ ”
In countries like the United States, aspiring food stylists get to hone their skills and build their foundation in food styling courses.
In Singapore, the alternative is to attend a culinary school.
Or like Ms Chia, you can just hone your culinary skills and knowledge by spending time in the kitchen.
Either way, a food stylist should have a strong culinary background.
“You must understand the nature of food before you can style it,” says the passionate cook, who occasionally ropes her 13-year-old daughter into her kitchen experiments.
An assortment of tools
While there is a greater emphasis in food photography on a more natural appearance, there are still some old-school tricks up the food stylist’s sleeve to fake a perfect scoop, sear or pour, says Ms Chia.
In her tool bag is an assortment of objects to engineer the delectable food images that stir your craving.
That picture-perfect stack of pancakes dripping with syrup in the advertisement? Scotchgard, a brand of stain repellent and motor oil are the secret “ingredients” to make them look yummy.
Tweezers, paintbrushes, q-tips, clothes steamers, hair dryers and food colouring are some of her must-haves.
People who want to do this for a living should have three Ps — patience, perseverance and passion, says Ms Chia.
“Life is too short. Always follow your passion, and do what you love,” she adds.
For more information, visit www.angelachia.wix.com/acfs