An artist of many shades, Rishon Hanners, is a culinary trailblazer, lifestyle writer, and producer, hailing from the enchanted city of Birmingham, Alabama. As a food stylist and recipe developer, she transforms everyday ingredients into culinary masterpieces by embracing risk with open arms.
This episode holds a special key, unlocking the door to the exhilarating realm of risk-taking and bravely asking those bold questions about our futures. Rishon shares her awe-inspiring journey from moving to Denver, Colorado, and discovering her true love of food styling. Mica and Rishon delve deeper, discussing how Rishon’s journalism and culinary arts background has beautifully shaped her career’s vibrant mosaic.
Throughout this enlightening conversation, Mica and Rishon champion the importance of embracing risks, breaking free from perfectionism’s chains, and welcoming change to reach new heights in personal growth and success.
If you’re seeking a spark of inspiration, join these two amazing women as they set the table and share their stories in the food industry. Let their experiences and wisdom be a reminder that you, too, my dear friend, possess the power to script your own captivating success story within you.
Picture this: a fusion of creativity and culinary expertise. That’s Rishon Hanners. Her whisper of inspiration isn’t just tickling your taste buds; it’s also encouraging you to keep embracing risk in your path. As a food stylist, Rishon teaches us that flirting with the unknown can add a flavorful twist to life’s recipe.
She’s the magic behind your favorite food visuals in editorials, cookbooks, commercials, advertisements, and across diverse social campaigns. In addition, Rishon is proud of her collaborations with iconic brands, such as Food & Wine, Southern Living, and Hello Fresh – there’s a dash of Rishon in every bite you see in those spaces!
She’s worked on the Downtown Abbey cookbook, Snoop Dog’s “From Crook to Cook,” and Top Chef Kelsey B. Clark.
Tune into her YouTube Series, Food Stylist Versus! Here, she demystifies the art of food styling with a wry nod toward the “fake food” craze on the internet. Her video, “Food Stylist Vs Whopper,” stole the spotlight with over a million views and a Webby award in 2021.
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the 28th episode of the Savory Shot. What? You're ringmaster for this wild and crazy ride, as always, is your girl, yours truly, Mica. Y'all, my dear posse. My posse's on Broadway. Okay, sorry.
Mica: Seriously, y'all, I'm still floating on cloud nine after prancing through the colorful and marvelous wonderland that was our last episode. Y'all, was Penny De Los Santos amazing? I just loved her episode. She's so amazing. Y'all, I could listen to Penny forever and ever and ever, forever, ever, forever, ever. I told you, I'm still on cloud nine. And based on y'all's feedback, it seems like [00:01:00] y'all are floating on cloud nine, too.
Mica: I've been looking at the comments on the Insta. Y'all, you loved that episode. If you missed it, though, then boo thing, you better hit pause on this episode, dash on back, and listen. Cause Penny practically dropped mics left and right. It hits a girl square in the heart.
Mica: Penny talks about creating remarkable moments in your work. She talks about her voyages around the world. And why New York is more than just a place, but a love affair that lasts a lifetime. I swear y'all, Penny almost had me packing my bags and buying a one way ticket to the Empire State. I was gonna get my, my husband, our dogs, we were just gonna grab everything and go to the Big Apple.
Mica: It's the truth, I'm telling you. But let's talk about today's episode. Today's episode, y'all, it was a jamboree of [00:02:00] laughter. That's nothing short of magical. Meet Rishon Hanners. Rishon is a food stylist, recipe developer, culinary producer, and lifestyle, entertainment, and food writer. She a renaissance woman, y'all.
Mica: She is based in Birmingham, Alabama, and works on everything from editorials to cookbooks, magazines, and commercials. Now y'all, picture this. What happens when two mouths of the South get together on a mic? A hoot, a holler, a dang good time, and truths that'll make your head nod and go, Amen! Y'all, we ventured into everything.
Mica: We ventured into territories far and wide in this heart to heart. We dissected the art of [00:03:00] risk taking. We talked about asking challenging questions like, What's next? We delved into the nitty gritty of starting out as an assistant.
Mica: And we talked about the monumental life lesson, embracing the two letter word, NO. N O. Be it the one you receive, and the one you have to give. But, before we get into all of that, let's start the show.
Mica: I want to start off first by saying, hell yeah, you're here, and I'm super excited. I have been waiting for this interview. It feels like there's an act of nature that got in the way, jury duty that got in the way. And now there's nothing stopping this, so I just want to say thanks for rolling with the punches and for being here.
Rishon: Yeah, totally. I mean, life happens. What can you do? You just keep going. Make it happen.
Mica: Exactly. Exactly. Man, the most infuriating thing about the jury duty is that it never freaking happened. I got an email the day before, after I rearranged my whole life and they're like, guess what? The trial is canceled.
Mica: And I'm like, it's like you sons of bitches.
Rishon: I'm such a nerd. I had jury [00:05:00] duty one time and I spent the whole day in like the holding room where you wait for them to call you.
Rishon: Sometimes you get dismissed before they even get you into the court and I did. It was like after lunch. I had a lunch break. I had made new friends and they called me at like two o'clock and I was like so ready. I was like nerding out. I was excited.
Rishon: And they were like, oh yeah, you're dismissed. And I'm like,
Mica: Wait, we bonded.
Rishon: Maybe it's just because I'm nosy, like, a little curious, like, I was like, I just wanted to be a part of something, and then you would get out of work for an extended period of time, and maybe it was something that would go on for like weeks at a time, and you were really invested. I imagined it being much more storybook than it was, and then it wasn't, and then it was over, and I felt like my opportunity at jury duty was like the rug pulled out from underneath me.
Mica: The first and only time that I ever served on jury duty, it went on for six months because I was part of the grand jury.
Rishon: That's very intense.
Mica: [00:06:00] It was a six month commitment. And I knew they were going to pick me. I knew, I knew from the bottom of my soul they were going to pick me. The second time I was waived out because I was in school, and then this time, it got canceled the day before. But, I want to get started because I've got... so many things to ask you. As you can tell, the two of us could cut all day long about everything. Like, we talked about, snow cones, and my love of Sonic. This is gonna be a bomb conversation.
Mica: I'm so excited, but I want to start off with your background. You have a journalism degree, you have an associate in culinary arts, and those are two very interesting backgrounds to come from.
Mica: How has your journalism and your culinary arts degree assisted you as a food stylist?
Rishon: Journalism really started out for me because I just was a really great [00:07:00] writer in school, and I loved English, but having a creative writing major or having an English major just didn't seem practical, and, I was a political science minor to begin with, and that lasted for all of one semester.
Rishon: Then I swapped to a com studies minor just because I'm a nerd and I love it. Eventually when I transferred from a community college to University of Alabama, where I finished my degree. I did do some particular, what is the word, course studying for food writing. So I had a couple professors that had done food writing, food journalism in, in their professional careers and took classes with them and that was just great.
Rishon: I also took some food science classes within the restaurant hospitality school, so it wasn't really a part of my curriculum, but I knew that's what I wanted to shift my focus to. Before I even graduated with my bachelor's, I was already in the [00:08:00] mentality of like, I'm gonna go into food media.
Rishon: I wanna do cookbooks. I wanna do magazines. After getting my bachelor's that's when I applied for culinary school. I was like, okay, the next steps realistically are to go to culinary school and hone these skills and get my culinary degree because a lot of these places that I want to work for, that's what they, that's what they're looking for.
Rishon: Culinary school was the foot in the door for my internship that turned into my career. I moved from Alabama to Denver, Colorado to go to Johnson and Wales University, which is a private college. That they allow students to come in that already have bachelor's degree and they can be on an advanced degree program.
Rishon: So I was able to do a two year culinary degree in one year, which was fantastic. I was pretty much in labs the whole time. I only had to take a couple like lecture courses, which was really sweet. And it was in one of those lecture courses that I actually was taking that [00:09:00] they did a demonstration for, uh, the internship or externship after your time at school was over. I was familiar with the fact that some brands like Southern Living were in Alabama, in Birmingham, and so a girl that had graduated just a few years before me was an intern with the parent company at the time was Southern Progress. And I was like "Oh my God, that's it."
Rishon: That's it. I don't want to be an executive chef. I don't want to do an externship at a restaurant. I was like the only person in my culinary class that was like wanting to do anything different other than be a chef. So, that got me in touch with a director. At the time for their cookbook publishing branch, which was called Oxmoor House, now has folded, but, she [00:10:00] was in charge of the test kitchen and the food styling, the food photography department, and literally was my ticket also home being from Alabama. So I took a couple trips down. The first time I came down was my first time visiting the studio. It was, amazing one have been in Colorado for about eight months at this point. And anybody that has traveled from the Midwest and has also done some traveling in the South will know stark contrast and the scenery.
Rishon: So it was like being dropped off in a tropical oasis all over again. And I was like, thank God for the green and the trees and the water and the mountains. The campus is tucked kind of in the woods, in Birmingham, it neighbors a Sanford university, which is another private college.
Rishon: I walk into this building. There's like a babbling creek, and like rocks, on, on trees, and, and the, like the whole building is made out [00:11:00] of windows, and I'm just standing in the lobby and I'm just like, Holy shit, is this real? Is this real life? The director comes and gets me. Her name was Grace Parisi and she used to be the test kitchen director for Food and Wine and then became the test kitchen director for Oxford House. She was 5'2 and I am 5'11 and she was like, wow, you're much taller in person than I expected.
Rishon: And I was like, you're much smaller than I expected. But, uh, we hit it off. We both have. Big personalities. She just kind of took me around in the studio, , and the studios at the time were very basic, various home ec feeling type kitchens, like it did really mimic someone's kitchen at home, which I guess it was the whole point of things for such a long time.
Rishon: I remember there were a couple sets going on that day and we just peeked in on one and I, I really didn't pay attention to what was [00:12:00] going on, but of course you see all the camera setups, you see the, the strobes and the lights and the C stands and the camera on the giant tripod.
Rishon: I'd never seen a tripod that big before. Then we go downstairs to another set. She's like, uh, and this is the set we're working on this particular book, and I, I can't remember what book it was, but I do remember it was Thanksgiving. So there was mashed potatoes, and dressing, and sliced turkey breast on the plate, and the food stylist on the set was like, I've got to take this phone call and she's telling this to Grace and she's like, I've got to take this phone call.
Rishon: And she was like, okay, what's going on? She's like, I just need to put this gravy on this Turkey and then top it with like chopped parsley. So Grace is like, oh, okay, cool. Yeah. So she like takes the gravy in a Pyrex glass cup. She's like, so we basically are just using, like, for food styling, like, it's a packet of gravy, so that way that you can make it as liquidy as you want it, or as thick as you want it, and that whole thing, and she's talking to me about it, and she [00:13:00] takes the gravy, and she pours it over the slices of turkey, and then she takes the parsley, and she's like showing me, she's like, we don't chop it with a knife because it bruises it.
Rishon: And I just left that day feeling totally starstruck and totally in awe and yeah, like literally a month later they were like, do you want to come? And I was like, hell yeah, I'm homesick AF, get me back to Alabama. I got to go home, you know?
Rishon: Like I said, it really was my ticket home.
Rishon: I ended up interning with Oxford House for six months. The majority of what I did as an intern, honestly, was grocery shopping. Not going to lie. I was a grocery schlepper. I knew the in and out of every single grocery store in Birmingham and knew most people by name as well, which is a big plus.
Rishon: And then Time Inc bought Southern Progress, and so we merged into one food studio. So all of the brands [00:14:00] were under one umbrella and the food studio got a huge upgrade and the kitchens are much more, what'd you say? Professional. There have been a kajillion buyouts and mergers in this world of food publishing over the last seven years.
Rishon: And that is actually where I am now. So I still come back and do some freelancing with them, and they're a great company.
Mica: The way you describe that building. That sounds like the perfect day, and then to like, walk into this magicness that's happening and just watching Food Stylist. And how premeditated a lot of things are.
Rishon: It's extremely premeditated. Yeah, it's really amazing. And I'm really thankful that I landed in food styling versus recipe testing because it is totally like I know that sounds cliche, but it's like left brain right brain and I am much more creative than I realized. If I was just taking notes for a living and [00:15:00] measuring things and having to like, follow rules, like God forbid. Um,
Rishon: I really was initially disappointed that I wasn't doing testing and developing and then once I realized the natural knack I guess I had for food styling, I was like, this is where I'm supposed to be.
Mica: It's perfect that you chose food styling as a career because as a writer, you know the descriptive words that you want the viewer to feel and think.
Mica: That is like such a skill to have this vast bank of descriptive adjectives to draw upon.
Rishon: That is true. If you're someone that consumes a lot of media, then you generally have a higher knowledge of what you, as a consumer, are looking for. And, and that's a huge part of it. What do you [00:16:00] want to see when you're looking at these food photos? If you're styling a particular dish or a particular plate or a particular protein, what is it that you want to see from this that's going to make it most appealing?
Mica: Hmm. I did a mentorship a few years ago. One of the things that we worked on was like color theory and unintentionally it turned into a project about feelings and finding what makes a feeling a feeling. We'd pick a next project and I'd say, well, I want to create something that's really happy and bright. She's like, well, what is happy?
Mica: I'm like, Oh, what, well, what is happy? That's a great question. She's like, more importantly, what makes a happy photo happy? What elements in a photo makes it a certain emotion?
Rishon: It is so interesting because even just when you gave the example of a happy photo, like the first thing that pops in my mind, and it's so interesting to have that sort of [00:17:00] instinctual reaction, like when somebody says that, and for me, it's like, orange, the color orange, citrus, like literally oranges.
Rishon: Also just like, like a, like sort of a warm palette, but like, but like warm yellows and, and, and warm arches and even some like warm nudes or warm peach colors. And other like fresh fruits, like maybe some like, Pomegranate or something like that. When you work in this industry and you literally are cranking out product that is not necessarily what you would create as an artist or a creative.
Rishon: It's important to hark back to that and do sort of creative things outside. So a lot of the times the groups of creatives that we work together, the teams. Photographer, prop stylist, food stylist, they'll get together and they'll do these just like fun, creative shoots and a [00:18:00] lot of the times it is those sort of like bases that kick things off.
Rishon: You're like, what are we looking for here? Well, you either have a piece that sort of inspires you, or a word that sort of inspires you, or a pattern that sort of inspires you, like just whatever the thing may be, and then you just sort of like fill in the blank and just create something.
Mica: So I want to take it to my next question. I hope I didn't weird you out when I was like, I'm gonna stalk your life because I literally stalked your life.
Mica: On your Instagram. I loved all the quotes that you put up and one of the first articles that you featured on your Instagram in 2013. It was like a picture of Atlanta magazine and it was of your former boss, Jennifer Levison.
Mica: What I want to know is who is she and how did she inspire you then? And how does she inspire you now?
Rishon: Well, that was the year between my two stints in college.
Rishon: That was my [00:19:00] hiatus year. I moved to Atlanta actually, where my older sister was working at the time for the same woman. My sister was the executive chef of Jennifer Levison's restaurant group, which still exists, in Atlanta. It's called Super Jenny, S O U P E R. Um. I love that. I know.
Mica: That is so awesome.
Rishon: So I had a, I really did enjoy my time there. Jenny is absolutely an inspiration. Then at the time I was 23, I think. It was so refreshing to step into an environment, with a woman owned business, an entrepreneur who did not start out in this, in, in restaurants, her background was in acting.
Rishon: She went to Carnegie Mellon. She started cooking basically because you don't really make a lot of money just [00:20:00] acting all the time. So she started restaurant based on one of her recipes that is still like literally on the menu all the time is her dad's turkey chili and they call it My Dad's Turkey Chili.
Rishon: The restaurant does soup salads and sandwiches. It's very like European cafeteria style where you like walk in. And you just order at the counter and everything's sort of like out on display. Everything was fresh. When she initially started the business she hired mostly actors and actresses. So a lot of her friends, a lot of her peers. We're talking like 20 plus years at this point and she's got multiple locations.
Rishon: She has a catering business. She has a nonprofit. The thing that inspires me the most about Jenny then and now is just that she is so authentically herself. She still acts every year. She does like a, like a one woman show. She'll do a couple other small [00:21:00] shows with, with people.
Rishon: It was just the first time I think that I had ever been introduced to someone that was just so unapologetically themselves and cared about her people so much. She definitely created the tribe around her, not just with like in her restaurants with the people that she employed, but, but her, her literal tribe, her community. But my time in Atlanta was what kicked me off to go to culinary school because it really did have me asking the what's next question. Between my time at school. It was like, okay, yeah, you're doing this now and you're getting a lot from it. And it's awesome.
Rishon: But like, what's next? I do have to say that that was also because of the people that were around me at the time. They were like, what're you doing? What's next? Where do you want to go? What do you want to do? And I'm like, that's a really good [00:22:00] question. I guess, I guess I kind of need to figure that out.
Rishon: That is something that follows you throughout life is like, there are plenty of times where you're just like, what are you doing?
Rishon: What's, what's next?
Rishon: Not to take away from the moment of where you are, but what's next? Especially when there's any sort of angst or there's any sort of like, uh, wishing and missing and, and dreaming and scheming. You're just like, okay, well, what are you going to do about it? So it was definitely a pivotal time in my life. And I'm grateful for the push forward and the inspiration that she gave me then.
Rishon: She and my sister are still extremely close. So she's definitely just like a part of our family in a way, and I'm grateful for her presence.
Mica: Something that you mentioned that is so true, cause I'm former, my background's in, in theater. I went to school for theater the first time but the thing about theater people is that we definitely take care of [00:23:00] each other. And I've noticed this in the photography community too.
Mica: But what I really liked is the what's next question. I'm big on New Year's Eve's resolutions.
Mica: At the end of every year, I'm like, man, I accomplished some wonderful things this year. What's going to happen next year? That's a question that I don't think enough people ask themselves.
Rishon: People probably even just quietly ask themselves that a lot, but it really is the answer that is frightening.
Rishon: Maybe it's not even the answer. It's just the unknown of what it would take. It comes with risk and change is always scary and hard. I don't think you ever really get over it.
Rishon: You just get a little bit more assured that every time you do, you have taken that risk and you have made that leap and, and you've gone for the change. That it has served you and it's worked out.
Mica: Do you remember a moment in your career where you [00:24:00] felt for the first time, "Wow, this risk is paying off, this direction, the what next for me?
Mica: It's happening.
Rishon: Immediately after that. After Atlanta, moving to Colorado to go to culinary school. That was a huge risk. I like, literally moved away from everything I ever knew and everyone I loved. My, my then partner, now husband, and I moved together, which, thank God for him.
Rishon: But that was a huge leap of faith. That was a huge risk. That was a huge chance. We had a great time. I worked my ass off and it has paved the way for everything that has happened ever since. I really do attribute it to that moment that I was like, we're just going to rip the bandaid, you know, we're just going to do the damn thing.
Rishon: What else? What do you have to lose? Really? What do you have to lose?
Mica: Extending further on the, what do you have to lose? It's [00:25:00] what are you okay with losing? Because when you take on something new, when you make a change, when you add something new into your life, something has to go. Anytime I take on any sort of project, I look at the projects that I have going on in my life right now and I'm like, okay, this new thing that I'm very excited about, I'm going to have to let go of one of these things because my attention can only go so many directions.
Mica: So what am I okay with losing? What do you got to lose and what am I okay with losing?
Rishon: I would even go one step further and say, " But think about what you could gain. Think about what could be on the other side. The reason that the thing is even floating around inside of you in the first place is because there could be, and probably is, something great waiting on the other side.
Mica: Ah, I love that. I love that. Another thing I noticed [00:26:00] on your Instagram you seem to have a lot of affirmations. I have my, my affirmation of the day and I think it's a pretty in par of what we're talking about at the moment. It says, "Take a breath and keep going.
Mica: Isn't there a chance of being surprised by what happens next?" by Barbara Brown Taylor. But one of the, I guess it's a mantra quote. I don't know. It says, you may not fully understand the cycle that you're moving through. But trust that you are moving, you may not understand why letting go is so important, yet let go you must, this watery, intuitive moon is not about logic, so let go of logic and open your heart to trust.
Mica: What did you let go of that helped you move forward in your career?
Rishon: I love that quote. Even still, like, listening to you read it, it totally gives my, me like, full body goosebumps. Because it means something different every time you read it. We are [00:27:00] constantly going through different cycles and constantly probably faced with letting go of things that we have been holding on to for too long or too tightly.
Rishon: Definitely the thing that I had to let go of with my food styling career was perfectionism and control. Obviously still something that I, um, battle with. I don't know that that's ever anything that has just evaporates from someone if they struggle with those things. But, I was very uptight when I started food styling.
Rishon: Everything was very meticulous and very perfect and very perfectly placed.
Rishon: I was so lucky to be able to work with some really fantastic food stylists as an assistant. But then also when I started food styling on my own, I worked with some really, really great photographers that [00:28:00] mentored me and coached me and encouraged me to essentially let go and loosen up. It seems like just a crazy thing, but one of the things that I really would say is, I'm proud of in my style or that I'm well known for now with my styling is how organic and natural my food styling is. So.
Mica: When you said letting go of the perfectionism, I can relate to that feeling so much. When I first started in food photography or just photography in general, I was so afraid of doing things wrong.
Rishon: My heart goes out because I see so many young kids, teenagers, young adults, and they struggle with the same thing.
Rishon: And I tell you when it clicked for me in my work, it also clicked for me in life.
Mica: That's gonna be the word for May. Listen, [00:29:00] let go. So I, I want to veer it to how I first learned of you. I want to tell you two things about the, about this because one, I think you will get a kick out of this story. And I forgot what the second one was, but maybe it'll pop up. So your video about, how to style cocktails and beers.
Mica: I found that video back in 2020. I was doing the mentorship and we were doing, cocktail drinks. The first shoot I did, I presented it to my mentor and she was just like, I feel like you can do a lot better than what you presented to me. She's like, why don't you zhuzh up your cocktails?
Mica: And I'm like, I don't know how to do that. She said, well, go do your research. And so I did. And I found your video and it cracked me up so much, so hard. The story where you were talking about like how you dipped your finger in the drink and you tasted it and the food stylist was like, uh, you need to go spit that out.
Mica: You just [00:30:00] tasted chemicals.
Rishon: God, it's such a terrible habit and I still do it. I still do it. I still lick my fingers. I will literally give myself a stomachache by the end of a shoot and eventually my assistants caught on and said, they'll just be like, here's a towel.
Mica: For context, y'all, first of all, go watch that video. If you want to learn how to style cocktail drinks. But in the video, Rishon talks about how she has a habit of tasting drinks and she tasted this drink that had like fake ice and everything.
Rishon: Yeah, it was a, it's an ice powder. Which is essentially, this is going to sound gross, but, and I may mention it in the video. I can't remember, but it's basically like silicone. So the ice powder product that a lot of people use for food styling is the same absorbent product that is in diapers.
Rishon: If you've ever seen, because I know you have, if [00:31:00] you've ever seen a wet, soggy diaper, probably from the rain, out on the street that's been run over and it looks like there's all this like mushy stuff that's come out of it. That is essentially the same thing. So what I did was mix up some syrup because it resembles shaved ice or, really finely crushed ice. So that the frozen drink would hold on set for a long time.
Rishon: And I tasted it and the girl was like, and this is when I was assistant, she was like, "What have you done?"
Rishon: I was like, I don't know, what did I do? She was like, you need to go, like, poison control. Which of course I didn't ingest that much of it. But she was just like, no, like not, don't do it. That was one of the first times that I'd ever really been introduced to using a chemical substance in food styling.[00:32:00]
Mica: You might want to call the poison control center, because you just ingested poison.
Rishon: Consumed in, in large amounts. Definitely. A little finger lick, probably not going to hurt me, but I learned my lesson.
Mica: Don't want to test it, though. Don't want to test it.
Rishon: I may be a perfectionist at heart, but I do not have fantastic habits. Do as I say, not as I do.
Mica: Do as I say, not as I do. I say that all the time to my nieces, do as I say, not as I do. I want to tell you about a recent event that happened. I did a portfolio shoot and it was like fake whiskey.
Mica: I used soy sauce and water. And I put up the picture on my personal Facebook and the picture was banging. and my friends and families are like, ooh, and awe, and they're like, Oh, I want a drink of that. My husband, one of his [00:33:00] friends, his best friend, Gerard, he was like, I want you to make that drink for me.
Mica: And I told my husband, I was like, should I just pour some soy sauce into water and be like, here you go.
Rishon: That would be a hilarious prank.
Mica: And Aaron was like, nah, and he goes, don't say anything. Just let people admire it. It's a beautiful photo. They don't need to know that it's soy sauce and water.
Mica: I wanted to tell you that cause I thought you would appreciate the soy sauce and water and everyone going, Ooh, I want that whiskey drink that you just made.
Rishon: Especially working in like a big studio where there's all kinds of people walking around all the time and people that aren't necessarily a part of a photo set, they definitely see things that they think are very appetizing looking or really yummy and they're just like, "Oh my god, I gotta get some of that." And they're like, "Well, this entire casserole is filled with paper towels or like this entire thing is stuffed [00:34:00] with plastic." While a lot of things we do are real there is no point in wasting a perfectly wonderful pour of whiskey. Just fake it till you make it. It's fine.
Mica: When I meet people and I tell them, Yeah, I do food photography, yadda, yadda, yadda. And they're like, Oh, I bet you get to eat everything.
Mica: And I'm like, You know, when you're on set and it's a big set, there's like 30 hands touching food and everything.
Rishon: The answer is no, and you don't really want to for a lot of reasons. The amount of hands that have been on it, the plates that it's been on, the amount of time it's been sitting out. Also just the amount of time you've been staring at it.
Rishon: You don't want to fool with it.
Mica: One of the things you say in your video intros, consider me a makeup artist for food, and I feel like that is the perfect analogy, perfect description of food stylist [00:35:00] and what y'all do.
Mica: My question for you is what's the most common misunderstanding that new food photographers have about food stylists?
Rishon: It's the same misconception that there generally is, which is that food stylists work primarily with fake food.
Rishon: And of course, like, our previous topic that we were just discussing does not give us much credit for the fact that we use real food. Everyone has seen the BuzzFeed video.
Rishon: It was about motor oil as pancake syrup and God, I don't even know all the other things. And of course my food styling videos did have a huge push for some for fake. A lot of that was the draw of, and the wow factor of what that would look like, and some of that is true, but I would say primarily food stylists use real food.
Rishon: Whether you're [00:36:00] editorial, so you're working with magazines or cookbooks that are actually publishing recipes. Or you're working for a food client, like a fast food chain or another restaurant chain, doing a commercial or a static photo.
Rishon: For advertising, that is a real product that they are wanting to sell their customers. And so it's very important that that is portrayed to them correctly. We are long past the days of putting in fake food, which I do have to say is much more exhausting and difficult than it is to use the real food. Real food can be, like, it's temperamental, but it also can be
Rishon: manipulated and replaced and you can refine it and, and tweak it. Why do people think that you spent an ungodly amount of hours at some craft store to make a fake turkey?
Rishon: Like, no, it's a real turkey. How? What would you come up with? Is [00:37:00] it plaster?
Rishon: Like, I really can't imagine what that would be like. But we're food stylists. That's what we do is we work with food to make it the best it can possibly be in a visual way.
Mica: Absolutely, absolutely. I've told people outside of the industry, legally, whatever brand I'm working for, we have to use their product. Everything else can be manipulated and it makes sense financially and logistically to keep just the toppings of a whatever. It's not just about ethics, it's also, the law, and, and they didn't know that, they're like, oh.
Rishon: It's also important that people know that like these food brands are not trying to hoodwink you. Yes, it is a food stylist that is making it commercial ready and, and making it look so good in those moments that you're seeing on your [00:38:00] screen or in a paper advertisement. But the product that is being used is 100% the product that these places produce.
Mica: So, you've done food styling from print to digital, for video. I don't know if there's a huge difference between digital, video, and print, but if there is, how does your approach change based on what medium you're working with?
Rishon: I have to be honest, it really doesn't. It really doesn't change. I approach everything the same. I'm very open minded. I just am very clear about what the client wants. And what is being asked of me and my team. Those, to me, that is what is most important. Thankfully, there is a whole other part of the team that worries about camera angle and shutter speed and whether things are flying through the air or not. And I just need to know how [00:39:00] much of something I need to make and the angle in which it's being presented.
Rishon: Because a lot of the time, like the food that we're styling for static is going to be much more heroic and beauty and then the things that are being styled for video they do not need to be perfect.
Mica: That makes so much sense. What advice would you give to aspiring food stylists or you know, if someone wanted to come to you for mentorship, what approach would make you go, Oh, okay, let me pay attention to this person.
Rishon: Just reaching out in general is enough gumption that they would definitely stand out in my book. That takes a lot to send an email. Don't message through social media. Go through the proper channels, do be a professional. Email obviously is best. And do some research.
Rishon: The hardest thing I think is location. Unfortunately, a lot of our industry is central [00:40:00] around urban centers. You can't be in New York and want to be a food stylist assistant and reach out to me who works primarily in the Southeast, out of Atlanta, Nashville, Birmingham.
Rishon: And say, Hey, I'd love to assist you sometime. Well, baby girl, I'm not going to fly you out here. If you're in Atlanta, then yes. That sort of thing. You reach out to who's, who is near you. And if you're not in an area that can be networked in it, that might lead you to another opportunity. So even if your first foot in the door is not as a food styling assistant, get your foot in the door. You could even offer. Of course, everybody needs a paycheck, but, but you can offer your, your time as a stage, which is like an unpaid type of internship, and hopefully it would lead to something else. Ask for a cup of coffee, or a chat, a Zoom chat, or if you do have [00:41:00] the opportunity to meet up with someone in person, just say, Hey, I'm interested in potentially, doing this as a career and pursuing this.
Rishon: Can we just talk? Because I think a lot of people would respond to that more than they would just jump on the opportunity of you sending a resume.
Rishon: Just put yourself out there. That's the biggest thing. It's the, it's the biggest, boldest, and most brave thing that you can do.
Mica: When you take on an assistant, do you want them already taught and knowledgeable or do you like to teach them how you like things? How novice can someone be and be an assistant to someone?
Rishon: That's a really great question. It's extremely helpful to have the foundations. If you've never used a knife before. This is probably not the best place to start because I don't have time to teach you how to cook. Now, I will teach you how to perform [00:42:00] certain knife cuts. I will teach you how I want something prepared. And eventually you learn what your food stylist likes. You're flexible in that way. You become sort of a chameleon. You're able to adapt. Be patient and listen and let them explain to you what it is they're asking and they won't have to show you anymore. Eventually, you'll just know exactly what they want when they say it.
Rishon: As an assistant, there, there is a lot of like molding that happens. That's across the board with any food stylist that an assistant works with. Every food stylist is different. Now, I would say that there are definitely people for certain jobs that I go towards more because as a food stylist, I've learned what assistance, which assistance, helps me, the best under certain circumstances and with certain projects.
Rishon: It is the food stylist's [00:43:00] job to be good at everything. It is the assistant's job to just be support for the food stylist. It is never the food stylist assistant's responsibility or fault or, weight to carry.
Rishon: It is the food stylist that carries the weight. So with that being said, you, as an assistant, you want to be versatile. You want to be available, open minded, flexible, but, you do not have to be an expert. You've got to come in with certain skills, the basics for sure. And you've got to have a good head on your shoulders.
Mica: All of that. Spot on. I could not, especially when you said that you have different assistants who provide a different kind of support and that determines like who you're going to bring on.
Rishon: Listen, sometimes I work for a client that I'm just like, I know this client is very intense to [00:44:00] work for, and sometimes I just need that assistant that I know is just gonna, not even the fact that they know how I want the tomato slice, it's literally just the fact that their energy makes me more calm and centered.
Mica: Absolutely. What advice would you give to novices who are maybe scared or intimidated to reach out to someone that they admire or maybe they don't have the basics and they're like, Oh, what if they say no type of thing?
Mica: What advice would you give to someone fearing that?
Rishon: They're going to say no, just be prepared. If it's not this person, it's going to be somebody else. And if it's not somebody else, it's going to be later on down the road. Life. That is just the way it is. Unfortunately, getting over that fear and that hurdle and that intimidation because the industry [00:45:00] especially is unforgiving.
Rishon: And, and we don't have time for people that wait and are too intimidated to move forward and too intimidated to take a chance. I will also say that, We're all just people.
Rishon: And we're very gracious community of people. And we've also all been in your shoes. So try not to be so intimidated because it feels like that's just holding us to a standard that we really can't live up to because we're just here doing jobs. We're just here creating. We're just here living our life.
Rishon: Don't put so much pressure on yourself.
Rishon: If this is something that you're really passionate, and that you really want to go for, just go for it. And don't be deterred when people say no, because that is inevitable, but it won't always be the case. [00:46:00] If you don't know what direction to go in, ask for advice.
Rishon: And see what people say, they are always happy to give advice, even if they can't give you a job. I have had many a person reach out to me and even if I couldn't be the one that they assisted or worked with. I always was most of the time able to connect them to someone else in the industry that I'm that new needed help or a job opening that I'd heard about.
Rishon: It was just a couple years ago that I connected someone that reached out to me with the internship that I did when I got out of culinary school. She was a recent graduate, and had gone into finance and was questioning whether or not that was what she should have done. She was like, I just love food and it's just a huge passion of mine.
Rishon: I don't know if I made the right [00:47:00] choice and I was like, there's only one way you're going to find out. So here's this opportunity and you either take it or you don't. And she took it. And she ended up going back to finance, but that was it. Now she knows. And she reached out to me and said that it was an invaluable opportunity and it changed her life.
Rishon: Even though she is going back to finance, that it was probably the best year and a half of her life. And it gave her a lot of perspective. You just never know until you try.
Mica: Yeah. You've raised such a great point about, you may try something, you may realize that it's not for you, and you go back to the very thing, and that is okay too.
Rishon: It's not a step backwards.
Mica: Yeah. And it ties back to what you said earlier about letting go. At least now you know, let's say you do this one thing and it just isn't your cup of tea. Then that's fine. At least now you [00:48:00] know. You won't go five years down the road doing the woulda, coulda, shoulda, what if I had done it, my, and then if like something bad happens in your life and you're like, well, damn it, I should have done that.
Mica: Like, you don't have to second guess because you tried it and it didn't work out and that's fine. Also, I like what you said about hearing the word, no. I had to change my mindset about hearing the word no. Because I hear the word no, at least in the past, I'd hear the word no, and then I'd go, okay, I tried, and they said no, and I guess I'm just gonna go fuck off somewhere.
Mica: Hearing the word no doesn't mean it's no forever.
Mica: And it does hurt to hear no.
Rishon: It is. It's super hard to hear. It's also very hard to say no, not just from the perspective of like if a novice is like reaching out to you or someone who wants to get into the industry and you have to say, no, I don't have an opportunity for you. It's also hard to say no to jobs that may [00:49:00] not serve you, or may conflict in your schedule.
Mica: As I go further in my photography career, I've learned saying the word no is necessary. Especially to clients that their budget, it's just doesn't work for me. And maybe they're a great client, but realistically they can't afford me. And that's a hard thing to accept.
Mica: I have two more questions for you. You have been in this industry for almost a decade, and that's longer than most relationships, you know, most marriages. You answered earlier about what first excited you about food styling. What I want to know is two things.
Mica: How does it continue to excite you today? Nearly 10 years later, what anchors you to this profession?
Rishon: I have to say the industry has taken many different [00:50:00] forms since I have been a part of it, and I have been through what feels like a lifetime of changes within the industry. Anyone that sort of has followed food media.
Rishon: And especially in print capacity, which is what drove me to be a part of the industry to begin with, there's just not much of that anymore. Cookbooks are still, big and far reaching and everyone's got one. But as far as magazines go, that has very much dwindled and all has become digital. So for me, it's been about flexibility and growing and expanding my talents, which is always something that I have been driven to do.
Rishon: I am doing a lot more recipe developing these days. Social content creation, culinary producing. So I'm doing more of like actual production [00:51:00] work prior to photo shoots. I actually have been doing more writing, which when I was a full time food stylist, before I went freelance, that was just not really in the cards for me. Now I wear a lot of different hats, so I would say that has been what has kept me grounded is that change is inevitable and being brought up in the journalism industry about the time that I was, that was what they were preparing us for was the collapse of print. And as doomsday feeling as that was, and as much as I dreaded it.
Rishon: It has served me in the sense of things will always be shifting, things are going to continue to shift, and we just have to [00:52:00] pivot with it.
Rishon: I hate to come full circle on you, but, the what's next question. You know, what do you want your life to look like?
Rishon: What's next for you? Like, is this it? Is this, is food styling it? Is food photography it? And for me, that question was, hell no. I am that and so much more. And I can do all of it. And be versatile. And market myself in a million different ways. There's no telling what the next year has in store.
Rishon: For me personally, but then just our industry in general.
Mica: Yeah. I love that. I want to close out today's interview with what do you hope the listeners take away from, from today's interview? We've talked about so much.
Rishon: I know. If I'm going to be, jaded, not jaded, that's not the right word. If I'm going to be, [00:53:00] conceited, I guess, I would hope that they find it inspiring and they are able to take away some things from it.
Rishon: For sure.
Mica: Where can the listeners find you and support you and fangirl over you and her fan person. I don't know what everyone's pronouns are. So I'll just say fan person over you.
Rishon: Well, I am on Instagram. My handle is at Rishon Marie, and I have a website. It's RishonHanners. com. Those are the best places to find me.
Rishon: You can still see all of my food stylist versus videos on YouTube. That was during my time with, with Meredith Corporation. The YouTube channel is well done. It seems like an entire lifetime ago, but they're still really fun and really relevant and very informative and obviously entertaining.
Rishon: If you're reaching out, on a professional level, send an email, but like, if somebody has a question or just wants to give a shout [00:54:00] out, on social media, I'm totally cool with that.
Mica: Thank you so freaking much.
Rishon: Thank you for having me. Yeah, this was really fun.
Mica: Yes, I had such, such a blast with you. Alright, I've held you hostage for long enough, so thank you so much!