Showing delicious food on TV is one of my favorite parts of my job - but it also requires the most planning and coordination of any segments I do. It's a lot of work to make it look effortless.
Cooking for TV is different than cooking at home. Since smell-o-vision does not yet exist, everything has to LOOK amazing. It also has to TASTE amazing. After all, studios are filled with hungry crew and hosts, who generally sample everything on-air during my segments. (Maybe that's why they keep inviting me back?)
Since I'm usually in a city for a segment for less than 24 hours, I almost always work with local food stylists who help plan, grocery shop and prepare the display.
If you have heard anything about food styling, it is probably that food stylists spray food with products that make the food inedible. That may happen for magazine, print and web photography, which require close-up photographs of food that sits out for hours during a shoot. But for TV, where things move very quickly and most food gets eaten, things need to be edible - and delicious.
It would be easy to assume that these gorgeous tables just appear. But what you see for three minutes on a show actually takes several days of planning and prep to pick and source ingredients; design a tablescape; select serving dishes, linens and props; and - finally - cook.
Food styling is a marriage of art and science. The stylists I work with have varied backgrounds, but what they all have in common is 1) the ability to cook just about anything and 2) amazing eyes for design.
Last week I did an Easter dinner segment for Sam's Club for the syndicated "Daytime" show, which broadcasts from Tampa. Whenever I'm in Tampa, I always work with Kat Barrott of Food Styl Tampa Bay. She is - hands down - one of the best in the business, and I won't book a food segment at this show without her.
The morning of the shoot, Kat arrived at the studio more than four hours before my taping to prep and style the food. She rolls in with a truck towing a trailer full of her tools and props. Professional food stylists don't travel light.
She and her food styling assistant, Mary Jo, unloaded stacks of coolers packed with food and garnishes, several prep tables, numerous appliances - and a ginormous tool chest stocked with every possible cooking tool. Not to mention bins of serving dishes, linens and props to dress the table to match the Easter theme.
They set up a work area in the station's loading dock - and got to work.
Several things on our menu - a spiraled ham, rack of lamb, scalloped potatoes and a fresh-baked apple pie - needed an extra touch to get them TV-ready. When the actual cooking was done, Kat fired up a blowtorch (!) to give each a perfect, golden brown crust:
Klutzy as I am, I can confidently say I should never be allowed to operate one of these. I'll leave that to the professionals. (If you're curious - here is what she is using).
By this point, everyone's stomachs were growling as the delicious aromas of ham, lamb and scalloped potatoes wafted through the hallways and studio.
Several hours later, the tables are wheeled into the studio. After last-minute adjustments are made - garnishes placed, wine poured and flowers arranged - host Jerry Penacoli and I review the rundown with the floor director.
And we are ready to roll! You can see the full segment here.
The tables looked awesome for about 10 minutes. As soon as we wrapped, the crew grabbed plates and dug into a spread of ham, rack of lamb, green bean casserole, asparagus pomodori, dinner rolls and potatoes - not to mention the dessert table piled with a small mountain of apple pie, coconut tea cakes, cream puffs and eclairs.
I love that my job gives me the chance to work with super-nice and talented people, and these are some of the best! So, next time to you see a beautiful spread of food on a TV show, you'll know a bit more about it and what went into making it look so delish.