By Lucy M. Pritchett

Although Maggie Freeman has her culinary arts degree, you may not want to eat what she prepares…at work, that is.

Maggie is a food stylist for Kroger and prepares and styles the food for the photos used online. “I am just like a hair stylist or makeup artist for a human, only I do it for food.

“Styling has some very technical aspects,” Maggie says. “I have to be aware of how the food will behave under the lights. For example, a breakfast egg casserole will start to fall pretty quickly. To make it still look puffy for the photo I might add beans to the bottom of the dish or maybe double the recipe to make it fuller. Or I’ll have a backup dish waiting. I have a few tricks to keep food looking fresh for anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes.”

Photo provided by Kroger

Another example she offers is how she prepares a Thanksgiving turkey. She puts it in a very hot oven for only about 45 minutes and continues to spray it with a solution to make it look like it has been roasting for five hours. She also says she has found that a combination of Crisco, powdered sugar, and Karo syrup makes a terrific fake ice cream.

Again, not a dish you would want to eat.

“I am in the kitchen and the photo studio every day and work a 40-plus hour week. I’ll have different projects. For example, I’ll have to prepare 20 or 30 recipes for breakfast dishes or put together snacks for March Madness or holiday-themed shots. One challenge is to find the appropriate props for each shoot. We have a prop room where we keep some items, but we have to refresh those occasionally.”

In addition to preparing the food, Maggie comes up with garnishes or small side dishes to complement the main dish.

“If something goes wrong, sometimes there’s no time to start over and I have to think on my feet. We create maybe six to eight stylings a day. That includes preparing the food, styling it, and taking the photos. Each dish gets shot at a 45-degree angle and another that is a top-down shot.”

Maggie has a background in graphic design, which helps her with the composition of the photos, and her culinary arts degree, she says, helps her understand how food works. She also attends food styling classes and workshops.

“I started with Kroger in the ’80s in the art department as a typesetter. After 10 years I left and worked freelance for a while and then came back to the art department. At one point I was asked if I wanted to be the food stylist and that was the start.

“Today if someone asks how to get into this profession, I tell them to shadow a food stylist, learn culinary skills, and graphic design skills. Most of the food stylists in big cities have a culinary degree or home economic or food science degree.”

The best part of the job?

“There is always something different going on. It is creative and fun, and although it can be stressful, it is a dream job for me.”

Here’s what works for Maggie:

Wusthof knives
Everyone should have a good set of knives. At first I was intimidated by knives, but now I feel very comfortable with them. I have accumulated my set of Wusthof knives over the years. The one I use the most is the 9-inch blade chef’s knife.

Dansko shoes
These are the best shoes for being on your feet for hours The PRO style is what I wear to work. I have six pairs of Danskos including regular clogs, open-backed clogs, and one pair that is very summery. They look like they are made of linen and are embroidered.

I have a Vitamix at work and at home. It is a terrific blender and has become very popular for home use. You can make anything from smoothies to almond butter. It will break up big chunks of frozen fruit in seconds. It is awesome.