The art of food photography and presentation by stylist, Rachael McNeela

PUBLISHED: 14:30 20 April 2015 | UPDATED: 22:05 03 October 2015

Food Stylist, Rachael McNeela

Food Stylist, Rachael McNeela

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A Preston food stylist shares her tips on creating picture perfect dishes ideal for impressing dinner party guests. Emma Mayoh reports

We’ve all pored over pictures of perfectly produced recipes in the pages of glossy food magazines, or longed for the delectable delights served up in the TV food campaigns of supermarket heavyweights. But when we try to recreate the dishes at home and they are more of a flop than a food triumph.

Rachael McNeela doesn’t have this problem. The 34-year-old is one of the people responsible for making us salivate over the food being sold to us. She has been a food stylist for over ten years. Having gained a degree in fashion at UCLan and trained in beauty and make-up, she wanted to add another string to her bow.

Rachael, who lives in Preston with husband Danny and daughter Olivia, said: ‘It was something totally different to what I’d done before and there weren’t many people doing it. I had to wait six months for a course and the other trainee stylists came from a chef background.

‘I have no official cookery training, I’m entirely self-taught. But it’s one of the best things I ever did. I absolutely love the intricacy of it. I really enjoy it when I have to get my tweezers out to delicately move something so it looks better. I have a fantastic time.’

Food Stylist, Rachael McNeelaFood Stylist, Rachael McNeela

Rachael travels around the country for photo-shoots, television adverts, recipe development and consultancy for large companies including Morrisons, Asda, and Aldi as well as for Dr Oetker, jam makers Duerr’s, Betty’s Tea Rooms and Pukka Pies. Over the years she has learned many tricks of the trade, including some rather unconventional methods, to make the food look its best.

‘I might be asked to create steam coming off the food. Sometimes the food could have been sat there for a long time so it is anything but hot. I use a tea bag hidden at the side of the plate, a boiling kettle or sometimes I even use a blow torch to the bottom of the plate, desperately hoping it won’t crack.

‘I did one Christmas advert where I had to use three turkeys. One had to just look really good, one that could be carved and one that could be eaten.

‘I used wood varnish on one to make it look really good. It’s good on sausages too. Good job they didn’t eat it.

Food Stylist, Rachael McNeelaFood Stylist, Rachael McNeela

‘I use all sorts of techniques though. Mash potato for ice cream or bicarbonate of soda or root beer to keep the head on a pint of beer. Sometimes it is just easier to make fresh again but it is good fun to have these tricks to help.’

Many of the techniques and styling Rachael uses can also be used at home to create a fabulous dinner party to impress your guests this spring and summer.

Keeping things simple will create an elegant look that will make an impression. Crisp whites, greens and yellows work well together as a colour scheme.

You can also try adding things like gypsophila or other small flowers on top of napkins. Sprigs of herbs create a good effect or full bunches, placed in simple pots, can create a fantastic look on the dining table.

‘Cut apples or lemons in half and put tea lights on them to create a fabulous aroma – but make sure to put the apples in lots of lemon juice beforehand to stop them going brown.

‘There is so much you can do,’ said Rachael. ‘Strips of ribbon around vases or bowls add colour and look really effective. I really like this.

‘You can fill a huge vase with limes or lemons rather than having a bunch of flowers in the centre of the table as many people choose to do.

‘You could also put cinnamon sticks in a bowl with tea lights or herbs like rosemary to create a lovely smell.

‘The key is to be creative but keep it simple. Don’t think you have to go out and buy everything. You can recycle a lot. Kilner jars and jam jars can be used for decoration or to put crackers in but you can also use jars to serve drinks in too.’

Rachael, who currently only does food styling for professional companies, would also relish the opportunity to help people create fabulous dinner parties for their guests.

She said: ‘Just like the décor, it is important to keep things simple with the dishes you choose. Food can still look great without spending hours and hours in the kitchen.

‘The key is preparation. Do as much as you can beforehand. The last thing you want to do at a dinner party is spend all night in the kitchen. Choosing your food wisely can really make a difference and still impress. Just make sure you have fun with. That’s the most important thing.’

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