Why Does Food Look So Damn Pretty on Television? Because of Tabletop Directors


Why is it that food looks so mouthwatering on television? Oh, only because of the food stylists, tabletop directors, and admen whose job it is to “turn the most mundane and fattening staples of the American diet into luscious objects of irresistible beauty.” The New York Times profiles the fascinating craft of tabletop direction, a $4 billion business dominated by fast-food, fast-casual, and pizza chains, known colloquially as “pizza and doughnut restaurants.”

Over the past five years, the amount of money these types of companies have spent on television advertising has jumped by $300 million, meaning there’s big business to be had here. In fact, these types of restaurants were one of the few market sectors that continued to spend money during the recession. “What we’re trying to do is be the modern-day Pavlovs and ring your bell with these images,” notes one director, likening his food shots to pornography (there’s even a similar language of prep shots, hero shots, and crave shots). Basically, there’s no free will for you, television watchers!

Although the profession of tabletop directors is small (and surprisingly dominated by men), if you want to learn more about the art of making food look prettier than it ever will be in real life, check out these food styling classes in New York City. Though if you’re a fan of fast-food or fast-casual spots, you might not actually want to know the magic behind making fettuccine alfredo look so damn tasty.

The Institute of Culinary Education: Three-day course in food styling, February 18-20, 2012, $495

The French Culinary Institute: Two-day course on essential techniques for food styling, December 3-4, 2011, $495

Delores Custer: Two-hour or weeklong classes in food styling, price varies

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