Okay, so first off, I believe I’m the hardest-working being in this household, so calling me an assistant is ironic at best. But it seems like my food stylist mom must have foreseen this Pet Tales feature, as — along with sit, stay and roll over — she trained me in the “write bio” command. And so, I feel compelled to tell my story. Beats begging any day.
Despite the lack of Dukes of Hazzard fans in the house, Roscoe is my given name. Once, when playing the “if you had to cast a famous actor as this dog” game, a family friend pegged me as the Joe Pesci type. I don’t know what that means, but just thinking about that makes people smile.
“Everything I know I learned from dogs.”
— Nora Roberts
Supporting my mom’s food styling career is what makes me smile. When my friends ask me what the heck a food stylist is, I tell them, “You know when you see an ad for dog food, and it looks so darn appetizing that your human goes and buys it, but when it lands in your bowl, it just looks like, well, dog food?” They can totally relate to that experience.
“That’s because a food stylist has been hired to sort through lots of cans to find the absolutely best-looking pieces and then place them in some fancy prop bowl, so they’re angled to catch the perfect lighting that the photographer has set up. All the while, a team of humans looks at what’s going on and guides the process by asking the stylist to replace some chunks or turn some around or add more moisture for highlights,” I say.
“That sounds kinda mean,” is a common reply from my dog buddies, who feel like she’s made a career out of misrepresenting things. I usually tell them what I’ve heard her say in defense of her profession, things like, “She gets to be creative and work with food, her largest clients are actually in the agriculture sector, so she’s inspiring people to eat more fruits and veggies, blah, blah, blah.” When that doesn’t work, I simply say, “They rescued me from a shelter,” and that stops their yapping.
“It ain’t what they call you. It’s what you answer to.”
— W.C. Fields
When my mom is prepping in her home studio, I offer both moral support and Roomba-style services should she drop any edible supplies on the floor. I’m also on alert should any pesky delivery services try to interrupt her work. Usually, the stuff she does at home is decorating cookies or cakes to deliver to photo shoots, and I do my part licking up the sweet drips, though I do tend to prefer the more savory bits I’m more likely to get at the other locations.
She’s created everything from a huge gingerbread man wearing Birkenstocks (the company even sent her a pair in her size so she could wear them after using them to get the cookie decorations right) to a bust of someone named Bette Midler sculpted out of mock chopped liver. Everything she makes is to be photographed, not eaten, so it’s not as important for it to be edible as it is to look edible.
When she goes to commercial photography studios, I either tag along or stay and watch the house. Either way, I’m working. I like to watch my mom do weird things like melt cheese with an electric paint stripper, glue food or use hair tonic to look like milk in cereal bowls.
My most frequent studio gig is just down the hill from our house at my dad’s studio. When I’m there, I’m essentially a client services rep, but I also continue with the “unplugged” vacuum thing and, while I stay relatively chill with respect to the delivery dudes, I do feel the need to make it clear that the mail carrier is surely up to no good. I’d give him a chance if he carried biscuits like the UPS guy, but he doesn’t seem to want to meet me in the middle.
“I am not a glutton, I am an explorer of food.”
— Erma Bombeck
Back at the home studio, I’ve also taken on the duty of editorial assistant as my mom has been writing essays about food styling that she shares and edits with her writers’ group. I try to stay in the room when she’s reading aloud on Zoom, so I can bark every time she dangles a participle. She’s pretty good with that stuff, but it’s always smart to have another set of ears. And I’ve got good ears.
I’ve learned from listening to her essays that she’s been a food stylist for over 20 years. That has me totally stumped because I’m not that old, and it seems inconceivable that she could successfully do what she does without my help. I know she’s had dogs in the past, but it’s hard to imagine that they could have filled my shoes — I mean, if I wore shoes. You know what I mean.
Don’t tell her, but I hope my mom’s book never gets published since a book tour would really not be my kind of thing. I’d probably have to stay home and watch the house, and I don’t mind that work, but it just doesn’t have the edible fringe benefits of being with my mom when she’s working with food.