By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Oct 19, 2008 at 8:20 AM

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Few kids say, "I want to be a food stylist when I grow up." Instead, food styling is an under-the-radar  job that people usually fall into, and once they do, rarely leave.

There are about a dozen food stylists working in Milwaukee, and Jim Rude is one of them.

"I became a food stylist by accident.  A distant relative introduced me to a photographer in Milwaukee who was looking for a new food stylist.  Being impressed with the work he had done, I decided to give it a try," says Rude. "That was 17 years ago, and I never looked back."

A food stylist makes food appear attractive for advertising, whether it's for magazine ads, television commercials, films, billboards, brochures, menus or packages. Most food stylists have a background in fine art -- usually photography -- and a passion for food. Rude was a chef prior to becoming a food stylist.

"Personally, I love food and could not imagine not being involved with food on a professional level," says Rude.

Jennifer Janz, another local food stylist, has a background in fine art, graphic design and photography. She is also a self-taught chef.

"You can definitely tell the difference between someone who styles food to make a living and someone who is passionate about their subject matter," says Janz. "A successful food stylist needs to have an extensive knowledge of food preparation and food science, a very creative eye and a calm personality that can trouble shoot in any situation."

Janz has 14 years of food stylizing experienced, and has worked for Starbucks, McDonald's, Tyson Foods, Sara Lee, Sargento Cheese, Pilsbury, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Miller Brewing Co. and more.

Most food stylists learn while working as assistants for established stylists. Classes and seminars are available through schools like The Culinary Institute in New York, Kendall College in Chicago and the University of Wisconsin-Stout. Janz teaches private food styling classes and will soon offer three-day workshops to groups.

Working with food can be a mouth-watering experience, but it can occasionally teeter on the gross side.

"The worst job I did was styling canned dog food," says Rude. "I spent eight hours a day for five days with my face inches from canned dog food and it was mentally challenging.  Someone has to do it though. Dogs don't buy their own food, so we have to make it look good for the people who buy it for them."

All good food stylists have a few tricks in their aprons to make their food appear particularly delectable in photos.

"A brush stroke of vegetable oil or a drip of ketchup in just the right spot can make the food photograph go from mediocre to fantastic," says Janz.

Rude, who worked as a freelance food stylist for Culver's, says people often ask if it's true that mashed potatoes are used as a replacement for ice cream during photo shoots.

"Nope, this isn't true," he says.

Jenny Bradley Vent is a food set stylist, a job that requires her to pick the dishes, linens, surfaces and backgrounds to support the food item.

"(I provide) anything needed to give the food a pleasing environment," says Vent, who works for RDA Milwaukee.

Like food stylists, food set stylists usually have a background in fine art. Vent received her BFA in drawing from MIAD, and has worked in photography studios for 15 years.

"We have to have an ability to pay great attention to detail. It also takes being able to communicate, and work well on a team," says Vent.

Both Rude and Janz say the bottom line for a food stylists' success is the satisfaction of the client, which comes from a lot of skill, including keen listening skills.

"You are only as good as your last job," says Rude.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.