I HEART WORK
Who are you: Susie Theodorou
What is your work: Food Stylist
What is your website: www.susietheodorou.com
Describe your work in 5 words. Shopping, cooking, eating, tasting and playing!
Can you tell us a bit about your job? I play with food all day long! I cook and style food for photography for print magazines, cookbooks, catalogues, commercials and videos. My aim is to make food as appetising as possible: to make it look accessible to make at home; attractive enough to order in a restaurant; to make an ingredient a must-have in your store cupboard or fridge.
Where is your office/studio and what is the view out of your window? I work in endless kitchens around the world…some makeshift, some amazing that make me wish I will have one when I grow-up (still waiting!), and sometimes the kitchen is a food truck! My desk is a kitchen counter in either of my homes (London and New York) Views…well that depends - in New York it is a neighbours enormous flat-screen television that shows sport all day long; in London, a beautiful fig tree in my garden (during the summer months).
What is the first thing you do when you get to work? Often I mash avocado on a rice cake with some Malden salt, because once I start working, I rarely stop until the day is over! We then organise our ingredients and equipment, re-arrange a kitchen to make our work-day as easy and efficient as possible, and then we start cooking - hopefully not having forgotten something in my fridge at home!
Describe a typical day at work. There is never really a typical day unless we are on a project for 5-10 days (which might be a cookbook or a commercial). I am an early riser and tend to make lists first thing before I leave the flat. I do not get to do quite as much of the basic cooking, but we would have worked things out on our prep days and my team knows what we are aiming for. I am often on set plating food to be shot, and the team in the kitchen, are constantly working on the next thing. We communicate all the time about timing, and try to be as efficient as possible with the production of food, so that the photographer or director, are not waiting for us. Commercials have a hectic pace and studio photography is a little calmer.
What are the tools of your trade? Knives…it’s the only constant. I have had the same knife wrap since I was nineteen, but constantly have new, sharp knives. In my mind, it’s extremely essential to have a good, sharp knife.
What can’t you work without? Knives and my laptop - my laptop is my life!
Why do you love what you do? I have always loved to cook. I entered the industry just as real food was starting to be appreciated by everyone, and food programmes started to be popular on television. Everyday we shop for beautiful ingredients as it’s not about a profit, so we do not always have to watch the bottom dollar - the beauty of the ingredient is essential. The problem solving of food is also fun and a sense of achievement can be seen and felt at the end of the day. And I like to walk away from the job - the luxury of being freelance, and I enjoy how I get to work with different people and situations every week.
Who or what inspires you? All the ladies in my family are amazing. They have all juggled family and work lives – they are all brilliant cooks! I have only managed work - I have no idea how they did it! Professional cooks, chefs and good interior/tabletop stylists are also inspiring. With the stylist, nothing is impossible for them - you push yourself to be as good as them.
What is the best advice you have received? You have to have a direction. A photographer said that to me, when I left my first job to be freelance. For the first seven years of my working life, I had no idea about direction - I worked as hard as I could because I loved magazines, and did not want to lose my job. I just said, “Yes I can do that!” Oh, and on hindsight, I guess my father gave me the best advice ever when I worked for him as a teenager (in the rag-trade, not food). As much as I hated it, he used to say, ”Don’t stand around until you are told what to do, be busy all the time. Think for yourself!”
What is one moment in your career you will always remember? That is so hard as there are so many great moments, but maybe when I got my first job in New York, and finally realised my dream of living there was going to come true - it took me six years to work that out! The biggest thank you goes to Andy Harris for that. Or, when I landed my first magazine job as a junior - it was so hard to get into such a small, niche world. Or, maybe finally realising that I loved food styling which did not happen until after four years of working….that was thanks to my first ever boss, Angela Patel. Angela was the most, fair and encouraging editor anyone could have.
What is the best part of your job? Cooking, travelling, being surrounded by talented people who all love food too, and an aim to make the best possible picture all the time.
And the worst? Waiting in airports and wasting food. The latter is pretty hard.
What’s your proudest career achievement? There are two actually. The first is working on shoots for Food Illustrated magazine, because I was a fan the minute it came out….it was absolutely beautiful, and it was a brilliant platform to have my work in. The creatives who worked on it were amazing, and that’s when I first came across art directors thinking outside of the box. The second is when Martha Stewart’s team called me to work on a new project for them and finally I was meeting everyone I had admired from the UK for years - Susan Spungeon, Ayesha Patel and Scot Schy.
What are you working on at the moment? A deadline for a print shoot for a late spring catalogue; and a print shoot for a food magazine. I know the dates of each Monday of the month!
What would your favourite meal consist of? Well, it depends where I am, but I love earthy flavours, wood-fired flavours like wood-fire roasted fish, some grains with herbs, and delicious vegetables; Moro is my favourite place in London - I go there at least once every time I am back in London; ABC kitchen in New York. Dreaming of freshly picked mushrooms, sautéed with the lightest of touches, topped with a raw egg yolk, salt and pepper….this past summer I had just that inSan Sebastián, Spain; and Martha’s Vineyard, USA…so amazing - but just goes to show, nothing is new in food!
What single thing would improve the quality of your life? More space in my flats - and maybe a way to organise all my equipment that does not look unattractive!
What have you learnt the hard way? I am not sure because I feel everything I’ve done has come through working hard, and putting all my effort into a task. Also, I do say “NO” immediately to things…I should learn to use my inside voice for “NO!”
If you could do another job what would you like to do and why? Very hard but maybe something that was a little more useful to everyone. I do have a very indulgent work life!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to do what you are doing? Just get out there, don’t be lazy, don’t just talk about it, do it. Put in your years of assisting!
If you could be someone for a day who would it be? No idea, as I feel it takes a lifetime to be an amazing person, I would not do anyone justice in one day. But…in a fantasy world, I would like to be Beyoncé for a day - I cannot dance or sing but would love to do both brilliantly!
What would you like to be doing in five years time? Definitely not carrying my suitcases everywhere! I need to learn that staying in one place for longer than three weeks is not boring!
If you had an extra hour each day, what would you do with it? Watch TV without guilt! However, I’ve now taken to doing exercise in my living room whilst watching trashy TV - I put an exercise programme on You Tube!
How would you like to be remembered? As someone who was fair in life.
Thank you Susie for talking to The Lifestyle Editor.