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A Feast for the Eyes

Rachel Bachrach

Blowtorches, artists’ brushes, dental tools, and crinkle cutters. Food stylists use an eclectic set of instruments to prepare food for photo shoots. How they make any food look appealing, and some tricks you can try in your own kitchen

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

David Kolotkin and Ezequil Vasquez stand side by side in 80-degree heat. Outside, a chilly winter rain is soaking passersby, but in the kitchen of The Prime Grill, in the narrow space between the countertop and the row of stoves, ovens, and ranges, it’s toasty warm.

Ezequil watches as David, the executive chef at the midtown Manhattan restaurant, demonstrates how to serve the soup of the day, which is garnished with a parsley and mint pesto.

David squirts some of the paste into a bowl. “This is good for pasta, but not for soup. Thin it out,” he says. He squirts some oil into the bowl and mixes rapidly. “That’s not enough. Can you get me some extra virgin olive oil. Please.”

“For the soup, I want to drizzle it,” he says, adding the olive oil someone passes to him. “We need it thinner.”

He mixes. Ezequil watches.

“We’re breaking this down, almost there.”

He’s still mixing. “Do it till it’s broken.”

He lifts the spoon, takes a closer look at the paste, then drops a spoonful into a bowl of soup.

“Place a crouton on top.”

Ezequil does, and the bowl of fava bean soup with curry topped with parsley and mint pesto and croutons is ready to go.

The point, says David, is that anything a customer orders has to not only taste good, but also look good.

Chefs like David, along with recipe creators, food photographers, cookbook publishers, and food-product marketers, are all concerned with presentation.

“You’re trying to make someone react, to make someone hungry,” explains Dan Engongoro, photographer and owner of Studio E Imaging in Lambertville, New Jersey. “You want people to see the picture and think, ‘I want to make that.’ ”

People in the industry say they work with a pretty cooperative subject. “Walk into any grocery store, stop and look around the fruit and vegetable aisles. The colors are just breathtaking — there’s so much to work with!” says Estee Kafra, a Toronto-based food stylist and photographer and editor of Cooking with Color, Kosher Inspired, and e-magazine “From an artistic point of view, food is intrinsically beautiful. It’s just a matter of presenting it properly.”


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