'Who is a food stylist?' and 'What does a food stylist do?' are popular questions when people first learn about food styling.
This article tells the story of a young Vietnamese man who has been working as a food stylist for more than 10 years.
His name is Bui Ly Tien Nguyen, who was born in the 1990s.
He proudly claims that he is one of about 20 people in Vietnam now working as a food stylist.
By definition, a food stylist is a person responsible for preparing food in a certain way so that it can be photographed or filmed to meet various requirements.
With their esthetics and techniques, they style food in their own way to get perfect images for posters, cookbooks, cooking shows, TV commercials, and more.
|Bui Ly Tien Nguyen prepares food as a food stylist, a type of profession that may not be popular with many people in Vietnam. Photo: Q. Ng. / Tuoi Tre|
In fact, there is no formal training for this kind of profession, not even in the best cooking schools in the world.
Therefore, food stylists usually work on a freelance basis. Nguyen is also a freelancer.
It is a myth that food styling is just about buying food, preparing it to make it look good, and then taking photos, Nguyen said.
"If it is that easy, anyone could do it," he added.
"In fact, there are about twenty food stylists working in Vietnam."
It is the stylist's creativity that sets them apart from ordinary people when it comes to styling food to make it more appealing and attractive.
"With the same fish and the same vegetables, we have to find a way of styling that appeals not only to the appetite but also to the emotions of the viewer," he further explained.
|Instant noodles are shown in this photo taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
"This is a key issue and a food stylist's unique style will determine whether or not they can make an impact with such details."
Nguyen decided to drop out of a fourth-year college program when he realized he was not really interested in his technical major there.
"In fact, I felt extremely confused since the first year," the young man admitted.
Describing himself as a man who tends to live in a comfort zone, Nguyen deferred his decision until his fourth year.
He left the college with one more semester ahead of graduation, not daring to check in with his parents.
"At that moment, I knew I had to change my life," Nguyen recalled.
|An avocado smoothie is styled in this photo taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
Self-study to become a food stylist
Although he was not good at cooking, Nguyen said that he had dreamed of becoming a chef.
"Even as a child, I loved watching movies and TV commercials about cooking. At that time, I often asked to be allowed to prepare and design the food after it was cooked by other family members," Nguyen recollected, adding that perhaps he was cut out for it even then.
More than ten years ago, when Nguyen wanted to become a professional stylist in this field, there were few food stylists in Vietnam.
He searched the Internet for information, watched video clips of foreign food stylists, and imitated them in the early days.
|Braised snakehead fish is styled in this picutre taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
|A stylized cake is shown in this photo taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
He tried and failed many times until he had the perfect layouts to take shots and upload them to his social media account.
Eventually, he was contacted by some early clients after his photos gained traction in the meantime.
At that time, Nguyen set a goal to change jobs. He took it upon himself to spend a year doing something good enough to get his parents to understand why he had left the college.
For the first two years on his new job, Nguyen focused on developing his own style.
He accepted all the proposed projects without thinking too much about the pay. After many years of work, he is now a professional food stylist and can live comfortably with what he earns from it.
Nguyen sometimes finds it challenging to balance a stable income and vibrant creativity.
"If I just try to fulfill customers' wishes, I have a good income, which means I work for a living," he explained.
"But in the long run, that is not good because I lack emotion and creativity.
"On the contrary, if you work for your passion, you can choose what you really want to do, and you will also be more serious with yourself.
"This will dent your income but you will have the more emotional experience you can create."
|A styled noodle soup is shown in this photo taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
In light of these considerations, Nguyen found his own way by forcing himself to develop his own creative projects in addition to those he receives from clients.
At a certain time, he focuses only on styling a particular foodstuff such as instant noodles, ice cream, or milk.
He only moves on to another type when he has a high level of skill and experience.
Becoming an established food stylist
Nguyen has been a food stylist for many projects of numerous food brands for more than a decade.
Since there are no food stylists in cooking schools, he has become a teacher, passing on his experience to young people who want to follow suit.
In some cases, some of his initiatives have been copied by others. Nguyen seems to be a pioneer in presenting food on a bamboo background, which has become quite popular.
While most people display their food on a white background, he prefers to do so on a somber backdrop.
He is not bothered by the imitation.
"No problem, I am happy to know that they may find my creative ideas valuable," he said.
|Fried chicken is styled in this photo taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
|Noodles are presented in this picture taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his permission.|
|Cakes and sandwiches are styled in this photo taken from food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen's website with his consent.|
|A cup of green tea is presented in this photo supplied by food stylist Bui Ly Tien Nguyen.|