Nitin Tandon: The Boy Who Was Born In An Ice-Cream Tub

Ace food stylist, Nitin Tandon, shares wisdom he has collected over the last 30 years.

Jahnabee Borah

Food Stylist Nitin Tandon can change your mood by merely making your food look better. An adventurer at heart, Tandon trained to be a chef and launched some of the most popular Pan Asian restaurants in Mumbai while styling food for some of the most prestigious TV and print commercials in a career spanning almost 30 years. And the ice-cream? This melting goodness continues to be his most challenging and so, most favourite food to style!

Your journey

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I think I was born in a kitchen, in an ice-cream tub to be specific. At the age of 12, my family crowned me the second ‘omelette’ chef, following in my father’s footsteps. My mom was a gifted cook, whereas my father’s approach to food was more creative.

In the pursuit of big-ticket hotels and restaurants’ glamour, I studied in Food Craft Institute, Pune. I fell in love with everything food-related while working in the kitchens of the Taj Mahal Mumbai and The Oberoi. I was also love-struck with the girl I later married. She was the patisserie chef, and it was love at first bite!

My wife and I embarked on a passionate, entrepreneurial journey in 1992 by launching restaurants and banqueting. This is when I also began styling food for photography in TV commercials and stills for hundreds of brands.

Aspiring food stylists must

Food styling has two essentials - food and design. Design schools don’t teach food, and culinary colleges don’t expose you to great art and aesthetics. This is a lesser-known profession, and we are just a motley crew.

So if you aspire to be a food stylist, just start styling every platter you can lay your hands on. But remember, styling cannot be your first profession after school. So polish your skills in any one field – food or design – and then let your passion guide you here.

When you’ve hit gold, earning Rs 30,000 to Rs 75,000 per day is not too difficult. World travel, good locations for shoots and decent hotel beds to snuggle into are the added perks!

To become a better stylist

Travel. It’s a great teacher. Food design speaks in a language that one understands today. It captures our cultures, socio-economic situations and world influences.

Tools to make everyday meals Instagram-worthy

Styling creates a mood. So use simple tools to enhance your food: cutlery, crockery, table set-up and lighting. Candle-lit dinners are a big yes! Celebrate food and train your mind to create a mood-setting for anything you wish to celebrate.

Inspire yourself with videos and pictures and recreate them initially as they are or until you create a space that is entirely your own. Observe the design and don’t get swayed by the branding.

The most difficult foods to style

Products that melt and misbehave like ice-cream or dessert or chocolate. Some Indian foods have poor shape or form and trouble us. Shooting a lump of rice, burnt-coloured curries, lesser-known cuts of meat or unknown veggies can be a significant challenge at times. Try making chiwda look sexy, especially when you have to shoot with no props!

But there’s a solution. You just have to fall in love with the food you’re shooting. Second, approach your assignment with a team and ask everyone to do their homework. Brainstorm, listen to your team…and watch how you turn runny ice-cream into a showstopper.

And your inspiration?

Being an urban atheist, I use God when convenient! But I celebrate his work the most. Nature and natural forms are my biggest inspiration. My constant quest is to take a shape and form and create the unthinkable to provoke you, pleasantly surprise you and influence your mind.

My aesthetics are teased by any grand design, whether its architecture, a landscape, product design. I am continually browsing pictures—every single moment.

I love shooting ice-cream. Every few years, my taste for a specific cuisine changes and with that my desire to experiment intensifies.

Food trends of the future

Health food has captured the popular imagination. I see a surge in Ayurvedic food practices integrated into our lifestyle. Vegetarianism is on the rise, and since Indian food has the most considerable repertoire of vegetarian food globally, I foresee Indian food gaining prominence in the global market. 

Photo: Facebook.com/ Nitin Tandon Food Styling
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