Food Stylist Nitin Tandon can change your mood by merely making your food look better. Little wonder that he was the jury’s choice for the best food stylist award at the prestigious Living Foodz Powerlist Awards held recently. An adventurer at heart, Tandon trained to be a chef and launched some of the most popular Pan Asian restaurants in Mumbai while styling food for some of the most prestigious TV and print commercials in a career spanning almost 30 years.
And the ice-cream? This melting goodness continues to be his most challenging and so, most favourite food to style!
I think I was born in a kitchen, in an ice-cream tub to be specific. At the age of 12, I was crowned the second ‘omelette’ chef in my family, following in my father’s footsteps. My mom was a gifted cook, whereas father’s approach to food was more creative.
In the pursuit of the glamour of big ticket hotels and restaurants, I studied in Food Craft Institute, Pune. Later, working in the kitchens of the Taj Mahal, Mumbai and The Oberoi, I fell in love with everything food-related, apart from being love-struck with the girl I later married. She was the patisserie chef and it was love at first bite!
My wife and I embarked on a passionate entrepreneurial journey in 1992 by launching restaurants and banqueting. This is when I also began styling food for photography in TV commercials and stills for hundreds of brands.
Aspiring food stylists must...
Study, engage and style. Food Styling has two essentials - food and design. You’re either a student of food or design. Design schools don’t teach food and culinary colleges don’t expose you to a great level of art and aesthetics. This is a lesser known profession and we are just a motley crew. So if you aspire to be a food stylist, just start styling every platter you can lay your hands on. But remember, styling cannot be your first profession after school, so polish your skills in any one field – food or design –and then let your passion guide you here.
When you’ve hit gold, earning Rs 30,000 - 75,000 per day is not too difficult. World travel, good locations for shoots and decent hotel beds to snuggle into are the added perks!
To become a better stylist…
Travel. It is a great teacher. Food design speaks in a language that one understands today. It captures our cultures, socio-economic situations and world influences.
Tools to make everyday meals Instagram-worthy…
Styling creates the mood, so use simple tools to enhance your food; cutlery, crockery, table set-up and lighting. Candle-lit dinners are a big yes! Celebrate food and train your mind to create a mood setting for anything you wish to celebrate. Inspire yourself with videos and pictures and recreate them initially as they are or until you create a space that is entirely your own. Observe design and don’t get swayed by the branding.
The most difficult foods to style…
Products that melt and misbehave, like ice-cream or dessert or chocolate. Some Indian foods have poor shape or form and trouble us. Shooting a lump of rice, burnt coloured curries, lesser known cuts of meat or unknown veggies can be a great challenge at times. Try making Chiwda look sexy especially when you have to shoot with no props!
But there’s a solution, you just have to fall in love with the food you’re shooting. Second, approach your assignment with a team, and ask everyone to do their homework. Brainstorm, listen to your team…and watch how you turn runny ice-cream into a showstopper.
And your inspiration?
Being an urban atheist, I use God when convenient! But, I celebrate his work the most—nature and natural forms are my biggest inspiration. My constant quest is to take a shape and form and create the unthinkable, to provoke you, pleasantly surprise you and influence your mind. My aesthetics are teased by great design whether its architecture, a landscape, product design and I am constantly going through pictures. Every single moment.
I love shooting ice-cream; I think I was born in an ice-cream tub!
Every few years my taste for a particular cuisine changes and along with that my desire to experiment with that particular cuisine is intensified.
Food trends of the future…
Health food has captured popular imagination, and I see a surge in Ayurvedic food practices that will be integrated into our lifestyle. Vegetarianism is on the rise and since Indian food has the largest repertoire of vegetarian food in the world, I foresee Indian food gaining prominence in the global market.
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