We create a lot of recipes for our food clients and we wanted to know — what is the most important thing for you to know about a brand before you start thinking of recipes for them?
Without a doubt, the single most important thing for me to know is less about their actual product and more about who their consumer is.
For example, when I was writing books for Williams-Sonoma, their consumer is an experienced home cook, but they are still a home cook. So I have to make sure my recipes have accessible ingredients and things they would know. Things you didn’t actually have to go to culinary school to understand. For instance, I wouldn’t say “chiffonade the basil” in a recipe because they may not know what that means.
So it’s really important for me to know who is buying their product, because if it’s a less experienced cook or if it’s a bunch of kids in their twenties, then I know that this needs to be short list of ingredients, easy to follow steps, no crazy tools or techniques, because that’s not how they’re cooking. As opposed to an older consumer who might be retired and has a little bit more time or wants a little bit more of a challenging recipe.
And as far as the food itself, honestly, I probably already know most of it, because that’s my business. Of course I’m going to want to get that product in my house and actually taste it before I start concepting recipes so that I can figure out things like — okay, this is a tomato sauce but it’s actually really sweet. But, I need to figure that part out on my own.
So from the company, what I really need to know is who their consumer is.
So after you develop a recipe, eventually a consumer is going to interact with that recipe. And the main way consumers interact with recipes is visually. How it looks is the first thing that makes them say — “I want to eat that”. So, the way it’s plated and the photo or video of it has to be impressive to get them interested. How much do you think about the end “look” when developing a recipe?
A ton, because for the most part, everything I’m doing is being photographed.
I want to make a recipe that makes people say, oh my God, I have to make that. And now I want to have that product. And, no big surprise, it starts with the photo. Does it look good? Does it make me actually start to salivate and think oh my God, I want to make that. And my family would love that. I’ve got to make that.
Even when I wrote cookbooks, most of what I was doing was photographed. After I submitted my final recipes, my next job with my editor was to go through the table of contents and add notes for the stylist and the photographer — definitely photograph this, photograph that. And there would inevitably be a few that you don’t want to photograph at all. It’s delicious, but it’s just not pretty.
But, when I work with food brands, it’s always being shot. So it’s a huge consideration. I am always thinking about it. And when you work with a good food stylist, they will come up with a way to make it beautiful. Even if it’s something like a chicken pot pie where on the outside it doesn’t look amazing, but a food stylist will know how to open that pot pie up exactly right to see the creamy insides and the flaky outsides — they know how to shoot it so that you’re getting both.
Right, some foods just don’t shoot well. But are there any tricks you use to get foods that aren’t inherently mouthwatering to look great?
I think food always looks beautiful any time you can add fresh garlic or fresh herbs. Color is also really important. You always want to think about colors.
And then it just comes down to the styling. For example, a stack of pancakes by itself isn’t particularly beautiful. It’s just not. But when you get a good food stylist and a photographer together who know exactly how to style that pat of butter so it’s just starting to melt and the syrup is pouring onto it and it’s coming over the side — that’s where the magic happens.
I feel like most foods you can make look really, really pretty. And the food stylist and the photographer are so important in the mix and worth every dime.