Industry Pro: Food Stylist and Culinary Producer Sophia Green

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A love of food and cooking combined with what she felt was her destiny (a career in showbiz, just like her producer parents) led today’s profile subject to a career she loves. The first hurdle was finding out about the existence and role of the food stylist and culinary producer in the world of TV, film, commercials, print advertising and editorial. Since they she has worked with some of the top people in the culinary world, making their food camera-ready for every take.

Current position (or recently-completed project or projects):  Freelance food stylist and culinary producer. A couple weeks ago, I worked on an Applebee’s commercial. Last week, I assisted a New York Food Stylist on a photo shoot for Everyday with Rachael Ray Magazine. This week, I’m going to Santa Rosa, CA for two weeks to work on Guy Fieri’s “Guy’s Big Bite” for the Food Network. I feel very lucky to have steady work – this month.

Hometown:  Los Angeles, CA

College & degree:  University of Vermont, BA’s in Sociology & History; Culinary Arts Certification from the New School for Cooking

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Internship:  RDL Productions 2005, Restaurant apprenticeship at Pane e Vino in West Hollywood, followed by another apprenticeship at Joss Restaurant which turned into a full-time position for six months. I quickly realized working in a restaurant was not the life I wanted to have.

What made you want to be a Food Stylist/Culinary Producer?  Both of my parents were in the entertainment business and all of their friends were in the business as well. From a young age, I knew that I would find my place in Hollywood somehow, but I also loved food and loved to cook. Marrying those two passions seemed a bit unlikely until I discovered that Food Stylists & Culinary Producers have a place in entertainment. When I learned about that, my life finally began to fall into place.

First job in the entertainment industry:  I was a Production Assistant on Werner Herzog’s RESCUE DAWN in Thailand. It was a “beyond awesome” experience. Having the opportunity to travel around Thailand for four months on location, trekking through jungles and being a part of a great crew, was amazing. But the most interesting thing I found was that the common bond I shared with most people I encountered was food.

Big break:  When I left restaurant kitchens for Food Network kitchens, working on “Giada at Home.” I worked my butt off and hoped to prove that the show needed me as much as I needed it. That was six years ago almost to the date. I’ve worked for TV, editorial, commercials, and web. I would love to work as a Food Stylist for film. That will be another awesome day in my book!

Best advice you ever got:  “Careers and life are like onions. Years go by and layers peel away. You learn new things about yourself and your job and you have to make changes accordingly.” It’s really true for me. Finally, I work with food, but even knowing that, what I plan to do with it tomorrow, or where I work next year, changes as I grow and learn day by day.

Eureka moment (when you realized you did or did not want to do something or that you should do something differently, etc.):  It took me a long time to ‘bite the bullet’ and do what I always wanted to do: go to culinary school. I was working for a producer and was miserable. I was anxious everyday going into the office and leaving the office. Tears in the bathroom were common throughout the day. Totally stressed out of my gourd, I finally just said F this. And I asked myself, for real, “Why am I putting myself through this?” If the answer had been, “because I really want to be a producer,” then I would have sucked it up – or found a nicer one to work for. But I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. It was super scary! What would my parents say? Culinary school? Really?! It sounded like something one does when they don’t know what to do with their life. But at the end of all that mess, I went with my gut, and am so grateful I did.

Describe a typical work day in your current position:  Every job is different. For instance, for food TV shows, culinary breakdowns are our scripts. And we do what we call ‘cooking-along’ with whomever is hosting the show. Most dishes that are featured cannot be made in 22minutes of TV time, and productions cannot wait around for short ribs that may take 5 hours to cook, nor can directors, cameras or host guarantee that they’ll get it 100% the way they want it in one take.

Worst job (or day) in entertainment industry:  I’m a perfectionist. When I’m not happy with the outcome (either aesthetically or flavor or both) of a dish, it’s the worst day.

Best job (or day) in entertainment industry:  The best day for me is when everything goes not only well, but smooth. In a kitchen and working with food, anything can happen. So when it doesn’t, which is rare, is a great day! And maybe 2nd best, wrapping early so I can come home and eat dinner with my pup!

Best thing about your current job:  Literally learning something new everyday; either about a new ingredient or cooking technique, it’s awesome. Oh and the free food!!

Worst thing about your current job:  Vainly, it’s got to be the way my hands always look. Cuts and burns are not attractive. And not cooking enough for pleasure at home, when I’m working, I resort to cereal most nights.

Brush with greatness (can be a celebrity encounter or just being exposed to someone being brilliant at what they do):  My 2nd job was assisting the Culinary Producer for an ad campaign with Bobby Flay. I watched Bobby speed dice onions & peppers, grill steak, and cook the vegetable plate and then eat all while improving his lines in one take. I was pretty impressed. I still am, come to think of it.

What’s the one thing you wish you’d known when you started?  That I could have saved all of my massage receipts because they were all tax deductible.

What is it that you think makes you good at what you do? (aka What’s the secret of your success?)  I don’t know if this is why, but no matter what job I’m hired to do, either culinary producing, assisting, or food styling, I’ll also be the dish washer. I don’t believe that being a boss entitles you to being bossy.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out (either in entertainment in general or on the same path as you)?  NO question is a dumb question. It’s better to feel dumb inside for 1 minute because you ask, then regret forever that you didn’t ask.

Next move:  I could choose a focus or practice: Food styling for commercials and/or editorial or culinary producing/food styling for food TV/web shows. Or I could develop my own shows, cookbooks, etc.  I haven’t decided yet. I’m waiting for the next few layers to peel off before I make any decisions.

For more info on Sophia or to contact her, she can be reached at her website or on Twitter (@sophia_green).

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About JennyYM

Jenny Yerrick Martin is a veteran entertainment hiring executive with 20+ years in film, television, and music. She created yourindustryinsider.com to give students, recent grads and others a true picture of the layout of the industry, and how to break in, transition to a new area, or achieve more success on their current path.

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