She’s working a lot, she’s been participating in the creation of cookbooks for years, she’s often invited to shooting commercials as a stylist. But what does a food stylist do exactly? Is this idea more comprehensible now than 10 years ago? We visited Panka Milutinovits at her new base, where we also asked her why she named her new blog ‘hello garlic!,’ what she draws her inspiration from and what is the dish she would prepare even at 2 am. Interview.
Panka Milutinovits started her blog ‘hello garlic!’ ten years ago. Her Instagram page has more than 11,000 followers, where she delights them with a variety of imaginative, usually geometric food compositions (she’s also experimenting with stop motion techniques these days). Panka had just picked up some leeks for the photo shoot that day—while we were chatting, she was cutting, slicing and arranging the vegetables in various shapes on her work table, which (if we are to believe the promise she made at the time) were then used to make Zsófi Mautner’s creamy, sour potato soup. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to taste the soup, but we did ask Panka about all things food styling, and finally we asked her a few “simple” questions (details and interesting facts in video and written form at the end of the article—the Ed.).
Probably many people have asked you before, but why garlic?
It’s very funny, no one has ever asked me this before (laughs). I’m basically not the brainstorming type. When I knew I was going to write a blog, I sat down and thought about basic ingredients that I couldn’t live without. Garlic was one of the firsts. I had other ideas in mind, like Hungry Chicken, but I didn’t like it that much.
I’m curious about your working method: do you plan ahead, make drafts, do surveys, researches, or do you just jump right into it? I suppose it depends on the project, whether it’s for fun, a composition for hello garlic!, or a commission…
In this sense, I like to keep my hello garlic! and project material separated. Of course, there are commissions where they ask a hello garlic!-style composition. As a food stylist, an applied artist, I like when customers approach me with an idea in mind, or else I’m happy to help. To do this, I put together inspirational pictures, mood boards, if necessary, and from then on I’m basically self-driving. In these situations, it’s not about my style, it’s not about putting in my professionalism, but I need to know what direction the client wants. We all agree on this before the job and I prepare the project accordingly.
In case of hello garlic!, I have several methods. When I started, I mostly did it spontaneously, I saw something special, funny or just beautiful and made a picture of it, everything I came across became my “raw material.” I later developed this, I figured that I could choose a base and make plans, drawing for it. I would buy two kilos of pear, for instance, and started drawing, wondering how many ways I could slice it, what shapes I’d like to get.
I mostly apply my third method nowadays, which is also the funniest; I invent ideas half-asleep. I invent stuff before falling asleep, of course this is risky, I can only hope I don’t forget about them by next day (laughs).
If I’m correct, you started your blog in June 2013, nearly ten years ago. How do you see how people’s attitudes towards food and the concept of food styling itself have changed during this time (I’m thinking here of the growing popularity of Instagram and the ubiquitous #showmeyourfood content)?
There might still be a kind of mysteriousness around this profession; what does a food stylist do, and why do we need them? But people are curious, which is good. In case of a food pic, I’m somewhere between a photographer and a chef. It’s either the chef who’s serving or myself, up to agreement. I provide the plate and create a composition necessary for the picture. I choose background, props and accessories, I put them in the frame. I occasionally touch the food, I might add bread, herbs, dried spices, flowers, etc. to the dish, but that’s up to the style. Then comes the photographer. Some food photography doesn’t need a food stylist, I don’t even do that—typically a situation like this is where you shoot clean, restaurant, fine dining food: here, the chef creates the plate, and the photographer takes a perfect shot of it against a simple background. In any case, as a photographer myself, I know that it’s great when everyone has their own role to play in a larger production.
As for the first part of the question, my experience is that, while yes, food photography is everywhere, my experience is that over the years, it seems as though we have cut back on sitting down and immediately taking a picture of the plate that is brought out to us. I think five years ago it was a lot rougher. I don’t experience this very convulsive insistence (or compulsion rather) on myself or my immediate surroundings now. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with someone who cares enough to take a picture of their food.
How do you train yourself? Who do you follow on the international scene? Who or what inspires you in your work?
Regarding hello garlic! and what really energizes me, I’d say I’m not looking for an inspiration, mostly I just need time. Air, swimming or jogging helps a lot. Besides, contemporary Hungarian and international art turns me off completely. I can get totally lost in other people’s paintings, or if I go to a studio, for example, I’m completely fascinated. I love both the military order and the fact that something can disrupt that strictly structured composition. In painting, I like abstract and completely geometric styles, but also more expressive, gestural or naive painting.
And some more questions about food...
If you were a recipe, which would be your essential ingredients?
Garlic, thyme, butter, tomato. Not necessarily all in one recipe, of course.
What do you think should not be missing from the Sunday lunch table?
What do you think we will eat in a hundred years?
I hope as much sustainable, locally produced food as possible.
What’s your favorite texture?
Which meal did you refuse to eat at the school cafeteria?
Anything that’s slimy, a yucky meat, for instance.
Something you couldn’t resist at the school cafeteria:
Food that makes the world a better place:
If you’d like to hear more questions we asked, check out the video.
Photos: Balázs Mohai