You’d think that after helping to direct a few Williams-Sonoma cookbook shoots, I’d be up on all the food fake-outs. Actually, we tried really hard not to pull from the same bag of tricks some food stylists and photographers trot out on a regular basis, so I never watched a side of beef get shined up with spray-on lacquer or set up a bowl of Cheerios with Crisco masquerading as milk.
That said, I get rather discouraged when my culinary creations come out looking not so much like porn as they do a really bad movie on Skinemax. However, Gael over at Pop Culture Junk Mail alerted me to this entertaining piece by Carin Moonin in the Willamette Week.
But we have a strange relationship, cookbooks and I. They lure me with shiny pages, happy lists and lush photographs. Deviled eggs are perkily piped. Lamb gleams, wantonly, under a balsamic reduction. Lasagna bubbles off the page.
But cookbooks, tragically, lead me to a place I can’t go. I’m a writer, not an artist. I’ve taken knife-skills classes, sushi-rolling tutorials and cake-decorating seminars, and I’m still at the same level of artistic aptitude as when I made macaroni necklaces. While the stuff I make tastes good, it never, ever, looks like the picture.
She then proceeds to make a handful of recipes in an attempt to re-create their accompanying tempting images in the cookbooks, and has Carol Ladd and Ellen Ladd, two food stylists, critique her results with such comments as, “Seriously? Are you actually trying to replicate the plate as it’s composed in the book?” and “Sometimes a perfect drip—or the sensation of gooey-ness that you get from pulling the cupcake apart—can be achieved with candle wax, strategically placed and covered with the actual foodstuff …”
I now feel so much better about all my holiday entertaining. If anyone comments on my presentation, I’m going to ask them if they’d rather eat my candles.