Food Mavens in Our Midst: Kim Hartman, Food Stylist

Oak Parker knows how to pimp a plate

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By David Hammond

After working in food service throughout high school and college, Oak Park’s Kim Hartman spent ten years doing camera work, lighting, production management, and color correction.

During that time, she got more interested in food, telling us “I seriously began investigating the possibility of opening a place in Oak Park, close to the Metra stop or one of the El stops, that would offer prepared meals and fresh pasta to finish at home.   This was long before Whole Foods or the Pasta Shop or The Perfect Dinner came to town.  But I had no partner, no capital and two infants at home; it wasn’t going to happen.  As luck would have it, a client of mine asked me to lunch.  We began to talk about our true ambitions.  It was during that lunch that he turned me on to becoming a Food Stylist.”  

As a Food Stylist, Hartman makes food – whether in photographs or video – look great.

And it isn’t easy.

“One of the biggest challenges,” says Hartman, is working to make a “product look much better – cleaner, tidier, more appetizing – than the product we’ve been sent to work with. Before we can leave at the end of the day, I have to figure out a way to reach the client’s expectations.  I always say, ‘No one leaves until I get it right.’  Some days there can be a lot of pressure.”

Pizza, for instance, is a tough product to photograph. “The age and condition of the pizza dough poses a problem,” Hartman continued. “It may be affected by the temperature or humidity in the room, the strain and vitality of the yeast, and the length of time the dough had been allowed to proof (or rest).  All of these conditions affect the rise and color of the finished dough. Then there is the cheese to contend with.  The age and humidity of the cheese affect the color and consistency of the final look.  One day in the age of the cheese can make a huge difference in the oooey gooey cheese you see in the ads.”  

In some ways, though, the Digital Revolution has simplified the process.  “Since we have moved to digital photography, food does not have to be held on the set nearly as long as when we had to send film out to be processed.  These days, it’s more about knowing how to prepare food for the camera and preserve it with a plain old water spritz or a brushing of vegetable oil.  It’s not magic really, just a strong knowledge of cooking, knowing how the camera 'sees things' and the experience of knowing how to keep the food looking fresh and lively on set.”

You’ve probably seen Hartman’s work in newspapers, on television, and around town. She worked on the new packaging for Stacy’s Pita Chips, the menu boards for Arby’s, and billboards for Turano bakery. We've included some samples of her work in the slide show that accompanies this article.

Is the career getting old? In no way, Hartman assures us. “On June 18, I’ll celebrate my 19th year in the business.  In 19 years I have never been unhappy with my job.  Which is NOT to say I have not had a bad day; I’ve had plenty, but I truly love what I do. It’s a little bit of cooking, a little bit of science, a little bit of surgery, a little bit of engineering,  a little bit of public relations, and a whole lot of trial and error  rolled into one heck of a career.”


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Christina Pippin from Oak Park  

Posted: May 17th, 2011 4:14 PM

A Food Stylist sounds like a the perfect way to synthesize Kim's previous experience with her myriad skills. Hartman is definitely talented: taking pictures of food in a way that makes it look appealing is no easy task. Congrats to her on 19 years in her field!

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