A conversation between Drew Aichele and The Canvas
Please share your path into the food styling industry.
I actually studied social work in undergrad and grad school, followed by being a therapist for about six years. When I moved to New York, I worked at a bakery part time and as a therapist full time. I hit a wall with being a therapist, so I inverted my time where I went part time as a therapist and full time at a bakery. From that point on, I became more and more involved in the culinary world. After the bakery role, I took on catering jobs and freelanced in back of house for restaurants. One of the chefs I was working with spoke to me about food styling, which I knew nothing about and gave me the contact info of a food stylist. I still remember the first day I was on set and experienced an "aha" moment — this is what I want to be doing. From there I learned about the industry, learned about what it took to be a stylist, and made a goal to assist stylists for three years. Following those three years, I went off on my own.
Could you walk us through your process?
There are two separate processes that I have: One is for commissioned work, and the other is for personal work. Commissioned work begins with talking with the client, learning and understanding their vision, and who they're advertising to. This gives me insight on how to style - whether the food is to be more lived in, a little messier, or if they're wanting the food to be very clean and proper. Either direction determines how food is cooked, cut, prepared, styled on set. The process for personal work begins with a desire to learn something new and to be a little more intentional with experimentations. The personal work takes me a few weeks or a month to really think about what’s to be explored, and plan for what I'm trying to create for myself, or what I'm trying to express.
Is there a cuisine or category of food you enjoy to work with most?
I love desserts. I love baking. I love cakes. Any pastry is what excites me the most. I do love the savory world where I enjoy styling sandwiches and larger dishes, like full table spreads. However, what I make most in my free time are cakes and desserts.
What would be one of the most common challenges you experience on the set of a photo shoot?
Temperature stands out as one of the most common challenges. If you're shooting something when it's either a little too hot, too cold, or more humid in the studio, it can really affect what you're making and how well it's holding up on set, and especially how long it needs to sit out. For instance, on bigger ice cream jobs, no matter if it's winter or summer, they'll bring in air conditioners to the studio to keep it as cold as possible. Studios can sometimes be 40-50 degrees, and everyone's told to bring winter coats to set. If you're shooting the top of a pint of ice cream, it can go from looking perfect to melted in 15 seconds.
What are you looking to explore next?
Right now, I have been reading a lot of old baking cookbooks. I’ve been doing some research on the evolution of cakes in the past 50 years, and trying to get my hands on older cookbooks and recipes The way that cakes are made has changed so much recently with more availability of all baking ingredients and technology advancements. A lot of recipes were very dependent on what was available to different geographic areas throughout the world. Also, the invention of common kitchen utensils, like a stand mixer, has changed everything. Cooking continues to adapt as technology adapts, and that changes the way that we eat and cook.
From the shoot we worked on together, is there something in particular that you learned that would carry over to a future job?
The job we did together was hard to plan for because there were so many variables. I wanted to be as prepared as possible, which meant bringing a lot of different mediums to play around with. Because it was just something new. We needed time to play around and to see what works best because it's something that the team hasn't done before. If we were to do it again, I think about the last shot that we landed on, which was one of my favorites, and replicating that, but in different ways — playing around with more colors, or adding some movement, or maybe planning out a bigger scene.
Was there a medium we used that you are currently exploring?
The use of gelatin is always pretty fascinating because it can take so many different shapes, quite literally, but also figuratively as well. We saw that it's always interesting to play around with how gelatin looks in a shot. The one big thing that I would want to try again is from our second shot, the cavernous scene (figure 2), when we were battling the sheen of the Jell-O. I've been thinking about how we could have approached that shot differently.
If there was a brand or artists you could collaborate with, who would it be?
I would love one day to work on a job that is displayed on the side of Whole Foods.