Like clockwork every November, food magazines feature beautifully roasted, golden brown, mouth-watering turkeys on their covers. However, the turkey on your Thanksgiving table never quite lives up to that cover-bird perfection even though you followed the recipe to the letter. It tastes delicious, but the skin has split, the drumstick has separated and the skin is blotchy and wrinkled. Well, high paid cover-girls like Tyra and her Top Model-ettes don’t do their own make-up for cover shoots… why then, should Tom? Enter: the food stylist.
Styling a turkey for a cover shoot or whole “roasted” poultry is one of my favorite things to do in food styling. It’s the ultimate transformation. It’s sorta like when Tyra gets up in the morning… not cover ready. Same for Tom coming out of his wrapper. Each gets their own form of make-up and BAM cover model.
A fully cooked turkey from the oven isn’t used in photography for several reasons: 1) because when meat is cooked, the proteins tighten up and some of the moisture is squeezed out (why overcooked meat is dry). With the loss of moisture comes some shrinkage. This is why as soon as your bird comes out of the oven and rests a bit, the skin wrinkles. 2) There is the unknown of how the skin is going to react in the oven – splits, tears, uneven cooking – would mean hours of lost time waiting for the bird to cook, and then trying to repair what has happened or possibility of having to cook another.
Our cover-bird Tom, is for all intent and purpose, raw. He’s stuffed with aluminum foil to stay plump and cooked just enough as to not appear raw – only for about 30 to 40 minutes. This insures that his skin stays nice and taught and the meat appears plump and juicy. Note: that this only holds true for the whole roasted bird. When you open the magazine to the article and you see the beautifully carved bird – that is the actual prepared recipe.
After he comes out of the oven, we use a butane torch to tighten up any loose skin, cauterize any bloody bones and highlight what would be the parts that might cook a little darker in the oven like the tops of the breast and thighs.
The fun part is coloring the bird! Browning sauce is used for the base color of yellowy brown, mixed with Angustora bitters for an orangey-red tint, yellow food coloring, paprika for highlighting the darker parts, and some cooking spray to make it appear moist and juicy!
This last picture is the same turkey as the first. With a fully cooked turkey, it would be nearly impossible to manipulate him from one set onto the next without a lot of reworking and the possibility of him falling apart. The reason for all of this is not to deceive, but because our cover-bird Tom has to sit under hot lights for hours at a time to get that perfect shot. Just like those girls on Top Model, he’ll get moved and manipulated and his make-up has to stay fierce and flawless!
Have a fantastic Thanksgiving! May you turkey be not only delicious but beautiful as well.
Photography (exception is the ingredient shot) is by the amazingly talented Heather Winters. Click on her name and check out her site!
Peace – J
Please hit the Like button! Share with your friends!