So here we are. According to the New York Times, New York’s Culinary Institute of America, one of the highest-regarded culinary schools in the country, will offer two Instagram-friendly electives next year: food styling and food photography.
Anyone who’s been around a proper food photoshoot (not the impromptu kind that happens at half of restaurant tables every night) knows that while the food may look good, it’s not actually food you want to eat. Often meat isn’t cooked enough, vegetables are cooked too much, and any number of inedible substances are put on and in the food to make it look good in photos. In this way, traditional food photography stands in stark contrast to the Instagrammable plates of today. Not only does food have to taste good, it has to look good, too. Good on the CIA for providing traditional classes, but food styling secrets aside, food that photographs well tends to stay on the menu longer, according to an assistant professor/executive chef at the school’s flagship restaurant.
There’s also a mixed message here, though. At the MAD Symposium in Copenhagen a few years ago, Bay Area chef Daniel Patterson piqued my interest as he urged young chefs to “Keep your head down, keep your mouth shut, and stay off the f*king Instagram.” Granted, this speech happened three years ago, and much has changed, including the unprecedented popularity and marketing power of the social network. But there’s an argument to be made in favor of the craft of cooking, to keep the image-driven power of Instagram away from the creativity of the kitchen. Unfortunately, that’s no longer a realistic proposition.
Toward the end of the article, the Times lands on the true purpose of the new classes, and it’s not Instagram. It’s instead an acknowledgement of the variety of food- and restaurant-industry careers available outside of the kitchen. In this way, the CIA isn’t really taking advantage of Instagram popularity so much as they are acknowledging that food media and image perception are important tools to stand out in an increasingly competitive market. Still, the move doesn’t do much to curb the food-must-photograph-as-well-as-it-tastes trend that can literally make or break a new restaurant.
This post originally appeared in the October 4, 2017 Skift Table newsletter. Subscribe to get the latest news and insight in your inbox.
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