Last year, for six Tuesday evenings between 6.30-9.00pm during September and October, I was privileged to be able to attend an excellent course in Food Styling at Prue Leith’s Cookery School in London. It had come highly recommended by my food writer/ food stylist friend Ren Behan (www.renbehan.com) who had completed it a few years back and whose work I am very much in awe of. Like myself, she both photographs and styles her own food, rather than simply photographing it and having someone else style if for her, or vice versa. Neither jobs of photographing or styling the food are simple to start with, so needing to carry out both tasks yourself is quite tricky & one of the reasons why I was keen to receive some instruction. Having said that, my main reason for attending the course was aesthetic – I adore beautiful pictures and have been known to buy an entire cookbook for the love of one image. I was hopeful that the course would give me some major pointers in how to achieve similarly stunning results.
My arrival on the first day of the course however, was far from graceful. Earlier on in the day I had decided to go shopping on the Oxford Road. I had arrived from Manchester at my accommodation around one o’clock in the afternoon and had, due to exhaustion gone to bed for a nap. By the time I had managed to rouse myself and grab a quick cup of tea, it was three forty-five and I was running out of time to get going. Problem is, that anyone who knows me, knows that I’m generally undeterred with sensible thoughts such as not having enough time to do something and so, true to form decided to risk it. So, as best as I could and still pretty much exhausted, I made my way out in the direction of the closest tube station, did my shopping at as much of a Penelope Pitstop worthy lightening speed as I could manage and started to make my way back to where I staying. My bag was heavy and I was in a bit of a sweat, but I reckoned I could still get back to my room and out again by five fifteen, which according to a trial run of the route I had done, left me half an hour leeway if there were any hold ups. So far, so good-ish. Until… I stepped on the very last escalator at the exit and felt a peculiar ripping sensation down at my feet and saw that the heel had been wrenched away from the sole of my right Dune boot and there was no way I could walk on it. I looked down and suddenly realised that not only would I be unable to walk anywhere with one boot missing, but also that I hadn’t brought a second pair of shoes with me. How was I going to get my class? And on time?! The journey to the cookery school involved a tube journey, then a train journey, then a fifteen to twenty minute walk. Frustratingly too, the shops on the streets immediately around the tube station were not clothes shops, with the nearest clothes shops about a six minute walk away. Thankfully, I had a recollection that I had maybe seen a Monsoon Accessorize shop next to the tube station and hoped they might sell some shoes. I was so relieved when I saw there was and I was able to find a pair of reasonably priced silver glittery ballerinas to fit. Phew! The best part after all that palaver was that I was able somewhat miraculously to get back to my room within fifteen minutes of the escalator chewing up my boot! And get to my class twenty minutes early!
My boot with the heel ripped off! My heel doesn’t look too bad in this photo, but believe me there was no walking to be had on it!
But the story doesn’t end there, because my new shoes cut into the back of my feet so when I arrived my ankles were covered in blood. I had been so intent on getting there I hadn’t actually noticed that I was bleeding and one of the other students pointed down to the bottom of my trousers with concern. Thankfully the Prue Leith cookery school staff were really kind and lovely about it and gave me things to clean up with and plasters to cover my cuts sufficiently before being entering into the hygienic kitchen area. I had certainly made an entrance, but not exactly the one I was planning on!
The first night of the course passed happily without any more drama and involved filling in a couple of forms, introducing ourselves, having the agenda explained and then straight into some quick food styling with meals that the course tutors had provided. It was time well spent and really whet the appetite for what we would be learning over the next six weeks, where we would be exploring the nitty gritty of food styling in much greater depth. I don’t want to say too much here about the specifics of what we learnt on the course, because I feel that the tutors were very generous with their knowledge and expertise and also because the food styling world is highly competitive; I would rather recommend that you book yourself up a place with Prue Leith’s and see for yourself.
What I will say however, is that I think the course is really good value for money and that I learnt a lot. I definitely felt inspired by the focused and encouraging teaching style of the tutors to believe that developing my food styling skills was genuinely achievable.
The course tutors – Food Stylists Jennifer Joyce & Sarah Cook & Adrian Lawrence on Food Photography.
The course was tutored by Jennifer Joyce and Sarah Cook, both of whom have had extensive experience in the world of food styling. Sarah, formerly the Deputy Food Editor for the UK edition of BBC Good Food Magazine, is a freelance food writer, food stylist and home economist and whose stunning work can currently be seen gracing the pages of many a major publication (including BBC Good Food Magazine) or advertisement. Jennifer is a freelance food writer and food stylist (with more than ten years experience in the industry) and is the author of more than ten excellent cookbooks including Meals in Heels and her absolutely superb most recent publication ‘My Street Food Kitchen (Murdoch Books 2015).
There was also one week where the successful London food photographer Adrian Lawrence (adrianlawrencephotography.com) came in to offer help and advice from the photographic side of things. Adrian came back again later on to photograph our final food styling presentations for our portfolios. You can see the photograph he took of my food styling presentation at the top of my blog. I chose to style a meal of Chinese style duck with various vegetables, spices and noodles. Although my focus was on producing a meal that would primarily be photogenic and lend itself to be styled more easily than perhaps another type of dish, I did want to enjoy eating my meal afterwards! It turned out really rather well and I will hopefully blog my recipe for you in the not too distant future.
Below are some pictures I have taken of pages in both ‘My Street Food Kitchen’ and the BBC Good Food Magazine, to give you an idea of just how skillfully and beautifully both these ladies style food.
Below, Jennifer’s Vietnamese Chicken with Tamarind Sauce for her cookery book My Street Food Kitchen. Food styled by Jennifer & photographed by Jean Cazals.
Sticky Date Cake with Pistachio Brittle & Cardamon Toffee Sauce. Jennifer’s recipe & styling, again for her book My Street Food Kitchen. Photography by Jean Cazals.
Grilled Prawns with Papaya Cashew & Pomegranate Salad, p18 BBC Good Food Magazine June 2016.