Trina Kahl gives a behind-the-scenes view of the art of food styling.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and what brought you to KC.
“I grew up in a little village on the west coast of Scotland. Despite Scotland’s
questionable food reputation (no, I’ve never had a deep-fried Mars Bar, and yes, I
actually do like haggis), I’ve always been surrounded by great food and people who love to cook.
After attending culinary school in Glasgow and a few cooking gigs around Europe, I
finished my degree in Calgary, Canada. I emigrated there, met my now husband, and
then we ended up in Kansas City through his career. It was supposed to be a two-year
stint..we’re now at 11 and counting. There’s a lot to love about this town, and we’re
really happy to call it home.”
How did you get started in the food styling industry?
“I was visiting the set of a photoshoot and got chatting with the photographer. We talked
food, my experience working in both the advertising agency world and the client
communications side, and she brought up the idea of testing my potential food styling
skills. Until then I didn’t realize it was a profession. We did one test shoot together and
that was it. Love at first attempt. It felt like I had landed exactly where I was supposed to be.”
What is your favorite part of the process of styling food?
“There are so many parts of my job that I love, but if I had to pick a favorite, it’s the
days where we are given free reign on a product or recipe and allowed to make it what
we want — when a client gives us their product and asks for 10 images. That’s it, really,
no direction beyond that. I can create recipes, choose how to present it, and put it all into a story that they can start telling through whichever communication channels they choose. There is a ‘we.’ Some people think I do the whole thing single handedly, and while on occasion I do, the majority of my days are spent collaborating with photographers, art directors, clients and prop stylists.”
Any tips to create a beautiful display for us amateurs at home?
“Think about colors and textures of food. Think about cutting things in different ways.
Where would the world be if we all cut onions the same way every time? Secondly, everyone should learn to chop. It’s a worthwhile skill to master that takes a little time and a sharp knife. You’ll look like a pro in no time. Lastly, give yourself some room around the plate rather than filling it to the edge. The art can be in the spaces.”
Is it true that all the food is fake on a set?
“No, untrue. Most of it is real. It might be mostly raw, doused in Pam, glued together, stuffed with kitchen paper, propped with blocks and skewers and adjusted in Photoshop, but for the most part it is real food. I wouldn’t eat it though! The most common exceptions are ice cream and ice cubes. I still like to use real
whenever I can, but sometimes it’s just easier not to. It can melt so fast that it just makes the shot harder than it needs to be. There are different concoctions to make fake ice-cream. My favorite is tubs of cake
frosting, powdered sugar, and corn syrup. My dog ate it once. That wasn’t pleasant.”
How do you get to be a food stylist?
“Well, in my opinion, it’s a bit of an odd mix of skills. You have to know how to cook and
how food can react. You have to be able to manage the logistics of a kitchen. You have
to problem solve quickly if things aren’t how they should be or how someone else thinks
they should be. A food photoshoot can be an expensive project and for the most part,
the weight of the outcome is on your shoulders. No pressure! There is a huge part of it
that is art. I think it’s a bit like a canvas. You can give people the same brushes and
paints, and they’ll all come up with something different. Same with food, and that’s the
part I love the most. Food as art. Delicious, a bit different, but approachable and fresh.”
To learn more about Trina (or to hear more about her dog and ice-cream story) visit: