Food Stylist: A Profile of Amanda Heckert

We can time travel in our minds and imagine Amanda Heckert’s childhood home, her great grandmother and grandmother cooking a feast for the family that usually turned into a five-course meal. The aroma of those freshly cooked farm-grown ingredients that reached the nearby neighbors. It smells like holiday. These were Heckert’s first memories of food and what it takes to make it.

“I would stand tippy toed on a kitchen chair and watch them while they prepared dinner,” she said while smiling with the thoughts, “My great grandmother could turn a can of beans and dry pasta into a five star meal. The results were always amazing out of extremely affordable ingredients.”

For her family, cooking a dish was not just something part of a meal, but also the topic of conversation everyday. “We always discussed what we were going to eat next even as we ate,” she said. The holidays around her family were not just an ordinary ordeal, they were built around elaborate multi-course meals with everyone contributing in some way. “I’ve carried on a tradition that is on both sides of my family of making twenty plus types of Christmas cookies.”

Those early experiences with ingredients from local farms and cooking guided Heckert towards her passion: the culinary world.

Heckert is a food stylist. Her love for food goes beyond making it taste good, she works behind the camera to make it look delicious for the viewers at home.

While most children enjoy watching cartoons on a daily basis, she had other interests. “I could not wait to turn on Great Chefs of America or Martha Stewart, and in later years, any Food Network show when they actually had cooking shows and not reality shows,” she said.

It was those memories that partially inspired Heckert to become a chef. She graduated with a degree in culinary arts from The French Culinary Institute in early 2011. She always wanted to work on television for cooking shows and develop or test recipes for cookbooks. The young chef always knew one thing for sure; she never wanted to be in front of the camera.

When we watch cooking shows, the food is always appetizing, eye-catching, or just plain perfect. That effect makes you want to try it, cook the dish or simply just get hungry. The food looks like that for a reason. It’s meant to catch your attention.

More often than none, there is a food stylist behind the camera preparing, cooking and customizing every detail that goes into a dish to make it look perfect.

Cooking and styling food for a TV show is a multifaceted job. Amanda knows the business too well, but she loves the challenge. “Getting a dish as perfect as possible gives me an adrenaline rush. I love the fast pace of working on a shoot for a show,” she continued, “You usually accomplish a great deal in a short amount of time,” adding “Shoots can take an entire day just for a handful of recipes.”

Things never appear the way they look on television. Heckert said food made for TV may have Vaseline or crazy glue on it, but it should never appear that way. “It should look like you want to take a bite out of the screen.”

Getting to know your local supermarket and farms play a role on your food. Your dishes are a reflection of the ingredients you buy. “Get to know your local butchers and fishmongers. They are there to help you.”

If you are looking to make your homemade dish look like it was made for TV, Heckert said to not overly style it and to shop for ingredients that have no bumps or bruises. “When you shop for a shoot, everything has to look perfect, like you just grabbed it from a tree or dug it out of the ground,” she continued, “Always use a variety of colors that pop and the freshest ingredients possible because the colors are always bright and crisp.”

Montclair State | New Jersey

Katherine Aucena

Katherine Aucena is a Journalist, Web Developer and a Professional Chef. She obtained a bachelor of arts in Journalism from Montclair State University. Aucena fulfilled her passion of cooking by completing the culinary arts program at The French Culinar Institute in 2011. She graduated high school with a 2-year technical degree in Computer Science and received her associates of arts in Communications Media Arts. She has worked on various TV shows, radio, as a contributing writer and in the food industry. She currently works in the magazine publishing industry.