A question I often get asked when talking with friends about my work is “You seriously really use a food stylist? What on earth do they do and can I get that job”? Well folks, it’s true – there are people that get paid (quite handsomely, I must add) to make everything you see in photos and on television look picture perfect. A common misconception is that it’s all trickery, that a stylist’s toolkit is filled with rubber, foam, fake food and dulling spray; well, those are only a few things in there. It’s a fascinating career, requiring the skills of a chef, a stylist, a magician and a whole lot of patience. I sat down with Norman Stewart, a friend and a food stylist that I work with to ask him a few questions about his career and working with food.
Norman is quite a character, to say the least. Born and raised in Britain, Normal started culinary school at the age of 16, realizing at an early age that French cuisine was his passion. After graduation he spent over 10 years as a private chef on a 67-million dollar yacht (don’t you feel sorry for him now?), sailing the world and feeding celebrities, dignitaries, art dealers and royalty. He gave up the sea and moved to New York where a chance meeting with a photographer introduced him to the world of food styling and he’s been doing it ever since.
Norman’s work in print and broadcast is extensive, and he’s worked with some of the world’s leading photographers on campaigns. He currently has a centerspread in this month’s Vanity Fair magazine featuring the cast of Nip/Tuck and a very wobbly turkey. You may also know his work from the Got Milk? Campaign. Who else do you think paints those milk mustaches on celebrities?
Q. Norman, you’ve been a food stylist for 12 years. Who have you worked with?
Bon Apetit magazine, Gourmet magazine, Target, K Mart, Vanity Fair magazine, anywhere there’s food in a shot I’ve probably done it.
Q. What do you enjoy the most about your job?
I get the opportunity to work with some of the most amazing photographers. Annie Liebowitz, David La Chapelle, Norman Jean Roy, to name a few. I worked with Herb Ritts for many years before he passed away.
Q. You work in Los Angeles and New York City. With all your knives and tools, how do you get your toolkit through airport security?
I only travel with a small few essentials; the rest I buy when I get there.
Q. What are your current projects?
Well, I just finished another Got Milk campaign in New York featuring Elle McPherson and recently did an album cover for a reissue of a Herb Alpert CD. Do you know the cover of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”? It was a recreation of that image, but I decided to use shaving cream on the model. Oh, the places I had to make sure it covered! I had my fingers EVERYWHERE!
(It’s at this point that Norman, in his very animated style, tells me where he had to apply the shaving cream and then uses a string of very “interesting” words. My mom reads my blog, so out of respect, let’s just say it was pretty graphic and hilarious.)
Q. What’s the most unusual thing you’ve had to do as a stylist?
It was an album cover for Meat Loaf, the singer. I had to make a steak as big as a pool table. It was made out of tons of cut steaks glued together and then covered in fake blood. It was absolutely disgusting.
It sure sounds like it.