Culinary artistPublished on March 7, 2008

  • Food stylist Korey Kealey samples her dumpling recipe, which was created by her mother. Photo by Darren Brown

  • Pork dumpling vegetable soup. Photo by Darren Brown

  • Asian pork dumplings. Photo by Darren Brown

  • Creamy curried pot stickers. Photo by Darren Brown

Open a food magazine or illustrated cookbook and you can't help but be seduced by the mouth-watering photographs of glistening vegetables or luscious cakes.

So why don't dishes made at home look quite as lovely? The secret ingredient in those professional pictures is food styling - the magical art of making food look delectably gorgeous.

This quest for edible perfection is a challenge that Korey Kealey relishes. The Ottawa resident is one of Ontario's pre-eminent food stylists and spokespersons, responsible for promoting such well-known publications as the hugely popular Dairy Farmers of Canada's Milk Calendar. A busy mother of three pre-teens, the work she does through her company, FoodThought Communications, is earning high marks throughout the local, provincial and national food industry. Inspired by her mother's lifelong passion for food, Korey shared in a recent interview how she's constantly finding new ways to capitalize on her keen interest in food and nutrition.

1What do you love about your job?

Whenever I eat, I call it research and development. It's a fun business and I enjoy having a lot of creative freedom when I am serving as a food spokesperson, since I get to develop the whole concept, from original idea right through to recipes.

2How did you get into food styling?

Having decided years before that I wanted to work in the food business, I studied food and nutrition management at Kemptville College after graduating from Ottawa U. My first job was as assistant to Pam Collacott, local chef, cookbook author and food spokesperson - I'm not a chef, but I truly love to cook, and I learned so much from her.

3What kind of projects do you tackle?

There's a huge variety. One day I'll be at a television station doing a cooking segment; the next I'll be in my kitchen at home creating some new recipes on behalf of a client. Another day might see me spending hours preparing one perfect plate for what's called the "hero shot" in the print world.

4 How have you set yourself apart from others in the industry?

I've always focused on fresh, healthy cooking with an emphasis on homemade versus packaged foods. When I was getting started I never said no to anything because every little thing I did usually led to something bigger and better.

5Who do you work with?

In addition to the Dairy Farmers, I particularly enjoy developing new recipes for Foodland Ontario's publications which showcase fruits and vegetables in season. I have worked with Butterball on their turkey campaigns and represented Jarden Consumer's small appliances including Sunbeam, Oster, Rival and Crockpot. Overall, I'd say my favourite clients are those who let me have some fun with food and put my own spin on things.

6Tell us about the quantities of food you work with.

I might slice a thousand tomatoes for one single shot. It can take anywhere from eight to 10 hours to prepare for a six-minute TV clip, including making the recipe three times. I once spent hours plating one slice of rhubarb cake, which included replacing individual crumbs. I also cooked two giant pans of lasagna, and then completely dissected them to reconstruct one perfect, but realistic, piece for a photo.

7What food is the easiest or most challenging to work with?

Vegetables are probably the easiest, because they are beautiful all on their own. Drinks are very hard, because you want them to look cool and refreshing, but don't want condensation to detract from their appearance, so we use artificial ice.

8 What has been your biggest near-disaster?

Moments before I went on air during a TV segment showcasing what can be done with blenders and panini grills, I discovered there was no power to my equipment on the set. I just walked and talked through the demonstration and pretended there was no problem. When it's live TV, you have to be able to roll with things instead of panicking.

9What are some of your tricks of the trade?

Often when you see food on TV that appears cooked, it's actually raw. A beautiful plump turkey is likely stuffed with paper towels to keep its shape and shiny vegetables have been spritzed with Pam cooking spray. At home, the best trick of all is to pay more attention to how you present your food - if it looks appealing, it will seem to taste even better. You can make a plain meal like a stew, pot pie or casserole special by cooking an individual dish for each person - they're great for portion control and much more attractive to serve.

10What has been your favourite experience as a food stylist?

A real highlight for me thus far was being the spokesperson this fall for the Milk Calendar, after doing their food styling for six years. It was an honour to represent such a wonderful and well-loved publication.

Korey Kealey's basic asian pork dumplings

Make once; use many times! Korey keeps these dumplings in the freezer for last-minute appetizers, interesting lunches or quick soups. Pick up a bamboo steamer at your favourite Asian market - they're inexpensive and useful year round. Makes: 50 dumplings Preparation time: 25 minutes 1 lb. ground pork 1/2 cup each finely chopped dried black mushrooms*, finely chopped canned bamboo shoots 1/4 cup finely chopped green onions 1 egg white 2 tbsp. corn starch 1/2 tsp. salt 2 tsp. light soy sauce 1/2 tsp. sesame oil 1/4 tsp. pepper 1 pkg. wonton wrappers lettuce leaves for steaming 1/4 cup light soy sauce 1/8 tsp. sesame oil * Soak dried black mushrooms in warm water until soft, about 30 minutes; drain. Rinse in warm water; drain. Remove and discard stems; chop caps finely. > Combine pork, mushrooms, bamboo shoots, green onions, egg white, cornstarch, salt, soy sauce, sesame oil and black pepper until well mixed. > Cut corners from wonton wrappers to make circles. Place large teaspoonful of pork mixture in centre of circle and gather edges up around the filling leaving top open. > Place dumpling on a tray and cover with plastic wrap to prevent drying out, repeat with remaining mixture. Refrigerate, or freeze if not using the same day. To freeze: Place covered tray in freezer for 30 minutes or until dumplings are partially frozen. Place frozen dumplings into freezer bag or container for up to 2 months. To cook from fresh or frozen: Line bamboo or vegetable steamer with lettuce leaves to prevent sticking. Place dumplings open side up on lettuce leaves in a single layer; cover and steam over boiling water for 18 minutes if fresh; 25 minutes if frozen. Serve immediately with dipping sauce made from 1/4 cup soy sauce combined with 1/8 tsp. sesame oil. pork dumpling vegetable soup Use your favourite vegetables - bok choy, cabbage and spinach are fabulous. Add a little garlic chili sauce or oyster sauce if you like a kick of heat and flavour. Serves: 4 Preparation time: 5 minutes 12 pork dumplings, fresh or frozen 4 cups chicken broth 1 carrot, julienne or grated 1 cup broccoli florets 1/2 cup finely chopped red pepper 4 tbsp. finely chopped cilantro (optional) 1 green onion, finely chopped (optional) > Bring chicken stock to gentle boil, add dumplings and simmer 5 minutes. Add carrot, broccoli and red pepper and simmer for 6 minutes or until tender. Add cilantro and chopped onions if desired and serve immediately. creamy curried pot stickers Cook up your frozen or fresh pork dumplings in this sauce for a delicious appetizer or serve over steamed spinach or bok choy for a super fast lunch or dinner. Serves: 4 Preparation time: 5 minutes 12 pork dumplings, frozen 1 tsp. vegetable oil Sauce - combine and set aside: 1/3 cup low-fat coconut milk 1/3 cup chicken broth (more if thinner sauce desired) 1 tbsp. each soy sauce, hoisin sauce, curry powder 1 tsp. sugar Garnish: 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro or chives 1 tsp. sesame seeds To Cook: Brush a large non-stick skillet with vegetable oil. Arrange dumplings, open side up, in skillet. Cook on medium-high heat until lightly browned on the bottom, about 5 minutes. > Spoon reserved sauce over and between dumplings and cover pan. Cook for 5-7 minutes, or until dumpling tops feel firm and cooked through. Shake pan gently to prevent sticking. (Add a little extra stock to thin out the sauce if using over steamed veggies.) > Toss dumplings and sprinkle with sesame seeds and cilantro. Serve immediately. Written by Paula Roy

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