Treading a Millennial Career Path: Food Styling’s Massive Takeover
In Conversation with Lucy-Ruth Hathaway
When I Grow Up
What did you want to be when you were younger? An age-old question cloaked in curiosity and expectation.
If I recall my earliest aspirations, I wanted to be a teacher, traffic warden (don’t ask) and weather presenter, simultaneously. The palpable desire for order in the midst of chaos lingers to this day, even if I have shut the door on these formative job trajectories. Our Editor, Daisy, longed to be a pop-star, but alas her quest for stardom was dashed by stage fright, not lack of talent, as far as I can deduce.
Our adolescence was of course a simpler time, conversations were conducted exclusively via MSN Messenger, or god forbid, in real life, and the thought of one day having a career that was dependent upon likes, shares and page views seemed inconceivable.
For those coming of age and entering the job market at the turn of the tech century, forging a career in the digital sphere is very much the norm, especially for those wanting to establish themselves in the creative industries. Social media savvy and digital marketing prowess are highly coveted, becoming much-sought after transferable skills, which begs the question: are we only as good as our social media projections?
For food stylist, Lucy-Ruth Hathaway, whose work has been featured in international campaigns, television commercials and a swathe of editorial publications, the fundamental constitutions of her career were refined offline, despite her visual output finding itself at the epicenter of the #foodporn movement thanks to her bold visuals and mouth-watering culinary delights.
Cutting her teeth in the film industry before changing tact to feed her love for food and its endless possibilities, she obtained her Cordon Bleu cookery diploma and upped sticks to New York, working in kitchens to allow herself the time and space to hone her craft and build the confidence needed to make it in what was at the time, a comparatively niche field.
Much like an apprentice would, food stylists earn their stripes working with one or a few stylists, learning the tricks of the trade, which as she has learnt is as much about the creative output as the physical graft that takes place behind the scenes. Likening it to a military operation, beyond assembling a beautiful display of food for the photographer to capture, a shoot can be a logistical challenge, buying, transporting and cooking food, paired with physically intensive tasks that can run long in the night.
Reflecting on the early days of her culinary career in the States, equipped with a readily prepared script in hand, she would call potential employers touting for internships and picking their brains on how to break into the industry. Describing it as an immersion of epic proportions, she soon learnt that this environment was not one for British humility, but rather a space for the, “fearless pursuit of your goals”, where ambition and blind confidence were, and still are, the preferred currency.
Even with social media and instant messaging now at our disposal, she still urges her assistants to bite the bullet and converse with stylists they wish to assist in the hope of forming a human connection, for it was a chance encounter at Bloomingdales that landed her a trial shift at Momofuku. Without internet on her cell phone to check the restaurants closing times, she asked the stores concierge, which in turn led to the discovery that the woman was the mother of the maitre d’ who then took it upon herself to call the restaurant, and as they say, the rest is history. Interestingly, Momofuku translates to mean ‘lucky peach’ and was the title of David Chang’s now closed alternative food magazine.
Dare to Be Different
A mixture of cultural grounding and culinary expertise has served Lucy-Ruth well, influencing the physical manifestation of her brand, and yet it is clear that just like those starting out today, regardless of the platforms we utilize to promote our work, pursuing our passion will most likely entail hard graft and a smattering of rejection for good measure. As far as she is concerned if you can learn to embrace the mistakes and see rejection as part of the hustle you will be able to carve out a career in even the most niche of industries.
Similarly, while the bread and butter of her work lies in commercial briefs, like many in the creative industries, there is an understanding that the time set aside for personal projects and collaborations is where artists can fully express themselves and allow creativity to run free. She admits that in order to deliver the goods for a client, “sometimes personal creativity needs to take a backseat.” Reflecting on her recent work with meat free food brand Daring Foods, who gave her creative free reign to capture their unique proposition and personality, Lucy-Ruth notes that social media has undoubtedly impacted how brands position themselves. The explosion of content detailing alternative lifestyle choices and dietary options has opened consumers eyes and propelled brands to diversify their offerings and choices.
It strikes me that her infatuation with food, from the way it is presented and packaged to the way we consume and devour it, has enabled her to create a captivating portfolio of provocative and lustful visuals. Drawing inspiration from supermarkets and childhood memories of her grandparents cooking, for Lucy-Ruth there is a palpable sense of nostalgia and emotion in her output, eliciting feelings of happiness and joy alongside sentiments of disgust and simplicity in the way that she portrays food and drink. Off the grid, she still finds it hard to switch off from work projects but has resolved to address this by taking time off to walk her dog, binge-watch The Sopranos, and as expected, enjoy her favourite comfort food - macaroni cheese, her favourite type being Caribbean style, made with evaporated milk and just the right amount of spice and seasoning.
As our conversation comes to a close I ask her whether she can recall what she wanted to be as a child, and while nothing significant comes to mind, she can recount an early memory of how her love of cooking manifested itself in the concoction of a rather lumpy white sauce constituted of flour and milk, which was subsequently endured by her step-mum. You could say it was destiny that she should later establish herself as a food stylist, but in reality her success should be attributed to her long-held curiosity towards food, hard-working mentality, and explorative spirit, on and off the grid. If Lucy-Ruth’s journey teaches us anything it is that conversations in real life can be as life-changing and formative as any interaction, like or follow.