For a while now, I’ve been following the famous comedic food stylist, political ranter, whose candid writings appear on Huffington Post and more so on Facebook. To get an idea of what Denise is made of, just follow her on Facebook. Request to be her friend, she’ll confirm your request. She confirms everybody.
Her right arm, Cindie Flannigan, was equally humorous and always had a comeback to anything Denise threw out.
The workshop was on styling seafood. I cook great food. I’m not a learned culinary school graduate, just 40 years in my home kitchen. I never measure, just taste and season. I’m also a good photographer. Making food look great, however is not my strong suit, and I thought I could use some help from an expert. I decided to give myself a birthday present and attend one of many workshops Denise and Cindie put on.
The workshop was held in the famous Surfas Culinary District located in Downtown Culver City, California. I flew out the afternoon before, rented a car, and decided to check out the area. I’m the adventurous type. I’m not directionally challenged; I knew the ocean was west so east, north and south would be easy to navigate. This also was a great way to tour the city. While I drove slow, observing and taking in the scenes, no one ever honked for me to get out the way. A very friendly place to visit.
Culver City is a quaint small town feeling. Restaurants lined the streets. I was slightly reminded of Charleston, S.C.
Denise referred to it as “the old Hollywood”. Hollywood is an actual city located farther north. Culver City is where many studios are.
This day was also a sight to behold. There were spotty showers and always when the sun shines there are rainbows. I had never seen a double rainbow. Coincidentally, Denise saw the same rainbow and posted her photo on Facebook, the same time I posted mine. A friend of mine told me she had a friend in Culver who posted yet the same rainbow. It really was remarkable and social media today shares the excitement. This photo doesn’t do it justice, the colors were more brilliant than this….you get the idea, though.
The next morning I arrived at Surfas a few minutes early and was told to wait in the cafe. Too bad I had already had something to eat. The pastries were beautiful and made on site, not flown in like the pastries at Starbucks.
A few minutes later, this energetic woman, (who by the way is in my age bracket, 60′s) walks into the cafe carrying $80 cash spread in her hands like playing cards. Denise has come to retrieve me and buy some coffee and pastry to begin the day.
Now, I had been following Denise’s Facebook page faithfully for a few weeks prior just in case something weird happened to alert me on changes made to this workshop.
I don’t know when Denise and Cindie take breaks, it seems they work, non-stop all week. Denise had just returned from two weeks on a cruise ship where she gave several demos and then taught a two-day seminar in Sydney. Upon returning to home, with only one week before this workshop, she launched right into more styling for magazines, commercials, etc.
The morning after this workshop, this day, she and Cindie would head off for a nine-day styling shoot for a cookbook. As I said, I follow Denise on Facebook and there are many days she praises life. Lord help me, I honestly don’t see how the leg medicine (wine) helps with day to day standing for those long arduous hours of intensive labor.
Cindie told a story about an intern who was trying to get on with the group and complained about her feet and legs hurting. Cindie scoffed “you have no idea what hurt is.” It is evident, if you enjoy your work enough, the discomfort level is tolerable. It takes tremendous stamina to be a food stylist.
It turns out that I along with one other person would be the attendees of the workshop.
The other person was well known by Denise and I jokingly suggested was paid to attend so that I wouldn’t feel alone. I know what I paid and this demonstration ran well beyond my fee. I was grateful to both Denise and Cindie for continuing on despite the lack of attendance.
Throughout the day, Denise and Cindie entertained with stories of behind the scenes with celebrities, commercial foods, magazines and recipe books. When I say “entertained” I mean in comedic fashion. I wish these two could write memoirs, but…legally their financial future would be destroyed. I commend them both for the patience in dealing with over rated egos and bratty dispositions. I’m afraid I would slap someone and in turn be slapped with a lawsuit.
There are many elitist food bloggers who vehemently oppose Denise’s take on styling food. Where does one draw the line on what is real and what is fake? Watching the how to of building the seafood dishes that were presented this day didn’t really bother me. Then again, the only gripe I have is towards the elitist who gripe. Much of what was used was pre-cooked or ready made items such as rice. A pile of Crisco® was used to build up and hold in place pieces of raw vegetables and while I would not want to bite into that Crisco®, I have to admit, I have eaten sugared down shortening sculpted into icing spread over wedding cakes. At least up and until I found this out.
This was a “food styling” seminar, not a ” look how long my ingredient list is and I made it all from scratch and now I’m blogging (bragging) about it ” kind of seminar. Yes, there are bloggers who think using a box cake mix is vulgar. What snobs! Life is so short, why make it cynical?
I attended this workshop not because I have the stamina to stand on my feet all day but rather to learn the art of styling. I lack in the ability to artistically place food items in such a way that makes people want to bite their computer screen. Although, I must have pulled off this feat once, because Denise did compliment me on this photograph.
Styling food using fake props to enhance a photograph is vastly different from using an old, stressed, enamel chipped table, whimsically placing food or crumbs on it. One can not tell that fake props have been used in a dish on the front cover of a leading food magazine, but I am suggesting the vast majority of the public, especially the younger generation, doesn’t know about the toxicity of enamel paint the food is resting on in that same magazine cover. This then implies food can be eaten off a toxic table top unbeknownst to many.
While that statement is broad brushing, (pardon the pun) I’ve asked many young people about enamel paint and they’re unaware of the dangers. But…the nasty table is cute for a photo-op and… what the hey? If people come across a similar table in an old antique store, they can place the magazine on it for all their friends to see, and let’s hope their toddlers don’t go on a chewing frenzy to the corners or prop stylists will be screwed.
Magazines would not be in business if the general public demanded food not be altered. Maybe, in some cases, one can pull off cooking or baking and get it photographed quickly but that is a fluke. Be honest, if you’ve followed a lot a food blogs, you’ve seen a lot of dishes that were not appealing. Unfortunately, it takes experts in the publishing industry to tell the public what is mouth watering.
While I have not started using fake ingredients to enhance my food, I am well prepared with my photography studio to speed the process before the food looks bad. There are foods that are just really difficult to make attractive on their own merit and that’s where having the knowledge of basic styling skills comes in to play. Using dried herbs sprayed with Pam® to cover bright spots on meat or fish, or Kitchen Bouquet® to help the browning of chicken, or Karo® Syrup on fish to enhance grill marks are just a few cosmetic additions to make a dish more appealing to your readers.
If you still object to these few enhancements then don’t take a photograph and import it into Photoshop or other software “enhancing” gimmicks. It is no different. A tweak is a tweak.
Recipe for Grilled Shrimp and Vegetables:
The base, a rounded heap of shortening.
Begin inserting julienne strips of bell peppers or thinly sliced onions
Fold and curl thinly sliced zucchini and yellow squash
Continue adding and building out and up of the vegetables
Using an iron grill pan, heat up very hot.
Brush Karo Syrup over already cooked shrimp and place on grill pan to establish grill markings.
The Reality Shrimp and Salad
Leave out the shortening. Layer vegetables on a plate.
Grill shrimp and place over vegetables. Drizzle a salad dressing of choice.
Denise and Cindie,
What a great day. Thanks for the memories,