Chef's Table - She makes food look stylin'

Food stylist Gloria Smiley has logged some long days making all sorts of food look mouth-watering on paper and on TV for 20 years.

What exactly do you do?

Prepare food, get it ready for a photo shoot and keep it looking good under hot lights.

How does one become a food stylist?

I started by teaching cooking. They didn't really call us stylists then. I would prepare food for TV commercials, but I wasn't real excited about the stuff — it was inedible. You had to bury the food so dogs wouldn't eat it.

Yeah, I've heard there are so many tricks of the trade.

Food photographs funny. When you are making a commercial, you don't always get it right on the first, second or third try. You have to keep the food coming. It starts to look shopworn.

Tell me some tricks.

Ice cream won't hold up under lights. We might use mashed potatoes instead and spray them with glycerin to make them look cold and frosty. Meat gets dry, so we brush it with oil, we paint it on, so it looks juicy. We spray vegetables with water to give them a nice, fresh look and keep them bright and colorful, like in the grocery store.

What's the toughest food to work with?

Cut fruit like avocados and bananas darken quickly. Lemon or lime juice will hold them for a while, but you have to have a lot on hand. Pasta looks dry; you have to constantly touch it up.

So does anyone ever eat the food on shoots?

As soon as the shoot is complete, the TV crew comes out of woodwork. You never knew so many people worked there.

I know you have worked on some cookbooks.

Cookbooks have come into their own. They are more than collections of recipes: They are culture, art and history. I've worked with Naomi Judd, Jean Georges Vongerichten, Patty LaBelle, Isaac Hayes.

Have a favorite story?

Julia Child paid me the biggest compliment. After we had been to three TV stations, she asked if she could take the chocolate cheesecake I had made for a luncheon gift. It had been photographed all morning. I only wish I had had a fresh one to give her.

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