Food Styling Interview: Diana Isaiou

Photo Credit: Scott Pitts- Armstrong/Pitts Photography

What made you want to be a food stylist?

I was a chef, and had lots of friends in the film industry, I had always thought it would be fun. I was working as a restaurant consultant, and Jane Armstrong called and needed a stylist. I said, I'll do it! and the rest is history. For people who want to break in to the business, work nights or weekends while you
try to get started. Be brave, when you are almost busy enough, jump. Quit your part time job and be ready to live off your credit card. You MUST be available to work. My friends  and I here that are stylists all worked a part time job while we tried to establish ourselves. It can be painful to break in to this business. Ive stuck to it through "chicken or feathers" and am grateful that I am now successful.

Did you do a lot of cooking as a child?

 Yes, I was cooking dinner for my family at age 6. My earliest memory is of "cooking" noodles for my dolls. My Barbies had a mini wood burning oven I built behind the mailboxes, my Mom would make me dough to bake in there. Both of my parents were great cooks, food was always important in our house.

Did you teach under other food stylist?

No, I was a classically french trained chef, and learned a lot of tricks from food photographers.

Who would you say was your break through client?

Don't know really, that was a long time ago. Certainly my best and oldest client is Starbucks Coffee. Ive been shooting with them for over 20 years.

Who are some notable photographers you have worked with?

Ive been lucky to work with SO many talented people. My main base is in Seattle, I work with EJ Armstrong, Scott Pitts, Angie Norwood Browne. Ive done some work in Texas with Dick Patrick - Cinnabon,  I did a Holiday Starbucks shoot with Charles Shotwell. Recently I did a shoot with Bryan Sheffield for Starbucks that was so much fun, it's hard to believe we got paid for that! I've also been to London  for Starbucks and shot there with Diana Miller.

Where/who have you looked for your inspirations?

I find inspiration in nature, fine art, restaurants, day dreaming, magazines. I garden quite a bit, and am know for growing crazy stuff in my greenhouse for shoots. And the web is so full of amazing photographers, I like looking at product and food shots.

Photo Credit: Scott Pitts
A lot of your drinks are slushies or the Frappuccinos from Starbucks; how’d you make it stay fresh?

I work FAST! Keep the studio cool, and keep your glass cold. No tricks really. So much of this job is controlling temperatures. We often have to do a lot of frozen drinks together, so occasionally we will photoshop a couple shots together.  Harder to do is lattes, very short shelf life, or pour shots - where repetition is king.

Did your degree from California Culinary Academy help mold your food styling career?

It was more of finishing school for me. I was already a great home cook taught by my parents. I remember when the pastry chef at school was teaching everyone how to transfer rolled out pie dough to the pie pan. He was amazed I knew how to. If your parents are good cooks, watch and learn!

What is your favorite food or drink to style?

I don't know if I have a favorite. I think what makes this job so fun is the wide variety of things I get to do. Ive set up indoor farmers markets for Bobby Flay to stand in, and shot single coffee beans. The beauty is that everyday I get to solve problems, work with talented and creative people. I find the most rewarding part of the job is that I get to fine tune my craft every day. I'll look back at how I used to do something, then try to think how can it be better? Im always striving to be a real as possible, the perfect combination of  what food really is, achievable by the populace, and made exquisitely beautiful and delicious looking. That said, I really enjoy working with liquids. People ask me to draw crazy stuff on top of coffee, and I have to remind them, Im drawing on liquid, with liquid and that is pretty hard to do.

What is your must-have tool on every shoot?

Offset tweezers. Or my little spray bottle.