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My life as a food stylist in the pandemic

By HENY SISON, The Philippine STAR Published Jul 08, 2021 6:00 am

“Technology is, of course, a double-edged sword,” says TV personality Jason Silva. “Fire can cook our food but also burn us.”

Technology and the culinary arts are not a combination you would typically think of, but things are so different now it is not hard to imagine how the best of both worlds could come together. In fact, I can feel how it has changed my perspective at work.

The pandemic makes me feel that we have lost the romanticism of gatherings, where the common bond was the appreciation of food and the pleasure of enjoying the fellowship that goes with it.

I have been a food stylist for over 20 years — 20 years of styling food for print, 14 years for TV commercials, and most recently, digital. A total of 34 years of doing what I love, and technology has evolved ever since.

Author Heny Sison styling food when conditions were still normal before the pandemic.

The pandemic has accelerated our use of technology, which can be seen and felt during the production process. It can be used extensively in a productive way, ensuring safety and making sure we use our time and resources efficiently.

Nowadays it’s very common to have our production meetings, such as discussing concept design, along with the feasibility discussions with the production house, the agency, and all other parties involved in these preproduction meetings with the clients — all done online.

My stress levels have gone down significantly because of this transition from physical meetings to online conference calls.

Because of technology, the need to travel and physically attend meetings has become less, reducing the stress of driving through traffic and making sure that you get there on time.

That perk gave me more time to enjoy the comforts of home while making certain business runs smoothly.

I miss the human touch, the delicacy of the familiar banter, and the small talk you enjoy when working together as a team.

Right now, safety protocols during production have changed drastically. My food styling team and those involved in production no longer approach a shoot with excited anticipation — such as who will be our celebrity endorser or what food will be served by the catering company — now it is all about adhering to health protocols.

Getting used to swabbing before the shoot

Not that I am complaining. It’s a welcome change, but a drastic shift in mood. One cannot fault me for missing those days where concerns were more whimsical than health-related.

Gone are the days when buffet-style catered food was made available on set.

Food is now served and packaged individually in disposable containers. We cannot freely and excitedly check on the food, snacks, and drinks anymore like we used to do before the pandemic.

It makes me feel that we have lost the romanticism of gatherings, where the common bond was the appreciation of food and the pleasure of enjoying the fellowship that goes with it. We are now all on a learning curve, managing a new facet of life as best we can.

 A robot doing the work of the props man and cameraman, thus minimizing human contact on the set.

Today when you are part of a team that needs to produce a commercial or any content for TV, digital streaming, and the like, you tend to be more circumspect about your craft.

Before, one had the luxury of time to try and experiment with looks and angles that a food stylist would envision on set, so you lose the spontaneity, and your creativity is challenged as you no longer have the luxury of having extended hours of shooting time. Everything has to be done in the time allotted for you.

A work zone is assigned to you, ensuring that the production team and its roles are broken down and operate within physical-distancing protocols.

The crew, staff, and contractors are physically separated at all times. All things in the production site are regularly sanitized.

As a food stylist, I used to work closely with the props man. Now I sometimes have to work with a robot on the set.

You come to miss the “hi’s” and “hellos” when you pass by people as we go on a busy production frenzy, especially the hugs and goodbyes after the director shouts, “It’s a wrap.”

I miss the human touch, the delicacy of the familiar banter, and the small talk you enjoy when working together as a team.

I remember the rhythm of the busy crew harmoniously moving around the set, the close encounters with the talent as you interact with them. I remember all these things and everything that made it more accurate, natural, and human to me, and I look forward to the day that I can perhaps gain a sense of the old normal once again.

 After a day’s shoot with Industria Production direk Mandy Reyes, his crew and Heny with her food-styling team, Katherine Sion and Carrie Madrid

As a food stylist post-pandemic, although the situation has changed, the passion and love for the craft burn brighter. With the allotted time and limitations of interaction, you sense and value time differently.

You employ the use of textures and colors and the angles that would be used to shoot a successful commercial with particular care, knowing that all of these must be done with consideration for new restrictions that are in place.

Even with these new challenges, food still needs to be visually stimulating, and it is the passion for this craft that keeps me going.

To say that things are different now would be an understatement. For someone who has worked closely with people all these years, whether familiar faces or fresh talent, I cannot help but miss everything that makes the production work feel more human.