Kristen Hess is a New York City food stylist, photographer, recipe developer, and author of the food blog, The Artful Gourmet. We recently chatted with Kristen about her favorite cuisines, cooking trends, and NYC eateries, and also asked her to share her food stylist expertise with us to help foodies take better photos of their gastronomical creations.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Why did you decide to dive headfirst into learning about cooking and food photography?
I’ve always loved food and cooking but never considered it as a full-time career until I moved to NYC and started taking a series of cooking classes at The Institute of Culinary Education. I was working in advertising at the time and thought it was a fun hobby, but then that hobby became more serious as I discovered food media as a blossoming career path and started taking more classes in food styling, photography, and food writing and then started my blog.
Out of all of the different styles of cuisine and cooking in your repertoire, which one was the most fun to learn about?
My all-time favorite is Italian food because I love the simplicity of the gorgeous ingredients, rustic flavors, and cooking techniques. Whether it’s homemade pasta and sauce, homemade pizza, a gorgeous salad, an antipasti dish, or a roasted chicken with vegetables, I love it all!
Name a cooking trend, tool, or category that you’re currently excited about.
Alternative flours and coconut everything! I try to live a healthy lifestyle, but sometimes it’s hard when you work in the food industry (esp. in NYC!) surrounded by delicious temptations every day. Alternative flours made out of chickpeas, coconut, almond, bananas, brown rice, farro, buckwheat, chia, and arrowroot are great for low-carb and paleo/gluten-free cooking – and they’re healthier, too. You can make pizza crust, bread, pasta, pancakes, tortillas, pastry, crepes, socca, and all kinds of dishes with it. And I love coconut oil, cream, and milk as an alternative to full-fat regular dairy sometimes because it has a nice subtle coconut flavor and is great to cook with at high heat. I’ve made curries, smoothies, baked goods, and more with it. Great stuff.
Many people have a basic idea of what a food stylist does – but could you tell us about some types of food photography that you’ve done that people may not associate with the craft?
I do some interesting gigs with agencies for their food clients who are doing on-site media tours promoting food products and recipes to food editors for all the major food magazines. For example, The Jackfruit Company launched their new products and I toured around with the owner and PR agency making tacos, salads, burgers, and sandwiches on-site in the editors’ board rooms while they pitched the product to the editors and writers (to gain press and brand affection, of course!).
Another new type of job that is getting popular is styling food for Facebook Live segments for cookbook authors and chefs, health experts, and bloggers. I did quite a few of these for Keri Glassman and Andy Boy Broccoli Rabe, making recipes for them which were demoed live on Facebook at PureWow Magazine and Cosmo.com. I also did this for Halloween making super fun recipes by blogger Elise Strachan at People Food and Food and Wine.
When you see people posting pictures of food on their social media pages, what are some of the “mistakes” you see that make the dish look really unappetizing?
I always say lighting is a huge factor for any good food photo. If it’s too yellow or too blue, you need to fix the hue or it looks unappetizing. Also, never use flash or take photos with overhead lights as they give harsh shadows and blow out the food. Try to shoot food with natural light as much as possible. Bad angles are a no-no too. Don’t shoot burgers or sandwiches overhead. You can’t see what’s inside. Pizza is great for overhead shots because you want to see what’s on it. Don’t be afraid to crop into the shot too for some detail. Finally, consider your composition; what’s the hero in the shot? Focus on that dish. Not the glass behind it. Let the hero shine!
Finish this sentence: “If you’re a true foodie, the next time you visit New York City, you definitely need to stop by…”
For pizza, you need to check out DiFara on Ave J in Brooklyn. The wait is kinda long, but it’s soooo good and super worth the trip and the wait. I also love RubiRosa pizza in Soho.
Pearl Oyster Bar in the West Village is amazing for fresh oysters, seafood, wine, etc.
My favorite taco joint is La Esquina in Nolita. They make authentic Mexican style tacos on small corn tortillas with fresh cilantro, pork, steak, chicken, and homemade salsa. Plus, the grilled street corn is to die for!
You can’t go to NYC without getting a delicious burger, fries, and milkshake from the Shake Shack in Madison Square Park. Again, the line is long, but so worth the wait!!!
And lastly, go to Katz’s Deli in the Lower East Side for a pastrami on rye New York City style. Delish.
What types of desserts do you enjoy making for friends and family?
I’m definitely more of a savory cook than a pastry cook, but I absolutely love making pies and tarts. I always make lovely fruit-based pies or tarts in the summer around the 4th of July using berries, peaches, and mascarpone on a puff pastry sheet. Thanksgiving is always fun; I love experimenting with new pie recipes (something different than pumpkin or apple pie) like Christina Tosi’s Crack Pie or my Bourbon Buttermilk Pecan Pie.
Finally, could you share with us one recipe that’s always a hit when you prepare it?
I have so many recipes that I love but one of my absolute favorites is my “Rochester-Style Chicken French with Broccolini.” It’s actually not a French recipe; it’s an Italian recipe similar to a piccata dish, but with a light coating of egg batter, butter, white wine, lemon, and parsley on thinly-pounded chicken, sautéed in a pan and then coated in the luscious buttery lemon sauce. It’s easy to make, tastes amazing, and everyone loves it. I serve it with sautéed broccolini, but you could also serve it with green beans or sautéed spinach, over pasta or rice, or alongside some crusty french bread to mop up the sauce.
Rochester-Style Chicken French with Broccolini
- 1/4 cup olive oil/canola oil blend for sauteing (I used Colavita Garlic Oil Blend)
- 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast cutlets
- 2-3 eggs
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup of superfine flour (Pan Searing flour or Wondra)
LEMON BUTTER SAUCE:
- 1-2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 cup white wine or sherry
- 1 cup chicken broth
- Juice from 1 1/2 lemons (about 1/4 cup)
- 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
- 2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into pieces
- Lemon wedges, for garnish
- 1-2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley, for garnish
- 1 bunch broccolini, trimmed
- Lemon Butter sauce (see above)
- lemon, S&P for garnish
- Heat oil in a large non-stick saute pan over medium heat.
- Meanwhile, whisk together eggs, cheese, salt and pepper, cayenne, and fresh parsley in a large mixing bowl.
- Place flour in another flat bowl and season with salt and pepper to taste.
- Rinse and pat dry chicken breasts, then dredge each one in flour first (left hand), then egg mixture (right hand).
- Place chicken into the heated saute pan and cook for 6 minutes on one side. Flip chicken over and saute for another 6 minutes until golden brown.
- Remove from pan and set aside, covered with a foil tent.
LEMON BUTTER SAUCE:
- In the same skillet, saute the minced garlic for 1-2 minutes, being careful not to burn.
- Add the wine and bring liquid to a boil over high heat, scraping up the brown bits in the pan.
- Pour in the chicken broth, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes (if using) and let reduce by half, another 5-7 minutes.
- Stir in the butter and whisk until it melts.
- Add chicken back into the pan with the sauce and let simmer another 5-10 minutes.
- Place chicken on serving plate with the steamed broccolini and spoon lemon butter sauce over the top of both.
- Garnish with lemon wedges and additional chopped parsley if desired.
- Steam broccolini for about 5 minutes, covered. Remove lid and steam for another 5 minutes until fork tender but still bright green.
- Top broccolini with Lemon Butter sauce, additional lemon, salt, and pepper to taste.
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