Learnings from a Food Stylist

In my years working as a photographer, food photography has always been something I’ve loved doing, yet I would love to keep improving on my skills. There were times when the scenes are photo-ready: the dishes plated beautifully, the restaurant background showing the right ambiance… but it wasn’t always perfect.

Then recently I was invited to join for a full-day workshop with accomplished food stylist Mariana Velasquez at St. Regis Macao. We not only learned about some basic color theory, use of composition and light, but also tricks to keep food looking fresh and dynamic on the plate.

Food Styling workshop by Mariana Velasquez - Octopus dish at St. Regis Macao
Here is Mariana’s colorful rendition of octopus, presented with edible flowers, radishes, and beet root as garnish.

Food styling by Mariana Velasquez. Photography set up by David Hartung for Tasting Kitchen.

Food Styling workshop by Mariana Velasquez | hosted by  St. Regis Macao
After a presentation about Mariana’s background and her work, we went on to our individual stations for the first part of the workshop.

The workshop was mostly for internal staff from St. Regis Macao and Sheraton Grand Macao next door, with only 3 other prominent food bloggers and Instagrammers from Macao and Hong Kong, so I was truly honored to be invited as part of this exclusive event.

Divided into different groups of colors, us students got to play around with food ingredients, fabrics, other props and tools to create our own scenes. You could see the room buzzing with creativity with people scrambling for materials and arranging objects into their own ways. For this part of the workshop, we explored the use of harmonious and contrasting colors, adding more depth each time as we added more props.

Mariana Velasquez, having a laugh with workshop students
Abstract art with jade bangle | styling workshop
Food styling workshop by Mariana Velasquez | Hong Kong and Macao
Then, of course there was the part that we were waiting for, a demonstration by Mariana on how she would do her magic as a food stylist. She applied her own interpretation on dishes from the restaurants at the St. Regis and Sheraton hotels. It was interesting to see how she even would arrange a spread of Chinese hot pot ingredients!

Here are some key points in food styling I have observed from Mariana:

  • Height: whether stacked high or flat, be aware of how a dish is presented
  • Colors: use color theory to contrast or complement the main ingredients
  • Lighting: study the ambient light and shadows that add to the display

Food styling by Mariana Velasquez | St. Regis Macao
Macao and Hong Kong Food Photography and Food Styling workshop
Towards the end of the day, we all came together and put together our own version of Cena Rosa, a pink dinner. This was an ongoing project by Mariana of creating pink meals inspired by Mexican architect Luis Barragán. Different teams contributed to arranging each component on the long dining table, applying the concepts from the workshop into decorating the meal.

It was amazing what 20 people could put together in a short amount of time!

Pouring wine at private dinner at St. Regis | Cena Rosa
Cena Rosa with Mariana Velasquez | Private event at St. Regis Macao, at the Manor
Private event at St. Regis Macao, at the Manor
Cena Rosa - floral arrangement and table arrangement
The Manor dining room at St. Regis Macao | Luxury dining in Macau

From this full day activity with Mariana, I could tell her passion for food and beauty. My main take home lesson was to find my own focus, and to really hone in on it in detail. The world would then start to look different, filled with these normally ignored details that would come together forming a pattern.

I think not only would this allow me to be better at styling food and other lifestyle scenes, the main lesson reminded me to appreciate the beauty around me, even in unexpected places.

Thank you to St. Regis Macao for the invitation to be part of this inspiring day!

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