Known For: His gift for garnishing, especially if it involves flowering herbs or tiny pomegranates
Weirdest Days on the Job: “Spending two days searching through a 50-pound bag of dry cat food for the perfect pieces to fill a tiny bowl for an advertising shoot. Yep, pet food needs to be styled, too!”
To get paper-thin veggie slices, Barrett uses a mandoline slicer (above left, with Mark Vasquez, friend and food styling assistant). “Most people are afraid of mandolines, but they shouldn’t be,” Barrett says. “Buy a no-frills one from Benriner and you’ll have it forever.”
Get The Look
Cutting citrus into segments (call them “supremes,” if you wanna sound like a culinary school grad) makes an ordinary grapefruit seem fancier.
Barrett's Fennel, Celery Root & Grapefruit Salad
“To keep fennel supercrunchy and fresh-looking, slice the bulbs into a bowl of ice water with a little lemon juice squeezed in,” says Barrett. “Soak until you’re ready to plate. The fennel slices will curl, which looks nice and keeps them from sticking together.”
Recipe: Try Barrett's Fennel, Celery Root & Grapefruit Salad
For Barrett, the best-looking (and best-tasting) food starts with the best equipment. “On shoots, we seem to cook everything on heavy-duty half sheet pans,” he says. “I have a ton of them at home, too. I love the no-frills thick aluminum ones from a restaurant supply store. The half sheet gives enough space for the food to caramelize, while the olive oil and chicken fat mix and mingle and get the potatoes all good and crispy.”
Barrett's Lemon Chicken & Potatoes
Recipe: Try Barrett's Lemon Chicken & Potatoes
Known For: Creating beautiful, delicious messes. Gorgeous imperfection is her calling card.
Weirdest Day on the Job: “Trying to make a giant hat—out of meringue!”
Rebecca and Eugene pick the prettiest berries and veggies for their dishes.
You Do You
“I love changing a dish based on what’s seasonal or feeling beautiful to me,” says Rebecca. “I like to exaggerate the spikiness of the meringue some days; other times, I’ll let it be swirlier. Top the pavlova with edible flowers or nuts or berries or whatever inspires you.”
Rebecca's Pistachio Pavlova with Lemon Cream & Berries
Known For: Giving food a sense of motion—think waves of salad greens or swirls of pasta.
Weirdest Day on the Job: “Being asked to create a huge pile of caviar without the budget to buy it. I made it myself, but I’ll never reveal how I did it.”
For maximum crispiness, Eugene soaks watermelon radishes in ice water for a few minutes.
Nuts are a classic starter nibble, but Eugene mixes things up by frying them in oil until they’re crispy and toasty (above left). He adds a squeeze of lemon to the hot oil, which adds flavor and doubles as a party trick because of the loud sizzle when the juice goes in. The nuts get folded into a creamy feta dip that Eugene serves with a tangy pink cocktail (above right).
Eugene's Whipped Feta Dip with Toasted Nuts
As any good food stylist knows, crudités are always the right answer. Go for veggies in a variety of colors and shapes and sizes. Make the amount of food feel abundant, but not overwhelming. “Don’t fill your plate to the brim,” Eugene says. “It’s more interesting when you can see a little peek of it.”
Recipe: Try Eugene's Whipped Feta Dip with Toasted Nuts
Eugene's Ginger Jasmine
Lemon twists and pieces of crystallized ginger give Eugene’s cocktail a finished look. The wide mouth of a coupe glass makes pretty much any drink look (and photograph) better.
Recipe: Try Eugene's Ginger Jasmine
Known For: Drips, drops, swipes, and smears. She’s also a gelatin whisperer. (Click here for proof.)
Weirdest Day on the Job: “Putting a garter belt on a beer-can chicken for a feature for this magazine. It’s a long story.”
Use Herbs for Color
While Barrett works on the salad, Michelle gets going on the spaetzle.
Michelle's Parsley Spaetzle with Mushrooms
"There’s always at least one recipe that needs a little chopped parsley for color,” says Michelle, who concocts use-ups for the rest of the bunch. “This job can be wasteful, so I make sure everybody on set takes something home and I compost like a crazy person. My freezer is just ice cubes and compost bags. But I need more ideas for parsley—there’s always so much parsley!” One great use? This parsley spaetzle, which incorporates both the leaves and the stems. “The brighter you can make your food, the more visually interesting it is,” Michelle says.
Recipe: Try Michelle's Parsley Spaetzle with Mushrooms
Food stylists are in charge of the cooking, but prop stylists, like Megan Hedgpeth (above), handle the dishes, linens, and flowers. “With flowers, my rule is quantity over quality,” Megan says. “It’s better to have more of the same type of flower so an arrangement looks full. And they don’t have to be expensive. I love using grocery-store flowers.”
Bless This Mess!
“If you’re trying to make your plate of food look good for a picture, less is more and imperfection is great,” says Rebecca. “A cracked piecrust is OK!” In fact, it’s more than OK. It’s proof that a person, not a machine, made the food. “Find the beauty in the mistakes,” says Michelle.