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3 questions with Chris Valanne, food stylist

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Trusting that consumers often "eat" with their eyes, food stylists prepare food in ways to make our mouths water. Everything from lemon chicken to a head of lettuce is primped on a plate in order to appear perfect on camera. "Vegetables, meats and poultry all look better and last longer if they are undercooked," said Charlotte food stylist Chris Valanne. Sharing more of her style secrets, Valanne states, "Often, pies, chicken, turkey and a host of other food items are filled with mashed potatoes to help plump up foods and keep them moist." Valanne, who dubs herself the "food wrangler," has been a successful advertising and editorial food stylist since 1989. To get an eye-full of Valanne's culinary creativity, check out her website at www.foodwrangler.com.

Creative Loafing: As a child, did you play with your food?

Chris Valanne: Yes, I played with my food. I also studied photographs in magazines; I wondered who made the images and how I could do the same thing. I asked adults if they knew anything about that kind of work [food styling] and nobody was able to tell me much about it.

What are your responsibilities as a food stylist and do you enjoy what you do?

My job involves making food camera-ready. It has to hold up under lights and long hours. [The food] usually has been made under unusual conditions. In general, people "taste" food with a sense of smell as well as how it looks. In my job, the food has to look good enough to eat. I really enjoy my work. I get to travel and work with all kinds of people, including my best friend John (he works as my assistant, bless him). I will probably never get to retire. I have the boys to support. I was hoping that they would get jobs, but really the only thing they do well is shed. If dog hair ever becomes valuable, I will be rich; until then, I keep doing whatever it takes to make food [look] delicious.

When you are out at a restaurant, do you ever nitpick over presentation?

I do love to look at the way chefs prepare a meal. I love to go out to eat; it's one of life's great pleasures.

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