Food Stylists Put The Sizzle On Your Burger Ever wonder why your Big Mac never looks as good as the one in the ads? You don't have a food stylist picking out the wilted lettuce and choosing the perfect bun from a hundred contenders.

Food Stylists Put The Sizzle On Your Burger

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GUY RAZ, host:

Now, believe it or not, even Pentagon brownies can be made to look delicious for the cameras. That's what Delores Custer does for a living. She's a professional food stylist. And she's written a book about how it's done. It's called "Food Styling."

And Delores Custer joins me from Portland. Welcome.

Ms. DELORES CUSTER (Food Stylist; Author, "Food Styling"): Thank you.

RAZ: Now, we have all seen the perfect bowl of cereal, right? You know...

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: ...the perfect blueberry or the perfect strawberry just hitting the milk.

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: You've got that perfect splash and then these perfectly situated Corn Flakes and they each have a few perfect drops of milk on them.

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: Is that milk?

Ms. CUSTER: Some of the times, it is. Most of the time, it's not. In the early days, that splash was acrylic. And we would have a model maker make the splash. Today, with digital, it can be a real splash or oftentimes it's illustrated.

RAZ: Computer-generated?

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

RAZ: So, CGI...

Ms. CUSTER: Exactly.

RAZ: ...for like, your Corn Flakes bowl?

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Now, if we're selling milk, we have to use milk. If we're selling the cereal, then we sort through and we find what I call flakes with character. We don't want perfect flat flakes because they're boring.

So we like to try to find flakes that have some twists and turns to them and that sort of thing. And we arrange those in a bowl, and then we do use something other than milk if it's going to take the photographer a long time to shoot.

RAZ: Which is a sort of a combination of what? What is that substance?

Ms. CUSTER: Oh, it's really simple. It's either Elmer's Glue. But my favorite, and the one that I use all the time, is Wildroot Hair Tonic.

RAZ: You know, it's funny you said that because I used both of those in my cereal this morning.

Ms. CUSTER: I'm sure you did.

RAZ: Elmer's Glue is delicious.

Ms. CUSTER: I can taste it now.

RAZ: Yeah. It's much, much better...

Ms. CUSTER: Yeah.

RAZ: ...than skim milk.

(Soundbite of laughter)

RAZ: Now, I was looking at your list of things that you sort of pull out of your toolbox, and some of these things, you know, are fairly innocuous and some of them - some of the things are just toxic; mortician's wax, something called poop freeze. What is poop freeze and what do you use it for?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CUSTER: This was a new one. And I haven't used poop freeze. This is a tip that another food stylist gave me who walks her dogs.

RAZ: Oh, this is a chemical that freezes dog poop. I know what you're talking about.

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. So that you can pick it up.

RAZ: And how do you use this in food styling?

Ms. CUSTER: Well, if your ice cream is melting...

RAZ: Uh-huh.

Ms. CUSTER: ...you can spray the ice cream and that cools it down and keeps it from melting for a little while. I mean, a reason that our world is this kind of crazy world where we're spraying ice cream and so forth is because photographers need time to get the lighting just right and the exposure. And there are foods that don't do well with sitting there over time.

My mentor said, food is like children. It doesn't like to behave in front of company. And these items are things that are there to make food behave.

RAZ: And of course, if you were say, like a hairstylist or a makeup artist...

Ms. CUSTER: Mm-hmm.

RAZ: ...presumably, in the food styling business, you don't have to worry about big egos. I mean, the sort the muffin, the brand muffin isn't going to sort of say, you didn't do that, right?

Ms. CUSTER: Oh, but the brand manager or the art director will.

(Soundbite of laughter).

RAZ: So the cover of your book - I should discuss the cover of your book, "Food Styling," because it is a - it's like a Dagwood sandwich. It's a Kaiser roll and in the middle of this Kaiser roll are I don't know how many dozens of pieces of cheese and different kinds of deli meats and perfectly green lettuce. How did you make that?

Ms. CUSTER: Every time we receive an assignment, one of the things that food stylists do, we'll say, now, where is the problem? And with this, if you make a tall sandwich, the weight of the food on top of each other presses everything down and it just looks flat and not interesting. What I do is I have the photographer put a bolt up through the plate and then I put the bun down through the bolt and I start arranging the lettuce and cheese and so forth.

RAZ: So, if I came to your house tonight for dinner, should I expect to have a beautifully presented waxed, sprayed down, glue stick, delicious hair gel meal or is it just going to be kind of a big mess?

Ms. CUSTER: It's not going to be a mess. It won't be a mess. But...

RAZ: It'll be non-toxic though, right?

Ms. CUSTER: It'll be totally non-toxic. Just because it's pretty doesn't mean that it's good. We as food stylists, we're always looking for the pretty ones. You know, we want the lemons that are just the right size that have the right color yellow, the right texture on their skin and all of that stuff.

But I know that the juiciest lemons have a certain look to them and those would be lemons that I wouldn't pick, you know, for my food styling assignment.

RAZ: That's pretty good advice. Delores Custer is the person who makes you believe that the food you're about to buy really looks as delicious as it does in magazines. Her new book is called "Food Styling." Delores, thank you so much.

Ms. CUSTER: You're welcome. It was my pleasure. I enjoyed this.

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