From Food Stylist to Personal Chef – Exploring Interesting Culinary Careers

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From Food Stylist to Personal Chef – Exploring Interesting Culinary Careers

Now that you have a culinary degree from art school, you can express your passion for creating amazing food through a variety of different career paths. Whether you’re skilled at creating beautiful cake designs, prefer to specialize in presentation as a food stylist, or want to dedicate yourself to starting a business as a personal chef, you can combine your strongest talents and interests to create the job you want.

Create Trendy Cake Designs

Giovanna Smith, a 2009 Baking & Pastry Graduate from The Art Institute of Tampa, is the owner of Sugar Art Studio in Tampa, Florida. In addition to decorating cakes, Smith also creates her own cake decorating tools and teaches private classes.

“There are many types of tools to accomplish the tasks of cake decorating, which are not common kitchen utensils,” Smith says. “During the course of learning my craft, as an artist I am always looking to perfect my skills and therefore improving upon the final product. It was during this process that I began to design my own [cookie] cutters and veneers.”

When creating cutters, she makes a sketch of her idea, practices hand cutting the design, finalizes the sketch, sends it to be manufactured, and then puts the final product up for sale along with detailed instructions on how to create the desired item.

Smith says the veneers take a lot more work to develop than the cutters.

“First I had to obtain food-grade silicon and learn how to mix it to achieve the correct texture of the mixture,” Smith says. Then I had to create molds out of wax or clay as the prototype, this is perfected before setting the mold into the silicon.”

Some of Smith’s most popular products are her flower cutters, including roses, calla lilies, cosmos, and gardenias, just to name a few.

Smith’s favorite thing about her job is creating special request orders for her customers.

“This always presents a chance to challenge my artistic abilities,” Smith says.

She has used her skills to create some very unique cakes for customers, including a road killed armadillo, Yoda from Star Wars, an Asian elephant for the Ringling Brothers Circus, and Bumble Bee from transformers.

Smith also enjoys holding cake decorating and chocolate making classes to teach her skills to others.

In her classes Smith teaches many different things, including cake decorating and icing techniques, creating gum paste flowers, and how to make different types of chocolate.

Custom Fit Your Career as a Personal Chef

Allison Coia decided to become a Personal Chef 13 years ago.

“I have always been interested in food and coming from an Italian background of food business owners, it was a natural fit,” says Coia, owner of Philadelphia’s Cook-A-Doodle-Do

Coia does all of her cooking right in her clients’ kitchens.

“I prefer the more ‘personal’ aspect of what I do because I cook in their kitchen,” Coia says.

She usually has between 10-15 clients at a time, and visits most of them once a month.

“On occasion I go more frequently and for some it may be once every 6 weeks or every 2 months,” Coia says. “I have a few who call 3 or 4 times a year as a treat.”

As a personal chef, Coia enjoys the flexibility of being able to choose the days and times that she wants to work. She also made the decision to only work with one client per day.

“I am a morning person so I like to cook early in the day for my clients, which allows me the afternoon hours to do office work or anything personal I need to do,” Coia says. “I also decided that I will not work nights or weekends so I do not offer any types of party services.”

Coia says that she also enjoys the chance that her job allows her to get to know new people.

“I also love that I have met so many wonderful people along the way,” Coia says. “I have developed great friendships that I will cherish always.” 

Make Cuisine Look its Best as a Food Stylist

Food stylist Catrine Kelty’s clients hire her to make the food they’re using in photo shoots for cookbooks, product packaging and magazines look appetizing and attractive. She also works on product packaging for clients like Trader Joe’s.

Kelty says her clients call her for two types of work – commercial and editorial. Editorial work consists of assignments such as selling a recipe or selling a lifestyle, while commercial work involves selling a product. Kelty says Most of my clients call me for editorial work. 

Kelty attended art school, but says others in her profession come from all different backgrounds.

“It helps to have an art background, because you need to think like the camera,” Kelty says.

She also believes it’s necessary for food stylists to have prior experience in the culinary industry, because they are responsible for making all of the food that will be photographed.

She often makes extra quantities of the food being photographed to have on hand, in case something happens to the first batch.

“The stylist is there to make the food look beautiful and make it behave in front of the camera,” Kelty says.

Kelty says that some foods are more difficult to work with than others.

“I get a little more nervous when I do meat,” says Kelty. “You have to make sure it’s the right doneness that we have decided on, then it doesn’t last that long. Red meat can turn very, very red, then it turns gray.”

She says that cookies are the easiest food to style and ice cream is the most difficult.

“The more you do it the more you solve your problems and you know what to anticipate,” Kelty says.