For this month’s TasteMakers interview I wanted to share the unique perspective of those phenomenal food people who work behind the culinary scenes. One such lady is Brianna Beaudry, a culinary renaissance woman who works in food photography and television as, depending on the day, a culinary producer, food sylist, and/or recipe developer.
We first met a few years back when I needed some help cross-testing recipes for “Ask Aida” and, even though we just talked over the phone and email, it was clear she was a smart, talented lady. Today Brianna is pulling back the curtain of her world to show us behind-the-scenes and share some of her hard-earned lessons about food styling and recipe development.
Q: You’re a culinary jack-of-all trades, dabbling in everything from food styling to culinary production to recipe development. How did you end up on this path?
I feel lucky to be where I ended up, and my career has definitely been shaped by all the great people I’ve met along the way. I learned about food styling right before I graduated from the CIA – I was visiting a friend for the weekend in New York City, she worked at an agency for photographers, and she told me about how fun food shoots were. She said that I should see if I could assist one of the stylists she worked with, and, from that, I ended up assisting a stylist named Brett Kurzweil for a few years.
After that, I also met a woman named Julie Bairadi in a continuing education course at the CIA, and it turned out that she worked for the Food Network as a lead stylist. We became friends, and she started hiring me on jobs with Follow Productions. With time, I slowly moved my way up to become their Culinary Producer on a number of shows like Paula’s Best Dishes, Paula’s Party, and Down Home with the Neelys. So styling evolved into producing, and then recipe developing happened from working with different talents and having them recommend me for new projects.
Q: Do you play favorites with your work? Is there one type of work you’re drawn to more than another?
I really just love food, and love getting to work with it for a living. I think I gravitate the most towards the role of Culinary Producer because I love mapping out shows and filling in all the details. I also really enjoy working with the talent and helping them think about and expand their recipes, talking points, and cooking styles. I love the collaborative and creative nature of the work, and learning new ways to make food look amazing. I love making television and all the thought that goes in to a single 22 minute episode. There’s never a day when I don’t learn something.
Q: Of all the things you do, I think culinary production might be the most elusive for people. What’s an average day like in the world of culinary production?
A normal day of filming means getting to set by 7 am. I check in with the team of food stylists and make sure everything is set up for the entire episode and that no one has any food questions or concerns of any kind. On some shows we use swap outs, which means everyone in the culinary department needs to be on the same page and know what we’ll need and when we’ll need it.
Next I review the shopping list with the culinary purchaser and make sure there are no questions about what we need for the next day’s shoot (we’re always working a day or so ahead).
Once all the kitchen problems are solved and everything is in order, I then go and check in with the other producers to see if there are any changes to the episode. And there are always changes! I make notes so I can go back and talk everything through with my team, to be sure these changes won’t start any fires.
Now it’s time to talk to the talent. I make sure they have their blue cards and make sure they are happy with the culinary breakdowns and the recipes. After that, it’s show time and the filming begins!
Right before cameras roll, I give the talent a walk-through of all the culinary action we’ll be doing in that segment. We go over talking points and map out how we’ll shoot everything. Usually the Supervising Producer or Executive Producer is also with me so they can give their own direction.
While we’re shooting, I’m sitting with the other producers at the monitors making sure the talent hits all their culinary talking points and that the food looks great.
After the talent finishes for the day, my work is only halfway done, because now we need to set up and shoot all the beauty shots. A lot of Culinary Producers will have other stylists work on the beauties, but I like to do it myself, and it’s one of my favorite parts of the process. Generally one of the other stylists preps the recipe while we shoot the show, and then I plate it, put it all together, and gussy it up for camera so it looks delicious and amazing.
Now my day is finally done, and it’s only 9pm! Time to go to dinner, look over scripts, and start all over again in the morning.
Q: How would you describe your cooking style?
I’d describe my style as simple Californian. I love rustic, hearty dishes, but tend to cook fairly healthy when I’m not working or traveling, as I constantly feel like I have to make up for all the “bad” foods I eat on set and on the road. And I’ve always been interested in finding fresh and nutritious foods that have interesting flavors.
This is not to say I’m eating steamed vegetables and brown rice every night — no, no, not at all. I love simple stuff, like roasted chicken and vegetables and a big kale salad with persimmons and pomegranate. Maybe sprinkled with ricotta salata if I’m feeling crazy. Something like a grilled tri tip with a farro, tomato, and basil salad is one of my perfect go-to summertime meals.
Q: Where do you find your food and cooking inspiration?
I love-love-love California farmer’s markets and the produce we get here. I love going to the markets and seeing things I’ve never cooked before, then taking them home and just figuring out how to make something delicious out of them. I love the freshness and vibrancy that we have in Los Angeles — eating here really inspires me.
Q: How does being rather bi-coastal affect your work? Are you more inspired by one place you work than another?
I think it’s a combination of all the places where I love to eat. In California, we have beautiful produce and weather and so many amazing ethnic food options. But I will always love and miss the more refined and sophisticated restaurant scene you can only find in NYC. And being in the South always reminds me of how intertwined food and family can be, which I guess is why I’m happiest at home in Los Angeles, cooking and eating with my husband.
Q: What flavor combinations do you see yourself constantly returning to?
I’m an extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, flat leaf parsley, flaky sea salt kind of gal. In food and in life, I’m usually going for elegant simplicity.
Q: So many of my readers food style for their own food blogs and sites. What advice do you have for them for becoming a stronger food stylist?
Don’t over-style. So often food looks beautiful all on its own, so sometimes you just need to keep things natural and real. I’m not one who favors fake perfect-looking food. Maybe all you need is to give something a little texture and movement, like a spritz of water or a brush of oil, a sprinkling of herbs. Don’t over think it. Just ask yourself when you look at the picture, “Do I want to eat that?” If so, then you’ve probably styled it well.
Q: And for recipe development? What tips do you have for making interesting yet reliable recipes?
First, find something that inspires you. Sometimes that can be harder than it sounds, especially if you’ve been assigned a recipe. But spend some time thinking about how you can make a dish unique, or what’s that special spin you’re going to put on it. Then test it until it’s perfect and take meticulous notes as you go.
Q: What is the strangest dish you’ve styled or developed?
Just a few months ago I styled Easter Eggs for a Paula Deen photo shoot made out of instant mashed potatoes and confectionary sugar and dipped in chocolate! Apparently it’s an old-fashioned Easter treat in the South. It didn’t sound right on paper, but actually tasted pretty great!
Q: What would you say is an up- and coming trend in food television? Is there a certain flavor, recipe, or dish you’re seeing a lot of right now?
I think more docu-reality style programming is a trend we’ll be seeing more of. I work on a show called Extra Virgin, which is a lot of fun, and pretty different from just the normal stand-and-stir shows. I think viewers are looking for more personal stories and connections to the food. I love that!
Photos by Chia Chong
TasteMakers is a monthly interview series with people I’ve met who have inspired me and a chance for them to share some of their wisdom.