The Mathematician, The Butcher and The Artist

“Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it.’ Salvador Dali

The “Corner Table”, near the wine counter in the Hidden Villa Hostel dining hall on opening night of Eat Retreat was a special place for me to eat. I was meeting new people, drinking wine, and eating grilled lamb. The night was going well.

Photo by Jessie Friedman of Andrew Plotsky, Butcher

The Corner Table of Tina, Kristen, Andrew and I begin to dig a little deeper into food and philosophy, as the Napa Zinfandel I poured lubricated the wheels of thought and conversation. 

At some point, Andrew asks Tina “What does a food stylist do?” (I find the most innocent of questions to be the best). With numerous follow up questions from Andrew in an attempt to define “food stylist” with the specificity and exactness of, well, a skilled butcher cutting up a lamb.

Photo by Heather Irwin of Andrew Plotsky, Butcher

My gut said that defining a food stylist might not have an easy answer. Like asking an abstract painter to define their profession. How does the abstract artist describe their trade or skill? How is a food stylist described and where do I apply for that job?

If someone asks Andrew what he does for a living; the answer is both obvious and practical to both the butcher and the by-stander. Butchers cut up lambs, pigs, and cows into edible cuts of meat for people to consume. The job of Food Stylist probably wasn't around 4000 years ago. 

Tina did her level-best after the initial question salvo from Andrew to describe the challenges of “styling food". At this point, I didn’t know if I should have felt sorry for Andrew or Tina.

I’m a numbers guy, not an artist. I’m logical. I like process. As the by-stander in this question and answer period to define a food stylist, I tend to side with Andrew by asking basic questions, cutting to the bone, if you will, on how to define the process and expose the edible muscle of the food stylist.  

Then Tina said something that helped me (I won’t speak for you Andrew). It was Mathematical. Tina talked about dimensional space. Not only did Tina speak of the dimensional aspect of plating food, but translating color and atmosphere to the 2-dimensional observer. Taking photographs of a 3-dimensional product in the kitchen and translating dimension and depth into a simple, flat picture in a magazine or on the internet.


Arrangement on a plate, light, shadow, and color.

That's physics! All tangible, all mathematical.

So part of the answer on what a food stylist does is mathematical (thank heaven!). But part of it is art. Look no further than to Justice Potter Stewart regarding (food) pornography  “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

I suppose we all know what well styled food porn is these days…we know it when we see it. And no manner of questions or answers will begin to explain what we see. But, I thank you Tina for saying, indirectly, that mathematics has something to do with it. And since I looked at your website when I got back home, your food is styled very well because it makes me, well...hungry. 

Photo Below from Teaspoon Styling, Tina Bell Stamos

My second story is entitled, Ninjas, Knives, and Cameras.