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Genie Zarling





Genie Zarling








NEW ACQUAINTANCE/STRANGER: So you’re a food stylist? That sounds like a cool job but what exactly do you do?

 GENIE: Well, (pause) I arrange food for editorial and advertising photography.

Oh, do you take the pictures?

Nope, there’s a photographer. I just do the food.

At home?

No, mostly at photo studios.

Do they have kitchens?

Yes, often amazing kitchens with multiple stovetops, ovens, fridges, freezers, you name it. Although occasionally some aren’t quite so well equipped, or if you are on location in a warehouse somewhere, then you almost need to bring your own kitchen.

Who cooks the food?

Umm…..I do. I also shop for it, bring it to the shoot location and clean up at the end of the day. If I’m lucky I get an assistant to help.

Wow!?!  How did you get to be a food stylist?

In high school I dreamt of being a pastry chef.  Reality set in though, and I graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in Economics.  My first real job at a small consulting firm outside of Washington D.C. led to a part-time volunteer position at a well known cooking school.  Tidying up after the White House pastry chef ‘s dessert class (i.e., eating the leftover Grand Marnier ice cream in the freezer) rekindled my desire to pursue my love of baking.

My career as a baker/pastry chef blossomed under the tutelage of Pam Sherman and later Lucia Watson, among others, where my creativity flourished and expertise grew.  Everyday was a new adventure.  I was doing what I loved with a great boss and fun, talented co-workers. But as the years slipped by I gradually started to envy the lives of my, Monday-Friday, 9 to 5, friends.  For a pastry chef I had pretty great hours, 7 to 3, Tuesday–Saturday but Friday night Happy Hour was never an option and holidays were seriously crazy. One my photographer friends, thought that maybe I would enjoy being a food stylist.

My first job as food stylist was piping rosettes on the holiday French Silk Pie for Bakers Square.  What normally would take about 10 minutes in the pastry station at work took ALL DAY on set in the photo studio.  Boy, I had a lot to learn.  I was used to working on my own, being continually busy and making delicious food look beautifulPlating a dessert was quite different than a photo shoot where the goal was to make the food look perfect and it could take 10 people all day to achieve that task.  I set about educating myself by attending seminars here and out of state.  I also started assisting so that I could learn first hand the skills required to be a food stylist.

For the past 20 years my professional inspiration has been fueled by my clients and the many talented photographers, art directors and prop stylists I’ve had the pleasure to work with.  Each project has it’s own set of unique challenges that often call for serious brain storming and creative problem solving.  A camaraderie frequently evolves as everyone supplies their own unique skills for the other team members to support and build upon. Days on set can get long but the reward at the end of the day is a satisfied client who is so appreciative of the effort and expertise that everyone contributed. 

That's so cool !

Minneapolis is a great place to be a food stylist. We have a vibrant advertising community and many food companies are based here like General Mills, Target and Cargill.  We have a wide range of quality grocery stores to shop at as well as co-ops and farmers markets. New imaginative restaurants seem to pop up on every corner. I feel so lucky to have such interesting career that lets me experience the food culture around me. I guess you’re right, I do have a cool job!