Restaurant-worthy plating, wherever you are

Hong Kong member and food stylist, Gloria Chung, shares her expert tips for transforming home cooking into culinary art

By Gavin Yeung    Images courtesy of Gloria Chung   Tuesday 26 May, 2020   Short read

Faced with an abundance of time at home, many of us have turned to the kitchen as a sanctuary from the realities of life during a pandemic. Consequently, we’re filling social media with our cooking and baking endeavours. Yet, not all food images are created equal, as Soho House Hong Kong member Gloria Chung knows too well. Following her live food-styling session at @sohohousehongkong, the professional food stylist, writer and founder of The Props Dept shares her tips on turning the fruits of your labour into a work of table-top art.
Freshly baked bread on a blue background.
A pear on a pedestal on a dark blue background.
Have your tools handy
‘In my food-styling kit, you’ll find tools like tweezers and an offset spatula to pick up and place food with more precision; brushes for brushing oil or sauce on meat; a spritzer bottle to spray water onto salads; a peeler which, apart from vegetables, is also useful for peeling ribbon toppings from chocolate bars; and a blowtorch for browning everything from bananas to poultry. Soy sauce or Kitchen Bouquet are must-haves for their ability to brown any meat or be watered down to mimic tea and coffee.’ 

Pick your produce
‘The definition of a good food image is whether it looks delicious or not, and beautiful produce is the basis of that. If the vegetables look fresh, the meat looks plump and juicy, and the bread looks like it just came out of the oven, then you’re already doing something right. 

I like wandering around Hong Kong’s wet markets to check what’s in season – a stylist must know the best times to feature particular ingredients.’
Various white items.
Find your angle
‘I always consider myself a make-up artist for food, and like a normal make-up artist or stylist, it’s useful to have “camera eyes”, so we know how to style the food from certain angles for the camera. Always be conscious of the height and position of the camera and arrange accordingly. Focus on things like a delicious-looking crust, or attractive browning on baked goods or roasted meats and poultry.’ 

What goes around, comes around
‘Create a relationship between different elements on the plate to make the dish look cohesive. The easiest way to do this is by creating lines to draw the eye, by arranging elements of the food or using toppings and sauces. Use quick tricks such as sprinkling powders like cocoa powder and matcha powder on top of anything that could give a straight edge (like an envelope) to create lines on the plate before plating your food.’
A woman holding a bowl of homemade granola.
Cold meats and sausage on a pink cloth.
Top it up
‘Toppings are more than just the final touch – they can make or break a photo. For baked goods, go for toppings like butter (which you can melt with a heat gun for an attractive sheen), coconut shreds, edible flowers, or cacao nibs. For savoury dishes, I recommend seasoning with oil to add gloss, or sprinkling sea-salt flakes to give food more texture, as it shows up better than normal table salt. Make sure you stack all the dry food elements on the plate first, and be conservative with toppings and dressings – you can always add more, but you can’t take it back. That’s why it’s best to wait until the last moment to pour any sauces, as the dish might be spoiled if you don’t have a steady hand.’

Chef’s table

‘Very often when you take food photos, you’ve only got two layers: the table and the plate. We want to add more textures and colours by using props like tablecloths to make it a bit more styled. I love stonewashed linen, because it gives a low-key, luxurious feeling.’
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