Avoid The Food Fails

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Food Fails, it’s not your fault

A recent feature in Minnesota Women’s Press

Women have been dealing with overcoming intimidation for centuries. That ever present feeling of “I am not good enough” it’s only in our work place but found it’s way into our everyday meals. We are often our own worst critic with fear of having the worst dish at the company potluck, kids not eating the meals we actually did prepare and the yearly holiday entertaining stress.

It’s not your fault. Everyday we are bombarded with images showing us how life should be from what we like should look like, body image and fashion to home design, kids crafts and what we eat. You may not even realize it these images and messages are creating an idealist way of life . Yet when we try to create these scenarios on our own. The product and experiences never quite lives up to the beautiful image presented in the advertisement.


We want to appear put together and well dressed preparing a healthy delicious meal in that perfectly designed clean kitchen and have our family all sit down happily eating together. The truth of the matter is it can be much harder to achieve. I have been a food stylist for the last 15 years. Food companies and advertising agencies come to me to help find the most mouthwatering appetite appeal in their products making them look their very best for the camera so you literally can taste it. Just like you may get your hair or makeup done before a large event or having a head shot taken. Everyone wants to look their best and everyone wants their products to look the very best as well. The very best photos are typically created by a team of highly skilled professionals, some take hours to create.

Pre-made Kitchen Set for Video

Pre-made Kitchen Set for Video

Making the food look perfect for photo, no I don't cook with tweezers at home.

Making the food look perfect for photo, no I don’t cook with tweezers at home.

So often I have cooking class clients that come to me just wanting to get dinner on the table easily and have the whole family eat it without out complaining. This may seem like an easy task but for most busy working mothers with young children this can be a dream. Many photo shoots create similar scene with a mom and kids happily cooking together or a family sitting down to a healthy meal where the kids are smiling while gobbling up broccoli. Remember, this is a set, those kids are not brother and sister, they are smiling because its not dinnertime it’s actually midday, they got to skip school and are getting paid. Their “mom” is also an actress. It looks flawless because there is team dedicated to making it that way from hair and makeup artists, wardrobe and prop stylists these skilled professionals make sure every details is clean, planned and color coordinated for the beautiful kitchen set that was built earlier that day. The food was not made by that “mom” but by myself and a few assistants to look perfectly homemade for our assembled “family”.

Steaming a pizza to keep it warm for the final photo

Steaming a pizza to keep it warm for the final photo

Final touches for a television segmet

Final touches for a television segment

Some of the most challenging sets are those for video and live television, as you can’t undo something when it’s live. I remember one segment where the product being sold was a high powered blender that after adding a few ingredients and mixing was suppose to churn into frozen ice cream that the host would serve. I tested this recipe several times before going on air and could not get the proportions and machine to behave correctly. My results for ice cream were a milky runny mess that never held together. I had to add food safe stabilizers that thickened the product enough to make it look the way it should. Sadly the recipe that was posted was never updated from the original, every person who tried to make this at home I fear had unsuccessful results none their fault due to a poorly written recipe.

One of the prep racks for reloading a segment

One of the prep racks for reloading a segment

Where the real work happens in our working kitchen, not on the pretty set

Where the real work happens in our working kitchen, not on the pretty set

Maybe you have seen some of this in action or had it happen to you. You see, its not you, you are perfect so stop comparing yourself to marketing campaigns.

We have all seen those hilarious Pinterest fails that of cute food animals gone horribly wrong, or cakes and craft projects that look nothing like the intended original. A skilled professional, under a watchful, most likely made those. It’s not you, you are perfect it’s just marketing.

Yet in life we often do want the very best and for things to be perfect in a very un-perfect world. In my book, The Pretty Plate. I share the 5 elements to you’re your everyday meals magnificent. It is often simple fixes or small techniques that make the shift from mediocre to magnificent. There are things you can do to help ensure that these misfortunes don’t happen to you.


 Here are a few ways to avoid the fails:

Know your skill level: We all have different skills so don’t try to be something you are not. If you really want those cute fussy appetizers or charming decorated cake don’t waste your time, save yourself the headache and hire a professional to help. For everything else keep if simple and highlight your natural skills. For easy party fare I always have some type of cheese plate. I can always pull this together this things I have in my pantry making it fit a variety of diet needs and tastes by choosing a variety of accompaniments like cured sausages, nuts, olives and dried fruits there is something for everyone. I have am impressive platter that took me no longer then would to put out chips and dip. If you want easy guidance with this check out my Cheese Plate Guide for no fail solutions saving you time, money and energy.


Find trusted resources: Don’t trust everything you see, there are so many untested recipes and well meaning recourses that fall short of consistently producing quality results. Read recipes though from start to finish before you being. Make sure they are clear, use all ingredients listed and have directions for each step. Check reviews or find some qualifications of the source. A little research can pay off in many ways.


Re-think the Presentation: Items are often more approachable, interesting and just plain cute when smaller. Think individual portions, soup in shot glasses, sandwiches cut into small triangles or small cups of bowls filled with yogurt parfaits, fruit, seasoned vegetables or candies. These do not need to be homemade but presented slightly different than we are used to seeing them. One of my favorite recipes fixes was changing the presentation of my mom’s classic cheese ball. Maybe you have seen these at parties before. The ball of cheese covered in nuts that after 2-3 people dig into it is looks like a mess. By simply making this into a smaller log people can easily cut of neat slices for clean service.


Individual servings often present better than large quantities

Individual servings often present better than large quantities

Small is often cute and more approcable

Small is often cute and more approachable

Let it be: Be ok with things not going as planned and looking differently. Don’t draw attention to something if it did not turn out exactly as you had expected it most people will never know the difference because they don’t have the frame of reference you do. I once messed up a recipe for lemon bars they baked way to thin. I was out of time and still needed something to serve. I decided I would layer them with jam and cream cheese making them into a new gourmet treat I called stuffed lemon bars. My mistake ended up being better than what I originally intended. The key is not to get wrapped up in how we think it should be but be happy with what we have created.


Real life is perfectly imperfect, heavy on the imperfect. It is often messy sometimes sticky and usually busier than we can appreciate. Life as a food stylist is to make it look it’s best we care very little about how food tastes for these projects often the food is photographed cold and we work to play to the strengths of the food to tell the mind that it looks amazingly delicious and you want to buy it. What you see is not always what you get, but you can create e new reality for yourself. Next time you find yourself looking at a photo or being captured by a commercial dreaming that your life could look or feel similar think of the team of people it took to crate that one scene and know that you are perfect just as you are.

This article was recently featured in the Minneapolis Women’s Press Magazine. 

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