In today’s tantalizing episode, we’re unwrapping the secrets of the food styling world with the incredible Lisa Homa. With a seasoning of 25 years in the industry, Lisa isn’t just a food stylist; she’s a culinary storyteller. We get a deep dive of Lisa Homa’s food styling insights.
What does it take to transform a dish into a work of art? Lisa Homa, a maestro in the art of food styling, spills the beans on her quarter-century journey in this deliciously creative field. How do patience and organization play into the perfect shot? What’s the recipe for effective collaboration in food styling? Lisa serves up these answers along with a generous helping of advice for those dreaming of a career in this field.
It’s not just about making food look good. It’s about telling a story, evoking emotions, and capturing imaginations. But what are the common misconceptions about food styling? How does Lisa Homa, a renowned food stylist, approach the creative process, and what brings her joy in this unique art form? Dive in with us as we explore the colorful and creative world of food styling and photography, illuminated by Lisa Homa’s food styling insights.
Lisa Homa’s Food Styling Insights
Lisa Homa is a Philadelphia-based food stylist and recipe developer. Her journey from graphics and publishing pre-press to culinary school allowed her to combine a love of photography and the visual arts with a passion for food.
Having honed and established her career in New York City, Lisa’s styling work has taken her as far as Korea, Cyprus and Italy. She relishes collaborating on cookbooks such as The New York Times bestseller Antoni in the Kitchen by Antoni Porowski. Other work and clients have ranged from Absolut and Hennessy to KitchenAid, Hellman’s and Bon Appetit.
Lisa has been profiled in several publications and featured on NPR’s “Studio 360”.
Lisa Homa’s Food Styling Insights
Mica: [00:00:00] Welcome to the 37th episode of the Savory Shot. Y'all know who I be. I'm your host with the most, Mica McCook. Food photographer, podcast host, Harry Potter Expert. I want to start the show off by saying thanks for showing up again. And if this is your first time joining us, welcome to the Hot Mess Express.
Pull up a seat, grab some coffee. We are in for a bangin good time. I hope everyone had a bomb fantastic Thanksgiving holiday. If you eat turkey, I hope you stuffed yourself silly with turkey. If you're a ham person, like me. I hope you gobbled up all that ham.
And if you are vegan vegetarian, I hope you gobbled that too. I was trying to find the vegan [00:01:00] word for gobble. I guess it would be the same. Wouldn't it be the same? Ignore me, y'all. I'm, I'm still, yeah. Moving on.
Well, I had a wonderful Thanksgiving. It was one of those Hallmark type of holidays. I mean, the whole family was around. It was a lot of fun. I ate a lot of ham. I don't know about y'all, but my three staple things that I have to eat every Thanksgiving are stuffing, ham, and gravy. I don't eat anything else. I like mac and cheese, but not on Thanksgiving. I don't need no green bean casserole. Pass it on to the next. Thank you very much. I just gorge myself on ham, stuffing, and turkey gravy. So, pretty simple. [00:02:00] I want to hear about your holiday. What did you do? Where did you go? Did you travel? Come tell me. Let's have a chat. I have one little favor to ask you guys. If you're in the giving spirit, would you head over to Apple Podcasts and leave a review for the show?
It's been such a long time since we got a review, and so I'd love to hear some, some feedback. Be it positive or critical, but really just positive because, you know, who wants to feel sad?
Gosh, you guys, I missed you so much. I missed you so much. I'm excited to dive into this episode. This next guest is absolutely amazing. I will not keep you guys waiting any longer. Without further ado, drumroll, do do do do do do do do, [00:03:00] I introduce our next guest. Lisa Homa.
Y'all, Lisa has been... A food stylist for 25 years. Incredible. She apprenticed under the amazing food stylist Dolores Custer. Rest in peace. If you are a food photographer, food stylist, you probably have the book called Food Styling. Well, Lisa assisted her for five years before striking out on her own.
Lisa has a knack for turning simple ingredients into amazing visual treats. She's got an incredible eye for the finer details, and she really gets the beauty of food. Y'all, Lisa's been everywhere. She's got a client list that is ten years long. I mean, she's done work for Absolute, Hennessey, KitchenAid, Hellman's.
She's been featured on Food [00:04:00] TV Network, Good Morning America, Live with Regis and Kelly. She's been everywhere. You've seen her work in Bon Appetit, Cooking Light, Country Living, Esquire, Every Day with Rachel Ray, Gourmet Live. She's done cookbook after cookbook after cookbook and one of her cookbooks that she worked on was Antoni in the Kitchen.
A New York Times bestseller. So I think it's safe to say that homegirl knows her stuff. She took time out of her amazing and busy schedule to chat with us and to talk about her experiences as a, as a food stylist. We had so much fun in this interview. And we talked about things that the general public doesn't understand about food styling and what food stylists do.
We talked about the lessons that Lisa learned from her mentor Dolores. But y'all, I won't give away the whole [00:05:00] show because then what would be the point of listening? Grab your coffee, grab your martini, it's five o'clock somewhere. Kick back and... Let's start the show.
Mica: Lisa, thank you so much for coming on the show for being a guest. I can already tell that we are gonna have such a great time. We were talking for [00:06:00] 20 30 minutes before we started recording and I was just thinking oh my god I could talk to you forever and ever and ever a whole afternoon about Philadelphia, about just life, I could do it all.
So thank you so much for being on the show and welcome.
Lisa: Sure, thank you for inviting me, Mica. Happy to be here.
Mica: So I have like a whole meat and potato of questions and I'm going to dive on in.
Lisa: Dive in.
Mica: Let's do it. We're gonna dive in. You mentioned in an interview, and you mentioned earlier in your interview with Creative Confidential, which, go listen to that episode.
That was, like, such a great interview.
And you mentioned that you went to culinary school to become a food stylist. Take me back to your first day in class. What do you remember about that day?
Lisa: One of the things that I remember, I had the opportunity to have a phenomenal instructor. The school was, it's now ICE [00:07:00] I C E in Manhattan, which is, I don't know, the Institute of Culinary something or other, but it was, at that time, it was Peter Kump's New York cooking school before it became ICE. Jim Peterson was my instructor, and he has written, the Bible on sauces, on soups, on vegetables. He's amazing, so I was really lucky to have him, but he was very good, but very demanding.
And I just remember being incredibly excited thinking I am in my place. I was doing a night school program because I'm still working in my cushy corporate job and thinking, wow, I've cooked my entire life. I thought I knew how to cook, but there were so many techniques because we were learning French techniques. I thought I knew how to cook until I got to cooking school.
And I, highly recommend it for anyone that is going to pursue the field. My mentor and the woman that I assisted for five [00:08:00] years, Dolores Custer, who was like the GOAT. I assisted her for five years. She was, she was like this tall Scandinavian blonde. And I'm this short little ethnic, dark haired thing. We were great together, but we, we, we became very close friends too.
Mica: So you you thought you knew how to cook until you got there. You mentioned something earlier about when you started culinary school, you knew for a fact that food styling was what you wanted to do.
How did you come to that choice?
Lisa: I was in a, I worked in a visual field and I was, the aesthetic and visuals were always very important to art. Art was very important to me. I studied art history for a while until I went through the advertising, marketing, and of, of school, but and work, but I always loved to cook.
I was one of one of six kids. I was the one that cooked with my mother who was phenomenal [00:09:00] and her mother was a phenomenal cook. I was the one and you know would like shoo my other sisters out of the kitchen because they just wanted to play and have fun in the kitchen and I was very serious about it. I always was. Even while I pursued other jobs, I always did something in food. Whether it was catering friends weddings or whatever, but I always did something in food.
So when I moved to New York City, I took a job in publishing in Manhattan and I discovered there was such a thing as food styling for photography. And I thought, boy, wouldn't it be great to combine the visual and culinary skills because that's what it is.
It's a complete combination of visual and culinary. So I looked up, someone that was teaching courses in this, there aren't a lot of people, but Dolores Custer was teaching the course up at the CIA, the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park. It was just a week long intensive course, so I took it, and she felt that I would be good at it.
But she said, you really should go back to [00:10:00] culinary school if you want to be taken seriously in this field. In Manhattan, there's a lot of competition and you need to be good at what you're doing or you're not going to succeed. So, that's what I did.
I still had my corporate job. They took it down to three days a week, still giving my full time salary. And eventually I just had to cut the cord and start assisting. I couldn't assist until I did cut that cord. Dolores was the main person I assisted, but I did assist other people as well because I, everybody does. This trade, everybody has different techniques and styles and different types of clients that they work with, whether they're doing more commercials or more cookbooks or, everybody has a different aesthetic and sensibility.
Like, I could look at, I, I could look at magazines at that time and tell who the food stylist was, that kind of thing
Mica: It's like the photographer and their style and you look at it and you're like, that's a so and so. I already know.
Lisa: Exactly. [00:11:00] So it's that sort of thing. It was important to assist different people as well. So I did that, and I assisted for about five years. I do have, some people that have assisted me over the years, and some people assist for a long time, and some people assist a couple times and go off on their own.
Everybody has a different way of doing it.
There's just so much to learn, even as long as I've been doing this, I still feel that every shoot something comes up, something new. You will continue to learn. I could have continued assisting and learned. After five years, it was time to go off on my own.
I had built up a book at that point and was testing with photographers and it also gives you the opportunity to build a network. That assisting because you're meeting different photographers and you're meeting different assistants that are looking to eventually go off on their own and maybe the two of you will do some tests together and that could be part of your portfolio. Eventually you go off on your own [00:12:00] and take the plunge.
Mica: Was it scary to go out on your own?
Lisa: Oh yeah. Definitely scary. There are still some jobs now that I'll take and, be a little more concerned about than others. I won't take a job that I don't feel is right for me. If it's a shoot, say, for instance, I do a wide variety of food styling.
I think if you looked at more of my portfolio online, my website, you probably see, a lot of things that are very natural or things that are very painterly. And then you see my advertising part of it. Those are more, for packaging and advertising is a different type of technique.
So you see a broad cross section of, of styles and techniques. I was contacted recently for a job for a high end ice cream company. While I have done plenty, I did a whole ice cream cookbook. But it was all natural. if you're doing a high end ice cream company, [00:13:00] like a Haagen Dazs or something, they're setting up different freezers or different temperatures and it's a whole chemistry and science to it that I am not that comfortable with.
So I recommend people that I know do a lot of that. You're only as good as your last job, . So I don't wanna, I don't wanna F it up.
Mica: If there's a food stylist assistant listening right now, how will they know if they're ready to start taking on jobs on their own?
Lisa: If they have started to do some portfolio work with people. I think that's really important as a first step because it gives you the familiarity of, even if it's just a test shoot, you are the lean stylist, even if it's not for something that's going to turn into anything, even if it's just for your own personal use.
It gives you the practice and experience of being a lead food stylist. That's a good first step. If you're comfortable with that, then it's time for you [00:14:00] to, jump out of the nest and, wobble on your legs a little bit and just do it. When I have assistants that have been assisting a while and I think that they're ready to start doing some of their own work, I will often throw them a job that maybe is not like a huge high profile job, but something that I definitely feel they can handle and would be in their wheelhouse.
Like people have different aesthetic sensibilities and different styles. And some people like I'll ask the client what it is. A little bit about the job and I'll think that would be good for Tiffany or that one would be good for Cindy.
Mica: That's so cool that, that you do that. The biggest challenge with getting started is that first job.
Lisa: Yeah, and not even test. These are like real jobs, but maybe a lower profile job. You know what I mean? It's not a, a big, New York Times cookbook or, bestseller types. It's, it's going to be something [00:15:00] that might be a smaller marketing job or, something like that.
Mica: I'm part of a mentorship and one of the things that they said to us at the very beginning is, what you put into this mentorship is what you'll get out of it. And I believe that in all aspects of careers, what you put into your career is what you'll get out of it.
People can give you the opportunity, but what you do with that opportunity, that's up to you. So that's great that you're presenting these opportunities and letting your assistants grow and flourish with, with those opportunities.
Lisa: Yeah, I think karma. It's like really important and I think you have to give back. I am also the type on shoots where if I'm doing something and I think it would be a learning experience for my assistant, I'll pull them over, they might be cooking behind me, getting the next shot ready or something, and I'll say, come take a look.
This is how I'm doing this. So that they can learn. Some people are very proprietary. I want my assistants to be able [00:16:00] to learn as much as they can from me. I was given that opportunity coming up with, someone like Dolores, who was incredibly generous with her information and experience and knowledge in the field.
I feel that it's important to give back and, what comes around goes around.
Mica: Yeah, it's definitely important to give back. Gosh, who was it that said this? Oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Of all people that I'm quoting, Arnold
Lisa: Arnold! Arnold!
Mica: Arnold Schwarzenegger. But there was a little interview clip that he did. He was talking about why he doesn't like for people to refer to him as self made.
He said that, I'm not a self made man, I'm here because so many people gave me opportunities, so many people helped me get to where I am. I became this weightlifting guru because of all the people who trained me. [00:17:00] I became the governor of California because all the citizens of California voted for me.
So I'm not a self made person. I had a lot of help getting where I am. That's just such a great way to wrap up that idea of like, I got to where I am because I did it all by myself. And it's like, no, you didn't. You had help. You had people giving you opportunities, and that's okay.
There's nothing absolutely wrong with that. Just know that when you are in a position to help the ones coming after you that you do that. I want to take it to when you were talking about your sisters and that resonated so much with me because I have three older brothers. They just hog everything. They're also late sleepers. They'd get up at like 12 o'clock, 1 o'clock.
My mom was an early, is an early riser. She gets up like 5 o'clock in the morning. And so I get up at 5 o'clock in the morning [00:18:00] because I get to have all my time with her. Then I'd get to have the TV and then I'd get to have the whole house.
And then by the time my brothers woke up. And they come and snatch the remote. I'm like, I've already watched everything I wanted to watch, so you guys have fun. But some of my favorite, yeah, yeah. I'm an early riser now. It cracks my friends up. I'll send them a text message at like, 545.
I forget that it's 545. And,
Lisa: I know.
Mica: Because like, once my day starts, it started, right? And they're like looking at the time, and they're like, why is she sending me a text message at 5. 45 in the
Lisa: I know, I know, I have to hold back the early morning texts myself, especially if I've had, some coffee, and then it's like, okay, the texts are flying and maybe that's not such a good thing if somebody has their, their phone next to their bed.
Mica: Right, that'll, that'll be a nice little alarm. They go, the only person who does reply to my text messages right at the time I send it is my mom, because she's an early [00:19:00] riser too. One of my favorite memories with my mom is, watching her put together, caldo soup. I love watching, all these ingredients come together. And at the end, you have this magnificent soup.
That's what I love about theater, too. You have all of these different elements that come together, and then you have this grand show. My question for you is what emotions and nostalgia does food styling evoke for you personally, and how does this tie back to your childhood memories?
Lisa: I do have to say that when I'm styling. Sometimes I just, I just go away, like I'm creating an art piece. And I'm thinking about the, the way the light's going to hit it and the best camera angle and different textures I want to put next to each other and different shapes and different colors.
All of that's going through my [00:20:00] mind at the same time, very quickly, obviously and then, the props, what, what vessel is it going to go in and what would be best. Collaborating with the prop stylist and, all that. When I was young, I was always creating something visually as well.
I would just be in my happy place, whether it was building a tree house and putting wallpaper up in it and hanging a painting in it. I was always working with my hands. Always. Whether it was cooking or creating art, I did a lot of I, I did a lot of drawings and charcoals and that sort of thing. Never really did any sculpture, but I, I think of food styling as these small sculptures that have a very limited time span
Mica: Yeah. Yeah.
Lisa: to a real sculpture. So it evokes that same feeling [00:21:00] that I would have when I was creating, when I was young, whether it was making food or making artwork, or like I said, building adrenals, whatever woodworking, I did a lot of woodworking, so it's that same, I get, I, I feel very content and satisfied and everything else goes away.
You could be talking to me when I'm doing those things. I don't hear you.
Everything else drops away. Yeah, you go in the zone, and I think it evokes that same sort of feeling that I felt then. It's like this primal happiness, felt it as a child, still feel it now.
Not all jobs are like that, but there is always, even if it's a job that's insanely antagonizing. There is still that moment where I am making it happen and, go away and have to create it. I had a, I had a, I had a doozy recently,
Mica: What, what was it?
Lisa: I'm not gonna say [00:22:00] what brand it was, but, it was challenging. It was very, very challenging. It was for a commercial and I needed to have three drinks. One was a hot drink with a cold foam on top. So legs of the foam would come down into the drink.
Then there was another drink that had it was a latte that had candy pieces on top of it and the latte foam had to stay up and mounted on top of the glass, three of these glasses together. Then the third drink you could see through the large clear cup. I had to use real whipped cream on top.
Not cool whip that stays for like two days. I had to use their product, and the drink itself in that one that had the real whipped cream on it, had a blended drink itself. It's separated, like the Oreo part of it separated from the other part, so you had like, maybe a [00:23:00] two minute lifespan on that.
So getting these three things out there. They each had a very limited lifespan. I had to figure out ways to make this happen. I definitely use all of the real product. That foam that you saw you saw the real latte foam on top of it, I did end up putting something underneath of it to make it stay there because it would not stay there long enough to get the real whipped cream out there and holding up.
And mind you, there are like eight people in the other room looking at this on a screen to approve it.
Mica: Oh my gosh, which makes it even more difficult.
Lisa: Yeah. The thing that separated, I used a chemical I just happened to have it with me. I, I used it on another job. I'd never used it before. This is what I mean. It's new things all the time. I thought, you know what, I'm going to throw that in my bag. And I ended up using it and it kept that one that would separate.
still so it didn't separate so I used the real [00:24:00] product, but I just added something to it, so it wouldn't separate. It was this chemical thickener. I think it's called Thick It People are in the 25 years of doing this but I was able to use the real whipped cream and get a beautiful top on it and And, and, and they wanted the, and they wanted the, the glasses spritzed.
Normally, when you spritz a glass, you do it beforehand, it's ready, then you fill it with the drink. And then, because you don't have time to be spritzing it later, nor do you want to spritz it on set and get, spray, sticky spray that's, either glycerin and karo syrup and water or whatever you're using.
All over the place, plus you need to see it in the light. So there, it was a lot. It was a lot. It was challenging. I had a very experienced crack assistant with me that has worked with me for years. Cindy Gaspari, she's awesome.
We were kicking ass, man. We did it. We got it done. [00:25:00] We got it done. We figured it out, sometimes you have to put on that, like, chemistry hat.
Mica: He's like, I'm a scientist today.
Lisa: How am I gonna make this little sculpture thing happen?
Mica: The stress I would be feeling in that moment is like, okay, we have three different drinks, three different types of drinks coming together.
Lisa: We both got sick after that, so that's probably why. Our immune system, it probably took everything out of our immune system,
Never a dull moment in the world of food styling and photography.
Mica: Yeah. Last year I did an ice cream shoot. Everything was going fine, and it was great.
The last 30 minutes, our AC, like, it froze because we had it so cold that it just went bleh and it just cut off.
So I went to the food stylist and I'm like, Okay, We gotta talk. [00:26:00] We got a situation. We gotta talk.
Lisa: Did she have dry ice?
Mica: We did not.
Lisa: Okay, because that's really important on an ice cream shoot, even if it's real ice cream. It it gets that ball of ice cream really hard so that when you put it on set, it will stay a bit longer than ice cream that's just come a scoop that you put in the freezer. For the future, people make these boxes, because dry ice It, it goes down, so they make these shelves in a, in like a, it could be just a styrofoam cooler box, and make a shelf in the top, and you put the dry ice on top, and then you put the scoops, you just do some scoops, and you put them on a piece of cardboard or whatever, and you sit them in the bottom of the cooler.
Just for a tip for the next time.
Mica: I'm writing this one down and
Lisa: It gets it, it gets it nice and hard.
Mica: That would have been super useful.
Lisa: Have been super useful in that situation.
Mica: Cause I'll tell you what, I, I [00:27:00] had like flames coming from the bottom of my shoes cause I was walking around so fast.
Next time. I do a shoot for ice cream. Yeah, dry ice.
Lisa: Another thing that I do when time is of the essence on a shoot. Sometimes I'll have the client, as I'm building the plate, as I'm styling it, I'll have them come up behind me and take a look at what I'm looking at on the plate to see if I'm going in the direction they want.
You know what I mean? Do you like what you're seeing? Are there things that you would change before we get it out there on set? I'll have them sit where I'm I was sitting so they can see and I'm looking like if this is going to be an overhead. I don't want them standing over to the side of me or the other and looking at it. I want them to be where you know the camera angle is. So they can see firsthand what it's looking like and maybe, because, what I'm thinking might be terrific for the shot may not be what they're saying.
[00:28:00] And so it's nice to know as you're going and to include them in that. You know, It's a nice thing. It brings them into it, they're involved in it. And also you're less likely to have changes then when you get out on set. I think they kind of like that too.
Mica: Yeah, it definitely gives a more collaborative feel. This is a project that we're all doing together. That's the kind of vibe that you want to have in a shoot.
Lisa: I'll tell you, when you're firing on all cylinders, the photographer, the food stylist, the assistants, the prop stylist, when you guys are firing it on, on your top, top of your game, there's nothing like that. It's awesome. You need all of those elements.
You need the food stylists, you need the prop stylists, you need the photographer, you need, you need that whole collaboration to be it's nice when you find people that you really like, that you work with, and it works well. That's a very happy experience.
Mica: Oh, [00:29:00] yeah, when it's gelling and it's working and you are just so in sync with one another. I want to take it to, the same interview that you did with Jude Kempner, you said, in that interview that it's important for a food stylist to have a culinary background. It isn't crucial for them to have an art background.
It obviously helps to have both, but they don't have to be a photographer. I agree with that. 100%. My question is, what should a food stylist know about photography?
Lisa: The things that are important to know is understand basics, like understand camera angle because, you're building a plate based on a camera angle. If it's something very graphic and you want to shoot it overhead, you've got to style it like looking at it overhead.
Or if it's, a burger and it's going to be eye level, you have to understand that you're, you need to see what the camera is seeing. So you have to just think about what the camera is [00:30:00] seeing. It's important to understand um, light a little bit, at least the direction of the light. The direction of the light is going to come this way.
So you probably don't want to put a big piece of lettuce coming up in that direction. That's going to block the light. So those I think are probably the most important things that come to mind to me. You may have some other things to offer in that respect. I don't know.
Mica: A great conversation that I had with... Kristina Wolter from Girl Gone Grits. Shout out to Kristina, where she talked about how when she was first getting into food styling, that she thought that she had to be a photographer in order to be a food stylist. And she felt stuck because she didn't enjoy photography.
She just wanted to make the food look pretty for the photographers. If that's something that you enjoy more with making the food look pretty than the actual taking of the picture, I think that's great. You don't need to [00:31:00] know how to set a strobe and set it to whatever, whatever.
Lisa: Yeah. Like I said, I'm not the photographer, but I understand certain aspects of it. It's so funny when you mention pretty pictures. My son would always say to me when I'd leave in the morning, Mommy, good luck with your pretty pictures.
Lisa: Know, I know. And, it's almost like a little good luck thing because I, I couldn't leave without it,
Mica: it's like the break a leg!
Lisa: Yeah, yeah. Now my
Mica: a leg!
Lisa: husband says it because Alice isn't around.
Mica: Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! The good luck with making the pretty
Lisa: What we do. We try to make pretty pictures, which is fun, right?
Mica: Yes! This is the kind of career that I love and thrive for. It's just something that I'm very grateful for.
Lisa: Yeah, it's fortunate for you that you, you took that path because it's fulfilling to you. For some people, it might not be. I think my mother knew, in me, all, all of us, my, my [00:32:00] siblings and I are all very different, we're all unique people. But she said to me, and I don't know that she said it to my other siblings, Do not work in an office. Do not, take a corporate job.
Mica: It's so funny that you say that because the first adult job I ever had I lasted like nine months and gosh, I hated it. I loved my boss. I hated the work and I hated the job. But when I quit the job, he said to me, you don't belong in an office. You're too creative for an office.
I want to take it to an interview that you did with STEM jobs. You talked about how you assisted Dolores Custer for five years.
And I have food styling, like if you're a food photographer, you don't have that book, you need to have it. It was one of the first books I bought and still have. What's a lesson you learned from Dolores that you wish every food [00:33:00] stylist knew today?
Lisa: First of all, she was extremely patient. on set which is, something for me to try to remember. Probably not as patient as she is. She had this incredible patience. It was amazed me. At that time too, I think you had photographers that took longer on shots. Now, the look is so much more natural and because everything is obviously, digital and quick but at that time when I was assisting Dolores, they were still using, film and eight by tens and, not a four by fives and in the early days of assisting her, I would say probably in the very early days because quickly during that time, it changed.
But I think patience. Being patient with people because you can't expect everyone to see or [00:34:00] get what you're getting, nor like what you you like or you do have the same aesthetic sensibility as you. She was you know, incredibly organized. So organization is such a big important skill in this field because you don't want to not have what you need and you don't want to hold things up.
You're holding up a whole set and crew and whatever. So you need to be very organized. You've got a lot of shots that have a lot of different elements involved in them, whether it's the food or other things. She brought a lot of equipment with her.
I don't bring nearly as much as she did. I think because I think it had the adverse effect. Sometimes when you're raised a certain way, if your parent was like very domineering, you tend to be very hands off. It's like you want to be the opposite. So she brought everything, she would bring like 12 sheet trays.
So I never bring any. I do [00:35:00] check with the studio to see if they have them. If they don't, I'll bring a couple. But, I try to, I try to be a little more minimal in that respect. I think that aspect of giving back and sharing your knowledge is something I, I learned from her.
Mica: Patience, being organized, paying it forward. Those are all great things, big skills especially if organization is not a strong suit of yours.
Lisa: This probably is not for you, I would say. No, seriously.
Mica: What should a food stylist do if that doesn't come naturally to them, like, being organized? What are some things that they can do to develop that skill?
Lisa: They have to get in the habit of making lists. They just have to get in the habit of it. Look at each shot, break it down. What am I going to need for this, and make your list. I tend to, and I think Dolores used to do this, make my grocery [00:36:00] list and break them down into the different places I'm going to get the things.
And then within those places, break it down into, this I'm going to get in the cheese area, this I'm going to get in the, frozen area. Some people have a, a difficult time with making lists, I think.
But get in the practice of it. And it feel real, it feels really good to check off lists too, I think. I think it's very satisfying. To like check off a whole, list, grocery list, or to do list. Also the list of, special equipment items that you want to bring.
You don't always need to bring a blowtorch or irons that are going to make grill marks or fake ice or whatever the special equipment is. You don't always need to bring those items. You have to look at the job and say, what special equipment. At that last one that I mentioned with three, I knew I needed to bring a frother.
It's a good thing I brought that thing because that baby worked overtime and I brought extra batteries for that frother. I asked my assistants to bring [00:37:00] one as well. But that it's in the list I cannot you cannot rely on your memory to just remember to bring everything you need. It's got to be there because it's one show, it's happening, and then it's done.
Mica: It's one show, you're done.
And people forget the value of pen and paper. I knew someone in college and she used to organize everything in index cards. That's how she just kept everything, like, her, her brain organized. She would separate her index cards. She'd have one card that showed exams that she had coming up. She'd have another card that showed projects that are going to be due soon and like she just had everything organized in her index cards. I remember thinking, okay, that's a lot of work.
Lisa: Yeah, that seems like a lot. That seems like OCD to me. I'm not really that organized in life. But I do it for my jobs. I do it for my jobs. I [00:38:00] can't say that I'm that organized in my life. If you look at my, my desk area, it's not, it's neat, but it's not organized. It could be a lot more.
It could be a lot more.
Mica: I need lists to stay organized. I need a to do list. I check my calendar every single day. Like, I have to do those things in order to get things done. Because if I don't, then I'm just going to be flying off to La La Land. I'm just going to be sitting on my reading chair looking at my neighbors.
Lisa: Yeah, the list is a great starting point. You need it to get from A to B and to get things accomplished.
I don't know if it's accomplished that you need to get accomplished, but along the way. If you can allow the time or the vision to see things and meander a little bit. That's really nice, too. If I'm styling something and I go to the shoot I might have a certain vision in mind, but I also have to be open to maybe that's not the best way to do it. Maybe that's not [00:39:00] gonna work.
Maybe I should break that open and try something else.
But definitely the list helps you to get somewhere.
Mica: The list will just make sure that if you decide to try something different, try something new, that you have the tools that you need to be able to try that new thing.
Lisa: Have the options, yeah.
Mica: So I have one last question. You wrote an article titled My Life as a Food Stylist.
Your article reminded me of this Tiktok video that I watched recently. The video was this food stylist she was creating a cheese slice pull, and so she's putting like little chunks of mozzarella string cheese and then melting the cheese so you pull it and then that mozzarella, like that gooey, ooey awesomeness. A creator did a stitch to that video and he talked about how [00:40:00] food styling is misleading the customer into thinking that they're going to get this when they're really not going to get it.
And the comments did not pass the vibe. I was like, okay, that is not at all what a food stylist does. When people ask me about what I do for food photography, the main question they want to know is like, what are all the crazy things that you do? So what's one thing that you wish the general public knew about food styling?
Lisa: The idea of Oh all the tricks that you do for food styling. You're a food stylist. I've been hearing that for 25 years from people that really don't have that much knowledge of it and they find out what I do but that's a very dated concept. The trend has been to shoot food naturally for a very long time now.
There are things that you will do to make food because it's not maybe coming right out of the oven and being shot.
You might have to use a heat gun or something. You want to elicit[00:41:00] appetite, appeal, a sense of smell and a sense of taste in a photograph. So you might spritz a salad with a little water so it looks fresh and elicits that in a photo. There are things that you can do, but largely it's real food and it's very natural.
And even in commercial work and advertising, you are using the product and the real food.
Mica: It's just so misunderstood about what we do, what food stylists do, what food photographers do. We're not, doing any trickery or foolery.
Lisa: Absolutely not. Absolutely not. You're going to use, you're going to use the real ice cream. There are recipes for fake ice cream out there. And maybe if they've got a cone of ice cream in the background that is not the product and they want it just to be in the background sitting there for a while, maybe I'll make them some fake ice cream and they can throw that back there.
But it certainly is not going to be the feature of the shot.
Mica: In the video, the marketer was [00:42:00] referencing a lawsuit, a man is suing Taco Bell for false advertisement. He said that the taco that he received did not look anything like the taco in the picture.
And I'm like, okay once we've done the shoot, the rest is up to the client. We're not false advertising. That's them. We're not the ones getting sued. They're getting sued. So if Taco Bell is not making their tacos the way that the picture looks, that's on Taco Bell.
We're not misleading anybody. Taco Bell is.
Lisa: Yeah, it's like a clothing brand showing an advertisement of clothes on a, on a model. They're going to make them look as best as they can. That does not mean it's going to look that way when you buy them and put them on.
Mica: Exactly, exactly.
Lisa: There is a truth in advertising clause. We are required to use the product in the advertisement and we can't over promise. If it typically shows... You know say it's a [00:43:00] taco and a third of it is black beans and a third of it is ground meat and a third of it is cheese. We have to represent that. We can't over promise. So it should be that yes, will it look more finessed and prettier and more appetite appealing than you know a taco that you know got shoved into a bag and threw a window and into a car and opened up.
Yeah, probably. Honestly, really that's ridiculous.
Mica: What are you expecting? It's Taco Bell.
Lisa: Oh, that's very I know. Really? Oh my god.
I do have to say when I very first started out and I was assisting one job that I had to assist Dolores on was a commercial for McDonald's. I lasted one day and I said, I can't do this anymore.
This is not what I want to do. They brought another assistant in but there were lots of assistants on the job, but everybody had a job. One person was picking fat out of meat. I was stuck [00:44:00] in a tiny room with boxes and boxes of buns, just gluing sesame seeds on buns all day long.
I did that for eight hours, finding the right color, shape bun, and gluing ses. And I, I could not do that for another day. I did it one day and I said, you know what, this is not what I want to do. I didn't really go that commercial route. First of all, I'm not a big fast food person to begin with.
And did I want to necessarily sell that? Not really, to America, because I think it's one of the, the demises of the American society, honestly. And we've spread it to the rest of the world now.
Mica: So I have absolutely very one last question for you. What is something you hope that the listeners learn from your interview today?
Lisa: I don't know. Gosh. Really, I think I said everything I have to say about food styling , but I just, I, I just hope that they, [00:45:00] understand how important it is to be open and talk to other, peers in the field about what we all do, and share that information. That's why I'm here today talking to you.
I'm so glad that we had the opportunity to meet. This has been, I, I've so enjoyed talking to you. It's been great. Yeah. But that's the big takeaway is, is sharing the information and getting to know other people.
Mica: Yes. I enjoyed everything about this conversation, so thank you for being on the show.
Lisa: This has been a beautiful fun break in my day.