We tapped some of the best food stylists for their expertise. 

By Melissa Kravitz Hoeffner
January 21, 2020

Cooking a delicious meal is one thing, but making the food you prepared look visually enticing can be an entirely different challenge. Magazine food stylists use a sleeve full of inedible tricks (think cold food, glue, and all sorts of hairsprays and tools) to make recipes look picture perfect, but there are plenty of easy ways you can up the way your home cooking looks without destroying your meal. Whether you want to add a wow factor for guests or just show off your latest cooking project on Instagram, we had professional food stylists share their easiest tips for taking your home cooking to the next level.

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1
Create layers.

“Food styling is all about creating interest in your food,” says Jessica Hoffman, a food stylist and blogger. “One simple trick you can use to create more interest is to use layers. Layers can be anything from chopped herbs, to a sprinkle of flakey sea salt, or a drizzle of chocolate on top of a dessert. If your plate is looking a bit bland, think about what garnishes you can add to it. This will instantly give you a more styled dish.”

2
Use complementary colors.

Think of the colors in your food as well as your serveware. “Using complementary colors will instantly give you a more styled dish that will look really pleasing to the eye,” Hoffman says. “Think about plating an orange soup in a blue bowl, or adding some fresh green basil leaves on top of a red pasta sauce.” Food stylists regularly use complementary colors to “create dynamic tension in a dish.”

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3
Think contrast.

“Layers of light versus dark, smooth versus rough, or any other textural contrasting layers make each other stand out,” says Hailey McKenna, a recipe developer and photographer in Oklahoma. “An example is a velvety sauce poured over a rustic dessert or bright-colored produce on a clean black or white dish. Contrast ensures your food really pops!”

4
Make space.

“Avoid filling a plate with food,” says Libbie Summers, a food stylist and author. “Instead, use a larger plate and minimize the food. The negative space created helps to enhance the beauty of the food and allows everything to spill naturally.”

5
Freshen up. 

Don’t be afraid to refresh your food before serving or photographing your edible masterpiece. “A last-minute dewy touch-up is a must! A spritz of water is your friend on salads, the sides of glasses, fruit, etc.,” says Summers. She recommends using a fine mist of tap water or a brush of transparent canola oil on fish or meat. And if the food you are shooting is hot, try shooting or presenting the food as soon as it’s off the heat. “The freshness will hide a multitude of sins,” Summers says.

6
Master the pasta swirl. 

Chef Cynthia Ferich is all for plating pasta on white plates, and to prevent your dinner from looking like a messy pile, use the following method. First, toss pasta with the sauce of your choice. Using tongs, twirl the pasta within a large ladle until it is in a “nice, tall bird-nest-looking bundle,” Ferich says. Add a little sauce to the plate, if you like and then plate the pasta on top. Add a sprig of fresh parsley or basil on top, as well as a sprinkling of cheese all the way to the rim of the plate.

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