I’ve seen it all over the years and feel virtually blind to the many falsities that exist in this world. Those shiny pearls in your mouth aren’t your real teeth? Not surprised. Your skin wasn’t always that smooth and taut? Well it certainly looks that way now. Too scared to get a real tattoo and instead went for the henna version? Good for you. What? You weren’t born with that booty? Then those doctors in Mexico did some amazing work.
Say it ain’t so.
An avid fan and regular watcher of The Food Network, favouring shows Chopped and The Iron Chef, I’m accustomed to seeing basic raw ingredients transformed into tantalizing gourmet dishes. Appetizing plates of food that look crisp, vibrant and so delicious you’d swear you can almost taste them through the TV looking- glass.
For another side project of mine (I swear if it wasn’t for side projects, I’d have nothing to do) I wanted to improve my photography skills when taking still pictures of this subject. I’d already figured out a few basics on my own (the camera works better when powered on) but knew, with proper instruction, I could be doing a way better job.
With fate on my side, a good friend passed on the info for a photography course that focused not only on the subject I was interested in but was also going to teach me to do it better. Sweet. As I always do when I get an invite to something (you should see what I said I’m going to attend on April 17th!), I R.S.V.P.’d yes.
My goal was simple: Learn to take a better picture
The requirements were easy enough – a camera (preferably a DSLR one), a tri pod and the camera’s user manual. The fact that I actually owned none of these items wasn’t a deterrent either. Scouring my friendship network for favours (I now owe everybody), I rounded up the necessary materials and off to class I went.
The lies they told
As it goes in most coming of age stories, it all started off innocently enough. We learned about how to light your subject (never use flash and natural light is always best); optional products we could buy or make (diffusers and black boxes to control the light); apertures and shutter speeds (for this subject slower shutter speed is better); as well as camera lenses and what they could do. Once the basics were completed, we were whisked off to another area where we were going to prepare our subject for picture taking.
Something’s not right here…
It was right after they brushed liquid wax onto the hamburger bun but long before they poured corn syrup into the spaghetti sauce that I realized my food world was crumbling and another falsity was being added.
Advertising is another word for lie
The woman preparing this toxic dish was a Food Stylist. She prepares and creates picture perfect dishes for photography, by profession. These images are used online, in magazines, in commercials and in other advertising media. We were to take pictures of 2 subjects today –a pasta dish and a hamburger dish and we were about to prepare them now.
Years ago in school (not too many years ago, of course) I learned that milk looks blue on camera so a mixture of white glue and water is used in its place in commercials and the big one – that McDonalds’ used fake product to make their burgers look good (gluing sesame seeds in place, etc). However, this wasn’t really news because as a young adult, you easily recognize that the large, perfectly prepared Big Mac on the TV commercial or billboard poster looks nothing like the squished, sloppily put together mess you get in store (no complaints though, still tasty). This I expected from the mass produced giant, not from almost every food and drink online and print magazine out there.
Apparently real food, when cooked correctly, doesn’t look ‘real’.
How to make real (fake) Pasta:
- Step 1: Boil the pasta noodles and add lots of oil so the noodles don’t stick. Cook them just enough to be manipulated but do not fully cook them. Once drained, dip them in cold water immediately and toss with lots more oil to ensure, again, that they don’t stick together.
- Step 2: Sauce. Pick a good quality, thick sauce and drain out most of the liquid (use paper towels or a reusable cheesecloth). To make the sauce stick to the pasta, add corn syrup (or glycerine) and mix until well blended. Combine the pasta and sauce as needed and place on your presentation plate/dish.
- Step 3: Fake it higher: All food tends to sink when left so be sure to add mashed potatoes or Styrofoam pieces to the bottom of the dish to add and maintain its height.
- Step 4: Garnishes. Sliced basil leaves or parmesan cheese (grated or shaved curls) work well. Chopped olives sprinkled on top the dish add to a rustic look and should be placed individually by hand in order to make the perfect shot.
And voila! There you have it: a wonderful pasta dish of lies.
Next we moved onto the hamburger. As they slowly desecrated any food related beliefs I held dear, I remembered back to a time when ice cream was made of cream and sugar and not the lard, icing sugar and strawberry jam concoction they laid before me.
Food styling is a very artistic and contradictory endeavour. Your role is to make the product look as fresh and natural and as mouth-watering as possible but in doing so, you actually make the food inedible. There’s also a lot of waste that goes into each dish. Extra product is typically purchased and backup food is made at every step. All the food they purchase and create cannot be consumed and gets tossed out at the end of the photo shoot. For the hamburger shot alone, there were 5 extra buns, 3 extra tomatoes, 2 extra onions (of which only the prettiest purple sections were used, the rest discarded), a few extra burger patties and an extra package of lettuce.
The food stylist also commented that once you start styling, you start to shop differently (always looking for perfection) and you begin to look at food differently too. She was 100% correct. Looking at this hamburger dish more objectively, I know now that wax was spread on the inside layer of the bun to maintain its shape and add to the height of the burger. I know the burger patty is rock hard, ice cold and brushed with oil to make it appear moist and fresh off the grill. The tomatoes and the onions were smeared with Vaseline then sprayed with water to give them a fresh looking sheen and the oil/water mixture creates droplets of water that stay on the product. I also know the whole thing is being held together with carefully hidden toothpicks. I know all this so when I look at this faked pile of product that was once edible foodstuffs and is now masquerading as a hamburger, I can’t help thinking to myself how truly un-…oh who am I kidding…
More food lies, exposed:
– Roast turkeys and chickens: are actually kept raw to keep them nice and plump looking. The beautiful golden colour is achieved using molasses and a blowtorch
– To give onions that caramelized look, simply use a hot iron to add grill marks
– To keep syrup from sinking into pancakes, the pancakes are first sprayed with scotch guard/fabric protector
– Pies are stuffed with instant mashed potatoes and then the filling is pinned into place on the tops and onto the sides
– You can buy fake steam in a little container that you hide in your dish and it emits a stream of steam to your dish that resembles smoke from a cigarette
Photo credits: Fake boobs, Fake hair, Fake teeth