by Kim Konecny Kissling
I got into food styling in 1995 by attending Tante Marie’s Cooking school. I had never heard of food styling, and there was a talk one day about different careers in food: when I heard about styling, I knew it’s what I wanted to do. After school I had an externship with a photographer who shot only food, and I was able to meet several different stylists. The only way to get into the business is by assisting other stylists and learning the trade. I broke into the industry by cold-calling photographers and offering to work for free or a lower day rate to get my foot in the door. I assisted for about three years and started out on my own in 1998. It took quite a while, but then I landed my first big assignment.
The Williams-Sonoma book series was a huge cookbook series. It was single subject books, and there were 32 books in the series. It took four years to shoot the entire series. I didn’t work on it full time, but we did about eight books per year, and each book took 10 days. That was my big break into the industry.
A Day in the Life
I enjoy working on projects that include fresh ingredients such as salad, or colorful meals that have different elements and textures. All of this makes for a beautiful photograph.
My favorite part of my job is that every day is different, and every day there is a new challenge of some sort. I work with different clients sometimes daily. Projects rarely last longer than a few days or a week at most. I also work in different studios with different staff.
My least favorite part is packing up all of my “kit,” which is the equipment that I use for styling, and schlepping it around. The other part that’s not great is that I don’t have set hours. My day starts before the client arrives, and it ends when we are done shooting. Mosts days are 10-hour days, and I’ve worked as late as 2 am.
The most challenging foods to work with are meat and ice cream. Sliced meat to be exact. Every meat client has a different thought on how pink or rare meat should be on the inside, and every cut of meat is different. Some meats have really great muscle fiber that looks nice; others can be a mess of different muscles crossing in the wrong place with gristle and fat where you don’t want it – and just when you think you’ve got the shot, the meat oxidizes and turns gray, and you start from scratch. Ice cream, on the other hand, simply melts too quickly. Hence, the reason we use fake ice cream sometimes. Plus while styling real ice cream you have to work in a freezer. I’ve had frost bite on a few fingers more than once.
About 10 years ago I worked on the re-design of Edy’s ice cream. It took weeks to complete, but there were about 75 different flavors, and each flavor had to be shot individually. We would shoot 2-3 flavors a day. Flavors like vanilla are far easier than flavors with “inclusions” which are the nuts, chips, ribbons, chunks, etc., in the ice cream.
How to Make Ice Cream for the Camera
I’ve worked with fake ice cream for years and years. In order to get the correct texture (which is called feathering) in the ice cream the best recipe I’ve found uses a combination of Crisco, Karo syrup and powdered sugar. If you use plain Crisco (white) it comes out looking like vanilla; and if you use butter-flavored Crisco, it looks more like French vanilla. If you add just a little ground cloves to the mixture, you have vanilla bean. Then, if you want different flavors, you add things like strawberry jam instead of the syrup or dark Karo syrup and cocoa powder for chocolate.
Using mashed potatoes doesn’t work because the concoction that you make dries out rather quickly; whereas the mixture using the Crisco and syrup stays moist.
I’ve tested this and made a strawberry ice cream cone with fake ice cream, put it on a shelf, and it stayed there for years. Literally, years! It did dry out, but it stayed together, never molded and looked good the entire time.
You can also make fake soft serve ice cream using similar ingredients, but including canned frosting. I pipe it out of a piping bag, and by looking at it, you’d never know it was fake. And it will stay that way for quite a while. But fake soft serve ice cream, because of the frosting, starts to look dry within a day or so.
Real or Fake?
I would say that 98% of the time I use real food. It may not be cooked exactly how I would prepare it to eat, but the only time I use fake food is when I’m doing a project like a banana split. It’s one of the most difficult things to shoot. There are three (if not more) types of ice cream, sauces (and some hot like fudge), nuts, whipped cream, cherries, etc. By the time all of this gets into the dish it’s a mess when using real ice cream. I’ve done it a few times: it’s fun and challenging and can make a beautiful shot, especially if the client likes a little melt. But for those clients that want it to look pristine I would recommend using fake ice cream. With that being said, if you are advertising ice cream you are required by law to use the real product. But if you’re advertising for hot fudge, then the ice cream can be fake, and the hot fudge is the focal point. Food styling may seem to be deceptive, but all of the food used is real and made from whatever ingredients are in the package that it’s coming from. But a food stylist will take hours to make it look the best it can look. When a consumer at home makes it, they just don’t have the time or desire to do that.
Right now I have roadside billboards up all over California for California avocado. I’ll be driving down the road and BAM my work is right there, bigger than life. But it’s also fun to walk into a grocery store, and see my work on nearly every aisle.
Kim Konecny Kissling is a 1987 graduate of Derry Area Senior High School and lives in the San Francisco area of California with her husband and two children. As a two-time award winner from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), Kim Kissling is one of the leading food stylists in the industry. In 2006, Kim received two highly coveted IACP awards in recognition of her creativity and skill: a Gold Medal in the Food Photography and Styling Category for the cookbook Chocolate Obsession, and a Silver Medal for Boulevard: The Cookbook. She was also featured on the television show “Bay Cafe with Chef Joey Allman” who highlighted her work in the Napa Valley.
Since 1995, Kim’s artistry and her passion for food have been displayed nationally in every available medium. Her work is the centerpiece of more than 70 cookbooks, countless magazines, advertising campaigns, product packaging, television advertisements, and in the feature film Bicentennial Man with Robin Williams. Kim’s styling is displayed on the packaging of clients such as Dreyer’s and Annie Chun’s (See Packaging Portfolio), and the promotions of Ghirardelli Chocolate, among others (See Client List). Her creations are also featured in Williams-Sonoma’s Cook’s Collection series of 22 cookbooks, by publishers Chronicle Books, Ten Speed Press, and Stewart Tabori & Chang (See Cookbooks), and in magazines such as Bon Appetit, New York Times Magazine and Cooking Light (See Editorial).
Kim’s hands-on approach ensures that her client’s needs are met and most often exceeded. She manages all aspects of the food preparation and styling: starting from raw ingredients, to the cooking itself, from the styling and set display to the photographic shoot, Kim creates the perfect look for every shot. By combining her creative eye, her skills as a trained cook, and her imaginative touch, Kim brings a unique style to her creations – transforming food displays into works of art.
Visit her website to learn more: www.kimcookin.com