Food & Drink

ESQ&A: Food Styling With Yuda Bustara

We speak to chef, cooking show host and food stylist, Yuda Bustara on food photography and his tip for taking a nice picture of your meal.

BY Sim Wie Boon | Dec 24, 2016 | Reviews

A graduate of Taylor’s College School of Hospitality Tourism in Malaysia, chef Yuda Bustara has worked at the Crown Casino Hotel in Melbourne and few others fine dining as well as bistro in Malaysia but his journeys led him back to Jakarta to help his father's vegan restaurant. Currently a food stylist and host of Asian Food Channel’s Urban Cook show as well as a cooking instructor in few cooking schools in Asia, we steal a few moments from his busy schedule to talk to the chef about what exactly is a food stylist and the people who love taking photos of their food. 

ESQUIRE: So, what exactly is a food stylist?

YUDA BUSTARA: My job is to make food look delectable in advertisements, cookbooks, food packaging, menus, commercials and movies, just like make up artist but for food, Being ‘food stylist’ sounds glamorous but it's very hard work, you’ll be on your feet in long hours photo shoot and there's an insane amount of ingredients you need to track down and source, you need extensive knowledge about all types of food, so its going to be a lot easier if you have culinary background.

ESQ: How did you become a food stylist?

YB: I went to cooking school in Taylor’s University Malaysia that was something I always really, really wanted to do when i finished school, few years after that and after traveling from one kitchen to another, I just got bored of cooking, so I ended up being a production manager for some fashion brand, that was where I learned a lot about photography and production, one day my friend from a magazine need a food writer for his magazine, I signed up myself, i shoot and create all the recipes all by myself, surprisingly people love my articles, I decided to be professional food stylist since then, there was no school for food styling so I went to few food styling seminars by Martha Stewart team that time, and here I am now, a chef and a food stylist.

ESQ: Back then, photographing food was a specific skill but now with social media and smart phones, everyone seems to be a 'food photographer' now, what are your thoughts on that?

YB: Yep, everyone is a "food photographer" these days but just because you are taking a picture of your food, doesn’t make you a food photographer; Food photography is a way more complicated art form. Imagine shooting for walls’ ice cream Billboard or shooting for food magazine cover, its more for commercial purposes I must say and it takes time and equipment, you need more than just an Iphone, im fine with people taking food photo, as long as you respect certain rules of dining etiquette, For example, when you are in a restaurant, do not put your food on the floor and please don’t be pretentious food bloggers just because you want free food :P

ESQ: What are you thoughts on who food photography is often used to exaggerate the actual food itself?

YB: When it comes to commercial food photography it has to be exaggerate and it better be, imagine if Mcdonald's put their real storebought burgers on a billboard, I don’t think its going to be appealing, This is when food styling helps to enhance the look of the food and influence people to buy the products.

Kokikutv "Dapur Nostalgia" book launching, thank you for those who came

A photo posted by Yuda Bustara (@yudabustara) on

ESQ: There are some restaurants that ban their customers from taking photographs of the food they're being served, thoughts?

YB: Well if you are eating in fine dining restaurant or Michelin starred place it would be annoying for other patron or the chefs when you using flash, and usually in this fancy diner they come with set menus, you pay a lot and you don’t want your next courses getting cold just because waiting for you find good angle, so its better not to ruin everyone's dining experience, but for me sometimes I do it sneakily, after all its gonna be free advertising for the restaurant...

ESQ: What do you love most about what you do?

YB: Well as a food stylist, I love the feeling of when I see a food billboard that I made on the streets and people go “oh that looks good! im gonna try it” and as a chef as well as a cooking show host, I just love to cook. I sleep, live and breathe food. It's great to inspire people to cook at home and recreate my recipes for their family and friends, plus I get to travel a lot.

ESQ: We've read somewhere that you started something called Tree Food Concept, care to tell us more about that?

YB: It’s a private dining concept we (together with chefs, Arimbi Nimpuno and Putri Miranti) started four years ago. Jakarta traffic been really bad these past couple of years and people tend to have their food delivered rather than dining in, so we decided to come up with this idea where us as private chefs, can come to your place and cook for you. Be it for birthdays, weddings or product launchings, we can cater to all and you don’t have to do anything as we will provide all the table settings, flowers arrangements and even a sommelier if needed.

ESQ: Incredible, so one last question, do you have any tips on taking a nice picture of your meal?

YB: Just remember there is no right or wrong in food photography, just like fashion it’s very subjective, so be creative, have fun and ALWAYS USE NATURAL LIGHTS!


For more of Yuda Bustara, follow him on Instagram.