How did you get involved with "EGG SHOP: The Cookbook"?
The author, Nick Korbee, and I have known each other for years. Back when I had a catering company, he would sous chef for me on events. When he opened Egg Shop in New York, he asked me to help manage the kitchen the very first weekend (so that he could go get married, of all things!). It’s a small restaurant with a teeny-tiny kitchen, and it was beyond packed -- we did more than 200 covers a day, and the whole restaurant turned over eight times. So when Nick asked if I wanted to style the book, I already felt a very personal connection to it.
How did you first get into food styling?
I didn’t know what food styling was until I moved to New York. When I went to culinary school, I thought you could only be a cook. When people hear the term food styling, they think of tricks and glue and brushing food with glycerin, but in my experience, that’s never been the case. Modern food styling is about being honest and keeping the food as real as possible, and then from there, putting your own spin on it.
How does the food styling process work?
Styling a cookbook means you’re supporting someone else’s vision, especially if you’re working with an author like Nick who has a specific point of view. So that makes the styling really unique to each project. For Egg Shop, it was a very collaborative experience with a loose, intimate environment. It was usually just me, Nick, and the photographer David Malosh (who shot the "Martha Stewart’s Appetizers" cookbook!) on set every day. David would set up the shot, and Nick and I would cook everything and take turns finishing the dishes on camera. The three of us would give our feedback and try to push each other to move on once we felt we got the right shot, as there was only so much time. It was very different from how I style at the magazine because there were a lot fewer eyes on each shot.
What are the most memorable shots you styled?
There are two images in the book of an egg being poached in a glass pot. To do that, we had to use two clamps. David brought in a beautiful glass pot from the MOMA store and clamped it so that it was hanging in the air. We filled the pot with water, then used a butane lighter on the bottom to keep the pot boiling and poached the egg in midair!
Another set of shots I love: we got this enormous hunk of pecorino to style a salad. One of the nice things about this book is that it’s very tongue-in-cheek; Nick didn’t want us to take ourselves too seriously. He wanted it to be an honest portrayal of the food but still funny, which is how we ended up with these images. It starts with a huge piece of pecorino with salad sitting on top, and the tower of cheese keeps getting smaller while the pile of grated pecorino keeps getting higher.
Do you have any tips for making food look beautiful on camera?
Cook the dish true to life and have backup ingredients in case something terrible happens. In my opinion, the best-looking food is the food that looks real and makes you want to eat it that instant. The big trick is timing, meaning you have to know what’s going to die on camera and what’s not, or hold off on adding certain fresh ingredients, or maybe not cook things all the way. You have to know your food and the life of your food on the plate, and that comes from being a good cook.
In the mood for eggs? Learn our foolproof poaching method: