May, 2018

February, 2018

  • How a chef cooks for those he loves

    13 February, 2018 How a chef cooks for those he loves

    Skipping the crowds in favour of a lovingly prepared meal at home is your best bet for a romantic Valentine’s Day. This is chef Jock Zonfrillo's idea of a nice night in.
    Read more…

January, 2018

December, 2017

October, 2017

September, 2017

  • Win a pro toastie pack

    18 September, 2017 Win a pro toastie pack

    Indulge in the ultimate comfort food with this kit, including a no-mess Breville press, a copy of Darren Purchese's Chefs Eat Toasties Too and a subscription to Cooked.
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August, 2017

July, 2017

June, 2017

  • Winter entertaining with Gill Meller

    08 June, 2017 Winter entertaining with Gill Meller

    Gill Meller is in the country, his first time to Australia, showcasing his beautiful book Gather with a series of dinners and classes. We caught up with him to find out what's on the menu for his Aussie guests.
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May, 2017

April, 2017

February, 2017

January, 2017

December, 2016

October, 2016

September, 2016

August, 2016

July, 2016

June, 2016

May, 2016

April, 2016

March, 2016

February, 2016

January, 2016

December, 2015

November, 2015

  • Christmas basics: the perfect custard

    27 November, 2015 Christmas basics: the perfect custard

    We're looking at those staple recipes that can make or break your Christmas spread. First up, the much-misunderstood sweet seductress, custard.
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  • Halfway Home

    16 November, 2015 Halfway Home

    I’ve been sugar-free for a total of two weeks, and things are going surprisingly well...
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  • Bubbles or nothing

    11 November, 2015 Bubbles or nothing

    Out to impress this party season? To take your entertaining game to the next level, we’ve teamed up with our friends at Halliday Wine Companion to share tips on matching sparkling wines to a range of show-stopping canapes.
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  • The anatomy of the perfect burger

    11 November, 2015 The anatomy of the perfect burger

    Looking for your next weekend challenge? Why not have a crack at making your own cheeseburgers from scratch? Chef Daniel Wilson shares the secret recipe to recreating his famed Huxtaburger, from bun to patty and everything in between.
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  • No Sugar November

    04 November, 2015 No Sugar November

    This month while the boys are growing staches, I’ll be growing a conscience about all the confectionary I consume.
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October, 2015

September, 2015

May, 2015

April, 2015

March, 2015

February, 2015

January, 2015

December, 2014

November, 2014

October, 2014

September, 2014

August, 2014

July, 2014

June, 2014

May, 2014

April, 2014

March, 2014

February, 2014

  • Margaret Fulton's expert guide to preserves

    27 February, 2014 Margaret Fulton's expert guide to preserves

    Jams, pickles, chutneys, sauces, compotes and conserves are the best way to preserve abundant produce so you can enjoy your fruit and veg all year round. Margaret Fulton shares her guide to the art of preserving.
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  • Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014 | Our picks

    27 February, 2014 Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2014 | Our picks

    The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, running from February 28 to March 16, begins in just over a week. We’ve put together our picks of the fest.
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  • Philippa Sibley's expert guide to sweet pastry

    24 February, 2014 Philippa Sibley's expert guide to sweet pastry

    Master of the dough Philippa Sibley shares her step-by-step guide to making sweet shortcrust pastry, taking you through everything you need to know to perfect the art of peerless pâte.
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  • In season | Eggplant

    21 February, 2014 In season | Eggplant

    The unsung hero of the nightshade family, eggplant is found in cuisines the world over. From Sicily to South East Asia, the Middle East to the Mediterranean, many signature dishes feature the versatile aubergine. We sing the praises of the humble eggplant.
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  • Everything you need to know about cuts of pork

    17 February, 2014 Everything you need to know about cuts of pork

    Meat expert and chef Adrian Richardson explains the different cuts of pork, and what you should use them for.
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  • Sticky business | A guide to meat on sticks

    14 February, 2014 Sticky business | A guide to meat on sticks

    Skewers, kebabs, shaslicks, yakitori … Whatever you call them, meat just tastes better when cooked on a stick. We share our tips to help you ace the skewers at your next barbecue.
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  • In season | Figs

    06 February, 2014 In season | Figs

    Figs evoke the flavours of exotic decadence. Sweet and visually striking, figs make for a decadent tart topper, a sumptuous sticky jam or a delightful savoury venture with cold meats. We share some of our favourite fig recipes.
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  • Guide to styling handmade edible gifts

    05 February, 2014 Guide to styling handmade edible gifts

    There's nothing more thoughtful than a handmade edible gift. April Carter shares her tips and tricks for making beautiful and delicious treats for those you love.
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January, 2014

December, 2013

November, 2013

The one thing we're all doing wrong (according to food stylists)

By
Jane Willson
Added
05 November, 2014

Food styling pros Deborah Kaloper and Vicki Valsamis reveal the art to schmick dishes, and their tips for the perfect Christmas table.

Deborah Kaloper is a former pastry chef who turned to food styling and is now a gun for hire in the publishing and commercial world. Vicki Valsamis is a stylist and recipe developer who started out in set design but decided eight years ago that food was her first love – and hasn’t looked back.

What does a food stylist do? A lot of book photo shoots involve a home economist who does the cooking, but Vicki says there are some jobs where the stylist is called upon to do the lot: sourcing and selecting all of the props, cooking, food prep and plating.

The one message Vicki and Deborah both have for the home cook is that we need to stop trying so hard (a tough one if, like me, you expend a lot of energy trying hard to look like you haven’t tried much at all ….)


Vicki Valsamis (left) and Deb Kaloper (right) at work.


Q: What would you say is the number one mistake people make when presenting/serving food?

DK: I think that people try to make food look like something it’s not.

I like to keep things loose and natural when I cook at home, and I leave the sauce smears, drizzles, paintbrush strokes and zigzags from a squeezy bottle to the realms of the restaurant world.

VV: Trying too hard! Simplicity is key. There is so much beauty in simplicity. People see these pictures in the magazines and books and think, “that’s so hard”. But they need to keep coming back to fresh produce; simple and healthy.

Q: Is there an arsenal of styling essentials that you wouldn’t be without?

DK: My food styling is quite natural, but a few items do come in handy such as my favourite knife – which I always keep super sharp – olive oil and a small paint brush for glossing things up, cotton buds and baby wipes for cleaning up smudged plates, and straws for getting rid of excess liquid without having to move things off the set.

VV: I can’t live without my sharp knives – and I mean sharp like a hot knife to butter … no messing about! Blunt knives are a nightmare – they ruin food in an instant. 

I constantly rely on my offset spatula for plating. An offset spatula allows you to pick up food much easier from underneath, to place it on the plate where you want, and to slide it out from underneath. It also helps with setting things out – you can hover it over a plate.

Cotton buds, circular cotton discs, toothpicks and tweezers also make life a breeze for fidgety plating. My “pouch of brushes” is also a must-have! It is filled with a selection of different hair and size pieces that help with anything from soups, roasts to liquids!


Deb Kaloper's work on (clockwise from the top) Hungry For That, Nuovo Mondo and Dig In!

Q: What tricks have you picked up along the way that would apply to the home cook as much as a meal being prepared to be photographed for a book?

DK: Always use the best and freshest ingredients possible, it makes a difference to how it looks – and tastes.

Q: What are the hardest dishes to work with?

DK: Lasagne is my least favourite. So messy!

VV: Ice-cream – but it’s also my favourite. It’s a challenging material to work with because of the melt factor but it always keeps things interesting. 

Q: And the easiest?

DK: Large roasts, when cooked perfectly, they speak for themselves.

VV: Burgers; I love the building and layering process and have so much experience with them that I now find them a breeze to plate up. It’s like creating a bed of food for the burger to sit on. Start with lettuce underneath and create a beautiful frilly bed of green for the meat to sit on, melt the cheese over the top [of the meat] and place the tomato wherever you like. 

Q: And do you have a favourite cuisine to work with?

DK: Desserts! I used to be a pastry chef, I love working with pretty, sweet things.

VV: I enjoy working with all of them but would have to say (and being European) I love Mediterranean cuisine because it uses such fresh ingredients that I’ve grown up with and love. 

Q: Do you have a much-loved utensil at home or something that you make sure is part of every special table?

DK: My mandoline for the thinnest slices of veg and fruit possible; it’s great for salads, pickled veg, veggie noodles and for making candied citrus slices.

VV: Vases; I have a few favourites and I always make sure one makes and appearance with seasonal blooms for special tables. 


Vicki Valsamis' work on (clockwise from the top) Cantina, 7000 Islands and Huxtabook


Q: The best food books make it all look so easy (a bit of this, a bit of that … something else seemingly random over here …). That’s the art, right? Or with time and practice, we can all be pros?

VV: There is certainly an art to what we do. Most food stylists are home economists or ex-chefs with a pretty incredible skill set. I grew up in a hospitality family and was in the kitchen from a young age so creativity with food came to me naturally. Following that I assisted on shoots for many years before styling myself.

Q: Christmas is on the horizon: do you have any festive season-specific tips or tricks?

DK: I love Christmas, and I love a beautifully set table for everyone to be seated around. Using linen napkins and candles is one of the easiest ways to dress up the table. Small vases of fresh flowers, succulents or herbs is another simple way to make things festive without being too fussy.

VV: Don’t overdo it! I’m a firm believer in keeping things simple. Think about your festive table setting and do a pre-set of the table the night before. Select all the platters you’d like to present on, fit them out on your table so you know how you want everything to look, and take the time to do some prep work in the kitchen so that you’re ready to go Christmas Day and not stuck in there slaving away. I’m a sucker for all-white crockery at Christmas as it heroes all the beautiful festive food.

Quality crockery is good, but that’s not to say you can’t have Ikea plates and make them look nice. I’ve definitely gone through phases; I’ve loved the mismatched look – mixing things up is really beautiful – but I love the pared back approach, too.

Follow Vicki and Deb on Instagram for a behind-the-scenes look into the life of a food stylist. Follow us for the stunning end results!

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