Anthony Contrino has always had a passion for food, so when the time was right, he enrolled in the International Culinary Center’s Professional Pastry Arts program. 10 years later, he’s an Emmy-nominated culinary producer, food stylist and chef. He’s collaborated with clients like Wendy’s, Lavazza Coffee, and even Ancestry.com, and has worked on TV shows on The Food Network, USA Network and The Today Show.
We spoke with Anthony to learn what led him to become a food stylist for The Today Show, what it’s like to work on live TV and his advice for aspiring food professionals. Check out our interview below and be sure to watch a few of his segments on The Today Show!
Why did you decide to attend culinary school?
I always knew that I wanted to go to school, I just never knew when the right time was. Finally, the right opportunity came along, and I knew that I would learn a lot more than what you would learn just in a kitchen. One of the best parts about going to school was the networking and connections that I gained since then. I still talk to my classmates all the time! I went the pastry track because I’ve always loved dessert, and I’m kind of a picky eater, so I wanted to make dishes that I really enjoyed. Luckily, pastry is very technical, so the skills that I learned definitely apply to savory cooking too.
What led you to follow the path of food styling?
I always knew that I wanted to write a cookbook, that was my ultimate goal. There was a posting to assist a well known pastry chef on his second cookbook on the ICC job menu and I was at a good time in my life to take this opportunity. I was literally doing this job just to understand the behind the scenes of working on a cookbook. Within a few months, people were calling me to work on their cookbooks and do other food styling jobs without any real experience in the field. It happened by accident, but all of a sudden I was working for Food Network, then the Today Show too. This is one of those sectors of the industry where you really have to put yourself out there and make the right connections.
Do you have any tips for people looking to break into the world of food styling?
Definitely check out the ICC job menu! There are food styling assistant jobs that pop up, so it’s always great to take those opportunities. When you’re first starting, you should understand basic knife skills and the process of cooking food. This helps to explain how we prepare a dish and what we need to do to fake it. Ask questions, don’t be afraid to go out of your comfort zone, and don’t be afraid to reach out. Even if you don’t have the exact experience, it never hurts to ask and reach out to people. Just be willing to learn and have the basics skills—this is one of those jobs that you have to be mentored in, so find the right person that’s willing to teach you.
Get Anthony’s Cooking Secrets in this Today Food Segment
What is it like working on live TV segments?
I prefer live TV, believe it or not! It sounds like it would be more stressful, but there are specifics to what you’re supposed to be doing. When you’re styling for live TV, you know exactly when they need the food styled and when you’ll need to get it done by. There aren’t many jobs that you can say they’ll need a turkey and mashed potatoes prepped for 8:53 AM. If you’re organized and ready to go, 95% of the time it’s a breeze.
Do you have any advice for aspiring food professionals?
At the end of the day, the world of food styling is a lot of fun. We all get into food because we love it, so find what makes you happy and go for it. There’s so many different sub genres of food, so it’s just finding what keeps you passionate about food.