Why This Food Writer Wears Many Hats

Virginia Willis does a lot of jobs simultaneously to pay the bills, and because she prefers it that way. (Photo by Angie Mosier)

A guest post by Virginia Willis

A few years ago there was a great outcry when Food52’s Amanda Hesser wrote that she wouldn’t advise any one to become a food writer. At the time I disagreed, but now I find that she has a point.

To be successful as a food writer, I wear many hats. Sometimes, I do work outside food writing because I enjoy it. Sometimes that work is more lucrative. Regardless, all these hats create massive scheduling and financial challenges, but also diversity and stimulation. My small business can be feast or famine, but the jobs are tightly intertwined and I cannot imagine it any other way.

The deal is, it’s just not enough to be a food writer, even a successful one. We may not be starving artists, but very few writers are financially successful.

Here’s what I do as a food writer. It’s a lot but it’s not enough:

1. Cookbook author. My two cookbooks have received much acclaim and even some awards. Using the language of Publishers Lunch, my advances have been [Read more…]

Styling Pro's Secrets to Gorgeous Food Photos

Food Stylist Denise Vivaldo

For every food blog with gorgeous photos, 10 others need work.

So I’ve asked Denise Vivaldo,  founder of Food Fanatics, a catering, recipe development and food styling firm based in Los Angeles, to come to the rescue. She has styled food for television shows including The Tonight Show, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, and Inside Dish with Rachel Ray.

She helps authors with their cookbooks, including Mariel’s Kitchen by Mariel Hemingway, cookbooks by Suzanne Somers, and The Date Night Cookbook by Meredith Phillips.

She also teaches food styling (sometimes with photographer Matt Amendariz), and is the author, most recently, of The Food Stylist’s Handbook, based on her decades of food styling experience.

Q. What is the definition of a food stylist?

A. It’s the food stylist’s job to prepare food for the camera. The food is not necessarily consumed but prepared just for the camera. The majority of tricks we use are to manipulate the food so it’s still edible.

Now that’s different for food bloggers. You develop issues about food when your family’s going to eat it. You want it to still be hot, to make sure nothing gets into it to contaminate it, and you don’t want to waste it.

So if I were making strawberry ice cream, I would pick out a quart of strawberry ice cream at the grocery store and shoot that. That way I might not feel panicked about working with it.

Q. Where do food bloggers go wrong about food styling?

"We put the green beans going in different directions. It's a platter like my mother would have brought to the table. We blanched the onions first, then sautéed them to preserve their color. We undercook everything."

A. A blogger in a class I was teaching once said to me, “I just throw it on the plate. I have four kids to feed.” You need to understand composition.

I’ve found that bloggers don’t read the instruction book that comes with the camera. I tell them to take off the automatic setting and learn to focus the camera themselves. Take the automatic flash off and learn how to harness light.

They don’t get close enough to the food. You want to be able to lick that photograph! Props and food trends come and go, but less is more in photographs.

Q. What if I don’t have a whole cabinet full of pretty plates and dish towels?

A. Then get close to that food!

Also, food needs color. Get gorgeous colored napkins: vibrant blues, pinks and orange. Then [Read more…]