Victoria Granof is the original food stylist and an artiste extraordinaire. Trained in both the visual arts and classical culinary skills from none other than Le Cordon Bleu, her keen eye for design, color, and texture has created memorable collaborations with some of the world’s best-known photographers, directors, and celebrities. Along with her visual style, she has a way with words and has authored her own cookbooks: Chickpeas and Sweet Sicily.
What makes your job fun?
I get to create and be around food. I also love the collaborative process and working with different creative individuals all the time.
What is your creative process, especially given your love of the collaborative process?
I am a little bit more diverse in what I do than the stereotypical food stylist. I cook, teach, do production design, write books, and make films. It is all very collaborative and nothing is in a vacuum. As a rule, I come into the process much earlier than most people. If another stylist gets an assignment for a magazine, they get the recipe and an overview of the project, they prep the food and then they show up. However, most often, I will be in it at the beginning when the team is conceptualizing ideas for a story.
For example, I recently was asked by a magazine to develop the recipes and style for a piece on spring desserts. I asked them for the parameters and they just said spring. So, in that case, I brainstorm and break ideas down into categories in my mind. For this piece, I thought of egg-based or egg white desserts, like angel food cake, marshmallow, and meringue. I add in a visual element, such as pastel spring colors. From another angle, I was thinking about all fruit desserts – fruit mixed with cream. I try to break down my ideas into categories as much as possible, and while I don’t like the term deconstruct, it is kind of what I do. Once I’ve done that, I work with the rest of the team and the back-and-forth of ideas. I will also work with the prop stylist on what the set should look like, what dishes we should use. It is also important for me to know what the photographer’s lighting is going to be.
What are the important skills to have as a collaborative food stylist?
Culinary skills for sure. However, I utilize the principles and elements of design which are the most vital skills I use everyday. These are the concepts I refer to: color, pattern, composition, light, dark, all of it. For me, these are really the most vital elements.
I have a sister and, bless her, she is an awful cook. She had me over for dinner. She made chicken, mashed potatoes and cauliflower. It’s all white! I look at it and that is all I can see. She had never thought about it, but it is so important. The food could be delicious, but if the color and textures aren’t working together, then the taste factor almost doesn’t matter.
So, does your work life come into your home life? Are all of your meals beautifully organized and presented?
You should see my instagram post from earlier today of my morning-after breakfast with sauce splashed on the rim of the plate! Sometimes I will make meals that look fabulous but not always. Actually, I have a little obsession with collecting unique dishes. So even when I make something as simple as scrambled eggs, I can grab a fun dish to put them on. I collect all sorts of interesting table items, whether it’s dishes or tablecloths. The food may not always look perfect, but I can include other elements of care and attention.
What are your favorite items that you’ve collected?
One favorite is a collection of French home-bistro plates from the 1930s. I also collect English pink lusterware. Those are two very specific favorites. I also have a nutcracker collection. They are all handmade, metal, and beautifully industrial, decorative pieces. I am currently collecting rectangular crochet doilies and dying them in colors like deep blue and saffron to use for placemats. They go from something very granny to more exciting.
What are your favorite and least favorite foods (or recipes) to work with?
My least favorite are chopped up bowls of little things. I did a whole vegetarian cookbook where every recipe was a chopped up bowl of little things. There’s very little to do with that. It can pretty much only be a bowl of chopped up things. Refried beans is another least favorite.
I love to use anything colorful. I often place things that are in the same color family, such as reds and oranges, or blues and greens even though there aren’t too many blue foods. I love working with ice cream.
What are the logistics of working with ice cream?
It depends on the client and how persnickety they are about what it looks like. The most intense version involves bringing in multiple freezers (chest and standing ones), and keeping them at different temperatures. We work with dry ice and styrofoam containers and it is a big production. I enjoy things that are more lived-in looking and natural. So if a photographer can work fast then I say we scoop and shoot! That’s how the magic happens, when you aren’t paying too close attention.
What is an early photo shoot story you love to tell?
Kenji Toma’s agent contacted me while I was doing some work with Irving Penn. I was getting into conceptual stuff, which is really what I wanted to do. The agent told me how Kenji Toma was doing a piece for a Belgian food magazine and asked if I wanted work on it with him. It was a 9 page spread and each page was a recipe of typical Belgian food with a recipe picture. All I could think was this is so boring. So what I suggested instead, which doesn’t seem so groundbreaking now, is to shoot the food after it had been eaten. For example, a bowl of mussels would just be the shells and a little broth in the bowl. The photographer in turn said he was not going to frame each picture, but just had me place the food where it would be in the shot. It still looks modern. These photographs could have been done last week, which is very meaningful to me. I believe a measure of an excellent picture is that it stands the test of time.
What do you want in a studio?
A good well-stocked kitchen with pots and pans, utensils, a set of white bowls, and mixing bowls. It doesn’t have to be fancy, just basic things like a can opener. I have been in many kitchen studios where there is absolutely no equipment except for a big plastic bowl that catering left. I can show up with all my tools and kits in a studio without a kitchen and make it work. But if I show up to a kitchen studio and there’s nothing and I brought nothing, well I can’t do anything there! I would take a well-stocked modest kitchen over a fancy-schmancy kitchen with no pots and pans.
Also, this doesn’t really make a difference food wise, but I like a studio where catering can set up in a location that is not near me. Otherwise people tend to migrate over where I am and eat the props! It happens more than you would think.
Also, a good kitchen studio should have dish soap for clean-up. And not the hippie dish soap that doesn’t actually clean. I am talking good actual dish soap and a sponge. So many times I have been to a studio where there is nothing for clean-up and it isn’t something we often have in our kit.