Today on Foodie Friday, meet Alice Hart, food stylist extraordinaire, owner of Food For Film Stylists® and Food For Film®. She’s a founding member of the International Association of Culinary Professionals, and well known throughout the food and culinary world for her ability to make food look amazing, her knowledge of food cooking techniques and her mentoring of young people. Oh, and she’s a life member of the American Rose Society where she’s a judge and recently was honored by having a rose named for her.
What is your role in the food industry?
I’m an award-winning food stylist who makes food look amazing for a wide variety of mediums. I’ve spent years setting up photo shoots, making sure the ice cream doesn’t melt, the food looks fresh and everything is impeccable before the photo is done. I work with a variety of well-known brands from Coca-Cola to avocados and celebrity chefs and award shows like the TV Academy Emmys. You don’t know it, but you likely see my work almost every day on the television, in magazines and newspapers and of course in cookbooks. I’m active on social media which is also where you see my work, but you rarely know it.
How did you first get involved in the food industry?
I graduated in 1975 with the Grande Diplome from the world famous Le Cordon Bleu Culinary School in Paris and started working at Lawry’s Foods in Los Angeles as their international home economist creating convenience packaged foods for Europe. While working there I went on a local photo shoot where we planned to replace illustrated packaging with a photo of the plated food (spaghetti with tomato sauce). From this experience I was hooked on the artistic challenges, intense detailing and problem solving of a food stylist.
In 1977 I began teaching French cuisine and pastry cooking classes along with local restaurant chefs in cookware boutiques in Los Angeles. I was doing this before the words “foodie” & “celebrity chef” were in the lexicon. Since you can’t learn food styling from a book, I was lucky to apprentice with experienced food stylists. I quickly learned that it’s art. You either instinctively have it or you don’t. I’m thankful I “have it” as I’ve been enjoying this field ever since, and formed my own group, Food For Film Stylists® and Food For Film®.
What/who inspired your current role in the food industry?
My parents always encouraged me to be creative in the kitchen, so they are my earliest inspiration. Since 2005 my friend, French chef Joël Robuchon, has been my mentor-teacher and continues to inspire my creative eye and palate. He has 28 Michelin stars so is a great mentor-teacher for anyone to have. I’ve been very lucky in that regard. Unfortunately, Chef Robuchon passed away last year. I continue to cherish his memory.
What food trends are most influential in what you do?
I don’t follow anyone’s trends, per se. But that said, I am always aware and sensitive to them, as with fashion or politics, however I listen to my clients’ needs and requests per project and follow their direction.
What is the most significant change you’ve witnessed in the food industry?
Finally more women chefs are being recognized and appreciated in restaurant kitchens and the foodservice industry. Always male dominated, more women are being respected and validated for their culinary talents and work ethics. More importantly, women in foodservice have spoken up and are not accepting verbal harassment or inappropriate behavior from dominant, entitled “celebrity" male chefs or restaurant owners. When I arrived back home to Los Angeles from Paris in 1975, I worked in a local fine dining restaurant thinking that would be my future career. The male executive chef constantly harassed me and locked me in the cold, dark walk-in meat refrigerator with a gross, fat-rendering barrel for several minutes as a punishment…all for his fun. It was awful and I knew that restaurant work environment was definitely not for me.
Describe a food fad/trend you would love to start.
I would love to bring back beautiful, appetizing print food photography to cookbooks with corresponding recipes. Food that depicts love and care in all stages -- from preparation to table -- makes beautiful art. A visually stunning finished dish looks great and is healthy and delicious.
What's your big splurge food item?
Iranian Oscietra Caviar is a Christmas or New Year’s holiday splurge with French Champagne (favorite brand is Billecart-Salmon). Winter white truffles from Italy and black truffles from France are also a very special treat.
On occasion I also enjoy sipping a 15 or 20 year old bourbon whiskey from Kentucky called Pappy Van Winkle in a leaded crystal glass with fancy clear ice cubes (found at an upscale liquor store called Neve Luxury ice.
What keeps you going as a food professional?
The next unknown project keeps me going as well as the validation of a job well done for my repeat clients. I have a deep culinary passion, extensive food knowledge, extraordinary sensory palate, an intoxicating sense of humor, as well as being an award-winning culinary artist that all keep me inspired to go higher and higher.
I love pleasing my client, photographer or director. I challenge myself to be flexible within time and budget constraints, but always creating beautiful and appetizing food and beverage must satisfy my highest standards.
What do you view as your greatest achievements to date as a food professional?
It’s difficult to choose one so I just won’t:
Winning the IACP Julia Child Legacy Award for a still photo celebrating her 100th birthday. I served as both stylist and photographer.
Named 2013 IACP Award of Excellence “Best Food Stylist of the Year”.
Food styling expert judge, Food Network Challenge episodes
I’m honored to be named a mentor in the Careers Through Culinary Art Program in Los Angeles. The program helps underserved high school seniors going into foodservice professions. As part of my commitment to the program, I have established a yearly scholarship in my name to promote the art of food styling and appetizing plating.
What’s your favorite food to make at home?
An omelet with fresh sliced white or black truffles.
What’s your favorite meal to order in a restaurant?
Raw oysters, fresh grilled fish and a fruit sorbet to finish.
What three ingredients could you not live without?
Fleur de sel
French butter from Brittany
Apple cider vinegar
What food or meal makes you happiest?
I love fine dining at two restaurants in Las Vegas: L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon and Joël Robuchon at the Mansion (both at MGM Grand Hotel & Casino). Before he died, I loved dining with Chef Joël Robuchon and his team of chefs when he was in town changing the seasonal menu.
What food or ingredient would you never use or eat?
I’m not a fan of curry.
What cookbooks or cooking classes are most important to you and why?
I have most signed first editions of M.F.K. Fisher books in my cookbook collection. She was an amazing woman who contributed so much to the food world.
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