An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked

Viva Vida Vegan!


Photo by Liz Crowe

Talk about a whirlwind trip. With so much good food, inspiring information, and of course, lovely people, all crammed into the space of a long weekend, it was stimulation overload for an introvert like myself. It may take me twice as long to fully recover, easing back into the normal routine, but that disruption was more than worth making time for, to say the least.

Until I can gather my thoughts on Portland at large and the amazing eateries I managed to visit, I wanted to share some details from my workshop on food styling. Thank you so much to everyone who made it into the room! I’m sad to have suggested a cap on attendance, having heard so many people were turned away, but that’s one mistake I won’t make again. In case you missed out or managed to sneak in but couldn’t get a handout, here’s the list of the tools that go into my kit. Print at will and use it well!

It was a bit crazed, compressing so much information into just 45 minutes, although I did go over a bit (Sorry, Isa!) which is why I’m very grateful that Liz managed to get a nice shot of my fully styled Pad Thai. To recap, a few of the tips that went into converting that mountain of noodles from sad leftovers into the above blog-worthy plate are as follows…

  • Put dots of sauce on the plate (or pour a bit into a small, separate dipping bowl for a less fancy presentation) if you’d like it to really stand out from the dish. Apply this with an eyedropper for better control.
  • Deconstruct your dish and pick out the key elements. I really homed in on the baked tofu cubes here, since that seemed like the most interesting ingredient in the mixture. As you build the plate, strategically weave them back in so that they’re front and center, without looking as if you specifically placed them there.
  • Dab soy sauce onto foods with a paintbrush (never used on paint) for a darker golden-brown hue.
  • Toss noodles with oil so that they glisten and pick up eye-catching highlights.
  • Add color- Reach for bold, contrasting colors to brighten up a drab dish. Fresh herbs and vegetables are always a good route to go down. (I used scallions, purple cabbage, and microgreens in this case.) Make sure it makes sense, too! Don’t just add ingredients for the sake of design, if they have discordant flavors with your dish.
  • To make a citrus zest spiral, pare away a long, thin strip of zest from any citrus and trim the sides so that they’re even. Wrap the strip around a plastic straw in a spiral, securing the top and bottom each with a straight pin. Let it sit in the freezer for at least 15 minutes and then use it quickly! It will uncoil as it thaws. Since I didn’t have a freezer handy here, I simply went with a little lime twist on the side. For that, cut a thin round out of the widest part of the lime (or any citrus) and then cut a slit at the bottom, between two segments, stopping at the center. Twist the cut edges in opposite directions and set it on the plate.
  • Remember, food styling is about controlled chaos. When adding cashew halves on top, I let them fall where they may to keep it looking realistic. Make a plate look too perfect and it won’t have the same appetite appeal.
  • Add the most perishable ingredients last. That meant the microgreens here, which I did add one by one for equal distribution.
  • On that note, be patient! Build each plate carefully and deliberately.

Thank you to everyone who saw it happen in person! I couldn’t have hoped for a more gracious, engaged audience. It was your feedback that has encouraged me to seek out future demo opportunities in the future, so you certainly haven’t seen the last of me yet.

Author: Hannah (BitterSweet)

Author of My Sweet Vegan, Vegan Desserts, Vegan a la Mode, and Easy as Vegan Pie.

38 thoughts on “Viva Vida Vegan!

  1. I loved your class, Hannah, and learned so much. If anything, I’m inspired to take my food photography to the next level…hoping for less blobs of tired-looking food and looking for vibrant, inviting images. We’ll see, ha ha. You did a fantastic job with the class!

  2. This Pad Thai looks so flavorful. I’m hungry :-)

  3. You are such a gem for sharing these pointers with we who couldn’t get to the session. Also, you’re a genius. Miss you already. xo

  4. this looks incredible, and it’s funny how dots of sauce can make something look elegant :) i always wish i had more time to work on styling… often i’m crunched for time and try to get a quick decent shot.

  5. Hannah,
    Do you have any other classes/workshops coming up? I would love to attend one!

    • Nothing planned just yet, but now that I see there’s interest in it and the first one went so well, I’ll definitely work on creating more classes in the near future. I’ll be sure to post about the next opportunity to sign up! :)

  6. I’m pretty much kicking myself for having decided not to go this year. :(

  7. You are such a food styling whiz! This looks amazing. I so want to take a class from you!

  8. Love the little snippet we got here! You take the best shots!!

  9. Loved the class so much! Thanks for the tips. I still can’t believe how great you managed to make takeaway Pad Thai look!

  10. Looks amazing, Hannah! Wish I could have been there.


  11. A class! Ooo I wish you were in my area! I would’ve loved to join a class like that! Thanks for the tips you posted though :) I’ll be sure to use them!

  12. I am so proud of you (and my plate!) <3

  13. i would have hugged you so tight if i was there. hopefully we will be able to make it next year. Such simple ideas to make everything look so elegant and professional!<3

  14. Looks awesome and now I am hungry :P Good job!

  15. Nice Hannah…thanks for sharing the bullets of the class, I really enjoyed reading them.
    Hope you are having a great week :)

  16. I bet your class was awesome! Love the finished styled plate :)

  17. Would have liked to go for the session you had and also meet you in person.

    What great tips! Love how that plate looks! You are a genius! That pad thai looks absolutely gorgeous and I feel like digging into it.

  18. You expert, you. :D Sounds like you had an amazing, memorable weekend. Love the styling tips, too! It’s all about controlling chaos sometimes. Delicious, delicious chaos.. !

  19. Pingback: Vida Vegan Con 2013 |

  20. Oh how I wished I had made it to your talk, so thank you for sharing your secrets! I am so happy that I got a chance to meet you (and your mom :-) !) at the conference. I’m looking forward to the next one already.

  21. Wish I could have been there to see that – awesome job! :-)

  22. Pingback: Vida Vegan Conference 2013-Classes Recap Pt. 2! | Vegan Yack Attack

  23. Your food styling is really quite outstanding! I started a vegan lifestyle blog a few months ago, and recipes are certainly a part of it. I’ve been hesitant to post my recipes, however; because my food photos don’t do my dishes justice. I just bought an expensive Canon camera and took a two-hour food photography class. This helped, but I’ve still got so much to learn! Thank you for posting these wonderful food styling tips. I hope to get to Vida Vegan next year, so maybe I’ll get to meet you in person then. And I hear you about being overwhelmed by conferences like that. I’m an introvert too, and crowded events like that are a challenge for me. Your books look wonderful too! Celeste :)

  24. Your workshop sounds really fun and informative, and thank you for sharing your tips on here for those of us who weren’t able to attend it in person! That’s an impressive list of tools – some of them I would never have associated with food styling, but I can see how they would be helpful. I like how the drops of sauce instantly make the meal feel more fancy :)

  25. Pingback: Really Bad Food Photos | Honk If You're Vegan

  26. Pingback: Vida Vegan Con 2013: It’s All About the Conference

  27. I loved your workshop Hannah! It really was the perfect start to the conference and I will definitely be tryin’ to use your mad styling skills soon!

  28. Pingback: Vida Vegan Con 2013 | Luminous Vegans

  29. Pingback: Month of Memories presents: A Peek into some VVC2013 Classes, Part I | Vida Vegan Headquarters

  30. Pingback: Vida Vegan Con 2013 Recap

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s