Food stylist Stephanie Stamatis creates an inspired winter vegetable still-life to match our mid-winter Chef’s Table lunch.
Our CEO Emma Yee’s monthly Chef’s Table lunches are always a hot ticket. When Emma hosted a lunch in our South Yarra tasting rooms to herald the arrival of winter, Group Executive Chef Matthew Haigh created a menu to
showcase winter vegetables. With aesthetically pleasing organic vegetables such as globe artichokes, brussels sprouts, carrots and beetroot on the menu, we knew we wanted to celebrate the produce in the table styling, too, so we called in celebrated editorial food stylist Stephanie Stamatis (aka @stephaniesomebody), who is known for creating swoon-worthy tablescapes.
Once the menu was finalised, we ordered additional vegetables and briefed Stephanie to make the table look beautiful, to which she replied: “Dream job! I’d like to be doing that every day of my life.”
“Winter vegetables are particularly fabulous. Summer is brutal but in winter so much is happening underground.”
Once she saw the produce, Stephanie said the ideas started flowing. “I knew I wanted to make a sculpture, and trusted it would be beautiful,” she says. “A lot of the research I do is based on Italian and Dutch still-life paintings from the Renaissance period, so I used some of that traditional work as inspiration.” Her other ‘rider’ requests included a classic white tablecloth and napkins as a background, along with cut crystal glassware, which she said she knew would align nicely with the still-life concept.
For someone who styles for a living, the project was a “fun puzzle,” according to Stephanie. “We had big things, little things, lines and curves, and had to make them all work together,” she explains. One of the best things about the vegetables she had to work with was that they looked as if they’d been home-grown (different sizes, some a little wonky, cabbages with kinked outer leaves) and it’s this sense of the ‘perfect imperfection’ that often guides her visual narrative. “I tend to avoid using anything that looks like it might have come from a supermarket.”
“With this project, there was a sense of formality, with the repetition and the movement. I created a kind of sweep to the sculpture – to give your eye somewhere go,” she explains. For height, she created plinths – wrapping beetroot leaves around blocks – and then set about teaming up artichokes with cabbages, using bunches of carrots in different colours. Throughout the process, she was also mindful to leave room for the guests. “Sometimes when you create a table setting it can encroach too much on the essential space. I like to avoid that – people need to be able to eat comfortably; the table has to be used!”
In her work, Stephanie says she often prefers dealing with fruit and vegetables over flowers. “There’s an innate beauty to flowers – whatever you do, they’ll steal the show,” she says. “But I also enjoy working with things that are not necessarily created to be beautiful.”
Stephanie says that while eggplant might be her favourite vegetable to eat, as far as styling goes, she loves anything leafy. “I love working with cabbages; they’re so dramatic with their outer leaves. Radicchio is visually spectacular; and artichokes are always stunning.”
If you want to swap flowers for vegetables at home, Stephanie suggests working with one or two types at a time. “You could place some artichokes on one side of a bowl and have carrots spilling out the other. Or, very simply place a few cabbages down the centre of the table. The table styling for this event was very dense; we aimed to make it look luxe, like a garland. The key is to always use beautiful produce.”
And how about making sure the table setting doesn’t outshine the food? “I feel like I’ve done my job when people can walk in and say ‘Wow’ but then settle into the space and kind of get used to it. When a plate of food is placed down in front of a guest, that moment should be everything. When it comes to table styling, you can never do anything that might take a diner’s attention away from the food.”
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