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Being a food stylist in Singapore

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Local food stylist Almanda Haley Teo shares some food styling secrets with us.

She 'plays' with her food at work and gets paid for it.

Food stylist Almanda Teo also knows the tips and tricks needed to create the mouthwatering photos you see on commercials and restaurant menus. 

Sadly, she doesn't get to eat most of the food after each shoot, especially when she uses inedible materials like glue and acrylic ice in her styling. 

Youth.SG spoke to Almanda, co-founder of food photography and styling company Alinea Collective, to find out more about her career in food styling

Who: Almanda Haley Teo, 26
Occupation: Food stylist
Studied: Degree in psychology at Nanyang Technological University 

Tell us more about yourself! 

During my free time, I read food styling books, watch cooking videos and Netflix. My favourite Netflix show is Chef's Table

I also love to travel and get inspiration overseas. 

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Almanda preparing for an ice-cream shoot in her studio.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW

How did you get into food styling? 

While doing side jobs during my university days, I met photographer and videographer Brayden Lim. He invited me for a photoshoot and I assisted him on set. 

As I did more photoshoots, I found myself doing more food styling jobs as it felt natural to me. Knowing how to cook also gave me an advantage. 

I started taking up more food styling jobs from there, styling for brands like Pizza Hut, Singapore Airlines and GrabFood. 

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Almanda (front) and Brayden (back) started Alinea Collective in 2017.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW

Describe a typical day at work. 

I usually start working a day before the actual shoot. I'll study the dishes and shop for the ingredients and items needed. For example, I need to prepare acrylic ice for shoots involving drinks so the "ice" doesn't melt during the shoot. 

On the day of the shoot, we have a call sheet so that everyone knows the sequence of events. There's a lot of liaising with the chef, photographer and clients. I'll give the chefs instructions on how to prepare the food, and to give me the ingredients separately so that I can style the food myself. 

After the photographer shoots and displays the photos on screen, the clients will give their input and we'll make some adjustments accordingly. This routine continues for all the various dishes we're tasked to style. 

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Almanda and Brayden reviewing the photos they've taken from their shoot.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW

What's your favourite food to style? 

Drinks and pizza. Most people might think: "What could go wrong with drinks?". But you have to consider how the ice melts, the condensation that forms on the glass, and whether the liquid separates over time. 

I also like to style complex dishes like pizzas. You have to pay attention to the browning of the crust, the cheese pull, and make sure the vegetables are not burnt.

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For a previous shoot with bubble tea brand wantea, Almanda used hand models to hold the drinks.
PHOTO CREDIT: ALINEA COLLECTIVE

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The end product of the shoot with wantea.
PHOTO CREDIT: ALINEA COLLECTIVE

What are some food styling secrets you can share with us? 

Sometimes we use white glue to replace the milk in a cereal bowl, so that the cereal won't sink. 

We also use diesel oil to substitute maple syrup for pancakes and waffles so that the "syrup" does not get absorbed too quickly. 

What are some challenges you face working as a food stylist? 

The long hours! I once had two 17-hour shoots for a company's new campaign. It's exhausting working on set as you don't get to sit down and rest much. 

Some photoshoots also take the whole day as clients need to send the shots to their bosses for approval. Getting different opinions also tends to slow down the process. 

However, it's fulfilling when I see the end product of my work. 

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Almanda uses a mixture of food and inedible items to create alluring dishes.
PHOTO CREDIT: YOUTH.SG/CHEVONNE LAW

What motivates you at work? 

Getting support from my family motivates me. My family weren't so receptive when I first broke the news to them about pursuing food styling full-time. After seeing how far we've come and how passionate I am about my job, they're very supportive now. This makes me work harder so that I don't disappoint them. 

Recognition from clients always motivates me to work harder. When I know I've actualised a client's vision, it makes me want to push boundaries further. 

Educational requirements: None, but a food hygiene certificate is needed to enter restaurant kitchens.

Qualities needed: You need to be patient, pay attention to details, and be creative and adaptable.

Salary range: It ranges from $2,000 to $4,000 for full-time food stylists, depending on experience.

Working hours: You can expect to work for eight to 12 hours for shoots.

Career prospects: Food stylists can be food consultants or help with developing recipes.

TEASER AND BANNER PHOTO CREDIT: ALINEA COLLECTIVE

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