We Are Upstate NY With Food Stylist Liza Jernow
Have you ever found yourself flipping through a food magazine and thinking, wow, that looks amazing! It often takes a team of professionals to make you feel that way. And with that said, Inside+Out is pleased to introduce you to Food Stylist Liza Jernow. She launched her freelance styling career after a few years of working as the Food Editor and Product Developer at Martha Stewart Living. Liza splits her time between NYC and Upstate New York where she is happy remodeling her farmhouse. In addition to her successful career as a food stylist, Liza co-founded Wild Apple Journal with photographer Tara Donne, a monthly beautifully curated collection of recipes for gluten-free cooks. Check it out here: @wildapplejournal on Instagram. OK, let’s meet Liza!
INSIDE+OUT: Where were you born and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?
Liza Jernow: Born in Brooklyn, raised in Westchester county, went to Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, RI and then moved to NYC in 1994. Around 2004, I wanted to learn a new skill and I wanted to learn how to build a house. I drew a 2-hour circle on a map around NYC and every weekend I went to see fix-er-uppers in different towns. When I found my house, it had been abandoned for many, many years, but I loved the shape and I had a dream about how lovely I could make it.
Where did you study/learn to become a food stylist and what was your journey?
In high school, I had my own clothing business. Sewing and fashion were my first great creative loves. I studied at RISD for apparel design. By the time I graduated, my interest in the fashion business had waned. I always knew I wanted to work for myself. I moved to NYC after college and after a couple of disappointing jobs in fashion, I started to work in and run bars with some friends. At that time a friend of mine convinced me to tour the French Culinary Institute with him. By the end of the tour, I could not deny how much I loved food and cooking, I had to sign up for cooking school!
After culinary school and an internship at a Michelin-starred restaurant, I had a couple of cooking jobs, I knew the high-end kitchens I was working in were not for me. I started working for the food editors at Martha Stewart Living and eventually, I became one of them. It was a great place to learn about food styling and recipe writing. I soaked up every minute of it.
After a few years, I went out on my own as a freelance food stylist, and I’ve been happy to do it ever since!
Let’s go behind the scenes in the kitchen or on-site. What is a day in the life of a food stylist?
My day starts off at the farmers’ market. I will be there as it opens. My assistants and I will comb through the farm stands and find what we need: five ripe peaches. You got it, just make sure they are fragrant and covered in bees, someone on the crew will end up taking them home. From there we may stop at a few supermarkets for items that we wanted to see before we buy them… like lemons from California and pomegranates. The rest of the groceries will be waiting at the photo studio, having been ordered online and delivered the day before.
If they do not come to the markets with me, my assistants meet me at the studio and help me to unload my equipment, referred to as my “kit”. This is an assortment of kitchen tools that I bring to every job. It’s a full hand-truck often accompanied by a couple of bags. Loading and unloading heavy materials and supplies into the studio is one of the trickiest things about working in NYC. Freight elevators are not always available, and the parking police are relentless!
From there, we organize the studio’s kitchen to our needs and start prepping ingredients. While my assistants get started I will meet with the producer, art director and photographer to decide the order of the day. Often the crew needs to tailor the shot list to when different items will be ready to go. Then we’re off to the races!
We stay in communication with the photography team to get things set at the right time and meet any surprise needs they may have. Toward the end of the day, I have my assistants make a buffet I call the “Takeaway Table” where the crew can take home extra groceries and prepared food that we’ve made through the day. I always make sure people take home food. If we end up having truckloads of food, like yogurt or candy for a shoot, we’ll drive to a homeless shelter afterward and donate it.
Do you work with a staff or an assistant and do you train them?
My assistants come from restaurant backgrounds, generally. To work with me they have to be able to break down a chicken professionally. I work with many different assistants for different jobs. One might have experience with baking, another with cooking on an open fire. They’re essential to my work and the photoshoots.
What are some of your favorite styling tricks when it comes to food?
Making it from scratch.
Tell us about your favorite project to date?
I have a number of favorite projects, so it’s tough to name just one. I guess I’m most proud of the work I did creating the Wild Apple Journal with Tara Donne. We made an online recipe journal of gluten-free recipes and photos in 2012. We’ve since taken it down, but some of the images are in this article and on Instagram.
Do you mostly work in TV, Print Advertising or Editorial? If both, do you have a favorite or preference?
Over the last few years, the industry has seen a blending of shoot types. A shoot that in the past would have been just an editorial (for a cookbook or magazine) often has additional behind-the-scenes shots and videos incorporated into it. Or, a commercial may film and do stills to the side concurrently. My favorite shoots are the ones that have a strong visual direction that is thought out and involves a talented team taking their time to create a gorgeous asset, whatever it may be.
How do you grow your business and how do clients find you? Do you have a rep?
Most of my business is word of mouth. I have a website for my business, The Food Stylist, which also generates some of the work. I have reps who know me and call me when their photographers need a good food stylist who can deliver quality.
Do you work with certain photographers or agents?
I work mostly with a handful of photographers that are my regular clients. Every year, I work with new people as well. Some of them connect with me through their agents and some reach out directly. I am open to working with new people. Every crew is different and has a special creative energy, that variety inspires me.
Do you leverage social media to get work and how is that working for you?
I use my Instagram account @lizajernow for my business. It’s fun to see what everyone is up to and share my work with the world. I should probably participate more, but I don’t always have the time.
In your opinion, what makes a dish great and do you have a process when creating new dishes or designs for them?
When I develop recipes, I try to choose ingredients that are in season. Depending on the client, I highlight distinct flavors, and a hint of surprise, a little twist on what you’re used to. A good home cooking recipe has few ingredients and simple directions that are easy to follow.
Give us a favorite seasonal ingredient that you love to incorporate into your designs for each season:
Spring – colorful radishes and fresh peas
Summer – fresh seeds from cilantro that is overgrown in the garden, wonderful in a salad or incorporated into a sauce for vegetables
Fall – Quince. I have a tree. It’s not a common ingredient, people love its perfumey flavor. I roast it with chicken.
Winter – Long simmered bone broths. They add so much to each dish. When you make your own they become the flavor backbone of wintery soups, stews and rice dishes.
Can you share one of your favorite Recipes?
One of my favorite recipes is a French Mother Vinaigrette. It’s so versatile – you can change the flavors with different oils and kinds of vinegar and it still works.
What are you most proud of when it comes to your career as a stylist?
There are so many beautiful images I’ve helped to create over the years. Two of my favorite projects included my own recipes and food styling. They were The Voracity with Anna Williams and Wild Apple Journal with Tara Donne. For both of these projects, I developed recipes and did the food styling. I love to see creative stories and projects through from beginning to end.
What’s the first dish you learned to make really well?
Nanny Lolly’s Chocolate Swiss Roll cake.
What music do you like to listen to when you work?
If I’m cooking on my own, I’ll stream a station called FIP out of France.
What are you most excited about for the future?
I’m excited for spring and the bounty of tender vegetables to start trickling in! This year I will select a few private dinners to create and organize through my Hudson Valley Private Chefs project. I’m looking forward to collaborating with cooks of a similar mind, and clients who are interested in our creative local and foraged bespoke dinners. We work so hard on them and pay close attention to the details. It’s lovely when people experience them.
What other collaborations or projects around food are you excited about?
This summer we will collaborate with a few farms and venues to do seasonal dinners, open to the public with Hudson Valley Private Chefs.
Name three things you always have in your fridge/pantry during the Summer?
Bottarga, Walnut Oil, and a chilled ice cream maker.
Where, in your opinion, is the best place to travel for a foodie vacation?
I learned the most about food in Japan. It feels important to eat what local people are eating, wherever you go. Taste every bit of the local cuisine. Ask for local recipes from great home cooks.
If you had not become a stylist, which profession would you have chosen?
If you could have a meal with anyone, who would it be?
What is your current state of mind?
Photos courtesy of Tara Donne
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Connect with Food Stylist Liza Jernow website | Facebook | Instagram
Plan a dinner with Liza Jernow’s Hudson Valley Private Chefs