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3 questions with Teresa Chelko, food stylist 

If only more moms had known that their green bean styling prodigy could one day get paid to play with their food, then maybe more of us wouldn't have been scolded for tampering with our mashed potatoes. As adults, playing with your food for funds is better known as food styling. Food and beverage presentation is an art, and food stylist Teresa Chelko is an artist. Chelko is a Charlotte native who's been making food look a lot tastier for well over a decade. Through the years, she has worked on food-styling projects for a multitude of companies, such as Coca-Cola, Wild Wing Café, Mt. Olive Pickle, Boars Head Provision, Lance Snacks and Butterball, to name a few. With the holidays around the corner, Chelko is in full demand, so be sure to keep your napkins handy. Because as she continues to prep the plates of food advertisements, our palates are sure to be moistened.

Creative Loafing: Why did you become a food stylist?

Teresa Chelko: I didn't set out to become a food stylist. Like many food stylists, I kind of fell into the business. Originally, I taught special ed for 10 years, but my husband, who's a photographer, needed a food stylist in-house. So I took some hands-on seminars and have been working as a food stylist ever since — a little over 16 years. Currently, my husband isn't the only photographer I work with; a few years after I got into the business, I started to branch out and work with different photographers and companies. At present, I work as a food stylist for still photography and for film, as well.

What is your favorite food or beverage to work with and manipulate?

I really like to work with dessert and meat. I've gotten very used to working with all different kinds of meat — quail, buffalo, steak. It's fun to prepare and set up on a plate.

What tools do you have in your food styling toolkit?

Every project has its own needs; it depends on what I'm working on. I have a canvas pocket hanger that I take with me to all of my projects. I always have spatulas, tweezers, misters and my Joyce Chen Scissors on me. Scissors are a very important tool that I must have on me at all times; you never know when something has to be trimmed or cut open. I also use thickening agents and makeup sponges. At my studio, I have a huge wall of plates for props and color-coordinated cubbies for napkins and such. Tangible props and tools are important but so are organization and problem-solving skills — to have the ability to make everything come together and look appealing is a key tool to have in my field.

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