Right after Easter weekend I was on a flight to sunny Tampa, Florida for a week shoot at the new Features Gastropub inside the Riverview movie theater apart of Goodrich Quality Theaters out of the midwest. I was recommend for this job by friend and celebrity chef Brian Duffy. I was so excited for this job, not just because it was in Florida but the concept of the restaurant by Brian had some delicious entrees and beers on tap to try. Something I’ve rarely seen before is they had wine on tap! What?!! I got to work with the local and talented Marlene Forand for the week on executing the dishes and really bringing the ingredients to life. We had fun incorporating the wall signage in the background and making the dishes feel heroic. One of the coolest offerings they had was their Feature Fry Tower. This was stacked high of fries, shaved ham, provolone cheese, bacon, mozzarella and side sauces, yum!! I hope to go back soon and catch a movie in the theater. If you find yourself in the area for vacation make sure and stop by.
1. How did you get involved in styling?
Around 2000 I was a chef suffering from a natural case of career burn-out. I had cooked in and run the kitchens of several kinds of food service operations, from country clubs to fine dining restaurants to catering companies over the course of 12 year. I reached the point where I no longer wanted to work nights, weekends and holidays and couldn't bear one more special request from an obnoxious customer. It was in food styling that I found my ideal job -- one that changes almost every day, with a very livable schedule, and the best people to work with. It's refreshing to be respected by my clients and to be paid a fair rate for my hard work, something that seems to rarely happen in the restaurant world.
2. Are you originally from New York? Do you travel for work?
I grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania. I started my cooking career there but left at the age of 18 to go to the Culinary Institute of America. I moved to New York City the first time in 1993 but took a break to spend some time in Miami in the late 90s. My wife and I moved back to Brooklyn just before 9/11 so it was a rough return initially. Now I have trouble imagining where I would rather live.
Currently I'm trying to position myself in the styling world to do more location work. In the past I've worked in the Bahamas, all over Florida, St. Louis, Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta. I have contacts in L.A. and San Francisco and am currently translating my website into Spanish with the hopes to work in Latin America.
3. Do you have a personal favorite thing to style? Food vs. drinks?
I really enjoy styling cocktails, but lately I've been pushing to do more ice cream. It represents a big challenge for most stylists and I really like working in the medium. It requires speed, organization, technique, and patience to pull off a difficult ice cream shot. Some of those I have, others I'm currently practicing.
4. Hardest thing you have styled.
The most difficult job I've had in styling was a 100 shot cookbook that needed to be photographed in one week. I had two assistants and an intern, we worked 12+ hour days and were really happy with the results when it was all said and done.
As far as the one single thing that I find difficult to style, I would have to say it is pizza. It's hard to keep looking fresh and is prone to developing orange pools of grease that congeal quickly. The relationship between the crust, sauce, cheese and toppings can be a difficult balance when the pressure is on.
5. Any dream clients you would like to work with?
I'd love to work for SodaStream -- I use mine every day! Also, In 2009 I published a book with 50 recipes of flavored water called Cool Waters, and I would love to collaborate with a company that shares my vision that everyone should drink more water.
6. What was it like to work on the Good Spirits book that you won a award from?
Working on Good Spirits was a lot of fun. Melissa Punch, the photographer, and I spent a week in her studio making drinks and playing around with props and garnishes. On a commercial cocktail shoot, by comparison, it is usually a very controlled and orchestrated production. The book shoot was the complete opposite, with a lot of creative freedom on our part, which I believe had everything to do with the results we achieved.
7. What is your must have tool on set?
I always have paint brushes on set. Some are kept clean and dry for removing dust or crumbs and others are used for brushing oil, water, glycerin, browning agents, Windex, or anything else I happen to need at the moment. It would be impossible to keep things from drying out and dying without the use of a good set of brushes.
8. Where do you get your inspiration for styling.
I'm really only one part of the creative team that makes the images I work on, so a lot of the time it's someone else's vision that I am responsible for creating. But to that end, I am inspired by challenging jobs that require me to figure out how I can make the food on set look the best. Occasionally I'm called to do a conceptual piece or something outside the usual realm of putting food on a plate and making it look edible. These are the kinds of jobs that excite me -- one of my former assistants used to call me the McGyver of food styling, which I take to be a compliment.