Sal Henley is a foodie master. Dynamic, hilarious, intelligent and oozing with creative energy, Sal has an instinctive ability to whip up a delicious feast with only a few ingredients on hand. A magical unicorn on a shoot and a multi-tasking queen, if you’re lucky enough to team up with Sal on a shoot you’ve hit the jackpot! Sal can have several recipes on the go whilst styling up delicious plates of food that photographer’s, art directors, (and clients) dream of!
In a world where everyone wants to be a ‘food stylist’, Sal has quite proudly positioned herself in the industry as a go-to food stylist and consultant for some BIG and emerging brands across the world.
Miss KO caught up with Sal for an online chat about food, freelancing, and how to build a career that facilitates a lifestyle filled with passion, travel, family and adventure.

 

Welcome to 12 Rounds, a series of one-on-one interviews with exceptionally creative people that we’ve had the pleasure of working with at KO Studio. Our network of creative experts reaches far and wide, from photographers to animators, marketeers to food stylists, writers to sound designers, event extraordinaire’s and life facilitators.

Our Creative Director, Miss KO thought it was time to re-connect over a cuppa (or a vino) with these creatives to listen to their creative journey, capture some juicy insights from the industry, and share their key learnings with you (our readers).

It’s time to take 12 Rounds with our talented foodie stylist and friend, Sal Henley.

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1

How did you become a food stylist and consultant?

I always knew I wanted to work in food since I was 11 years old. I did a degree in Food Marketing Management. A month before my 21st birthday I got Bell’s Palsy. I lost my speech and needed to teach myself how to talk again – which took 6-7 months. After that, I realised that no job was worth sacrificing your health. So, when I went back to University I thought about what I wanted from a job? I decided on 5 things… The Freedom to work when I wanted; work with different people each day; not be stuck behind a desk; I knew I hated routine; and that I get bored easily. After Uni, I decided to go with the flow for a bit and I was lucky enough to do a food demonstration at a show. It was here that Tilda Rice approached me with a retainer opportunity to help their food service team across the country. From there I was able to work for Delia Smith’s company called New Crane, and I freelanced into that company. I learnt my skills in-house working on the Creative food services team. I just knew that was the job I wanted to do – freelancing and the freedom to continue working on different projects. Working for Delia and Tilda Rice gave the financial stability to go out and work on a variety of other projects and build up my folio of experience.

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2

Describe a day in the life of a food stylist?

Actually, no two days are the same. For an average shoot day, I would start around 5-6.30am. I’ll do emails then because my brain is at its sharpest. I’ll go to the supermarket, fish monger, butcher, baker and candlestick maker (laughs) en route to the shoot. I try and beat the traffic and be onsite by 8:30. It’s a big unpack. I have three toolkits in the car that I transport around. I’ll unpack shopping, then have an informal meeting with everyone. On the shoot the creative team consists of an Art Director, Photographer, Prop stylist and food stylist. We look at the props, read the brief and plan out the day. As the food stylist, I tend to lead the shoot in terms of the order of things (due to the cooking required). Once we start, I’ll be working on 2-3 recipes at once, so the photographer and the team aren’t waiting for me. It’s very different to Australia, we do the cooking and the plating, whereas in Australia they do the propping and then plating, and they have a home economist that cooks the food. I don’t have that luxury.

I do more advertising and packaging work now, which means often I have an assistant to help. This means I can have more time on set and influence the look of the shoot with the photographer. There’s no glamour to it. It’s hard work standing all day. You do a lot of washing up and charging around! At the end of the shoot you pack it all up again and leave the premises, and in between do a few emails if you can. But that’s essentially it.

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3

How would you describe your creative style? Do you have a favourite food you like to work with?

If I’ve learnt anything it’s that it doesn’t really matter what my creative style is, it’s whatever the client wants on the day. You could be precise, or you could be messy. For example, if you’re doing packaging, you’re very precise. You could spend 3-4 hours just moving crumbs…

In advertising, it can be different. I recently worked on a ‘Just Eat’ campaign and they wanted it very messy, as if it had just landed from the delivery guy… so it might be a bit squashed.

Overall, I would say that my style is natural. A bit ‘chuck it on the plate’ – and how somebody would do it at home. My style is probably very suited for supermarkets, because that’s the style they want. But I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone and working with different photographers and doing more conceptual work at the moment. I’ve done a Japanese themed project recently, recording the ‘Catch of the day’.

Food wise, I like the challenge of ice cream. I worked with Haagen-Dazs on some new product packaging and that was a real challenge.

Overall, I would say that my style is natural. A bit ‘chuck it on the plate’ – and how somebody would do it at home… But I’m pushing myself out of my comfort zone and working with different photographers and doing more conceptual work at the moment. I’ve done a Japanese themed project recently, recording the ‘Catch of the day’.

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4

What has been your proudest career moment to date? Why?

Being self-employed for over 20 years. It’s a competitive market in London. It seems like everyone wants to be a food stylist. So, to have made a living out of food styling is quite an achievement. It’s always exciting if your work ends up on a big billboard. I’d like to get on the Waterloo iMax – that would be quite a biggy.

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5

Who are the individuals / chefs / stylists that you admire the most? How have they inspired your own approach to styling and recipe development?

There is no single person in the industry. To capture a great picture, it’s not just me, it’s the art director, the prop stylist and the photographer – there’s an entire creative team behind it. So, essentially everyone can inspire me on a shoot. I do look at other industries for inspiration like beauty, fashion and art. I did a cover for Vogue magazine, for their café’s and the brief was very fashion inspired. The cherry needed to be as glossy as nail varnish, and the pleats on the cupcake case needed to look like the pleats on a skirt.

To capture a great picture, it’s not just me, it’s the art director, the prop stylist and the photographer – there’s an entire creative team behind it… So, essentially everyone can inspire me on a shoot. I do look at other industries for inspiration like beauty, fashion and art. I did a cover for Vogue magazine, for their café’s and the brief was very fashion inspired.

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6

Your career has taken you all over the world. What has been the most memorable shoot you’ve been on?

We went on location for a Thai themed shoot in Cape Point, South Africa. Upon arrival the land lady said “There’s a troop of Baboons in the forest over there, so don’t eat outside or leave any of the doors or windows open.”
The whole point of the location shoot was to deliver a ‘Summer feature for the UK’ and we needed to shoot the food ‘outside’. That evening (over a few wines) we re-thought everything and then got up 7am to start. We’d done all of our shots, but decided we still needed the sunset shot for the opener…

We closed all of the doors and headed out to get the final shot at sunset. It wasn’t long before we heard an almighty crash! “Shit! Screamed Jules (the stylist) “I’ve left a window open! There’s a baboon in the house!” The photographer (Toby) ran off scared whilst the Jules and I ran towards the back of the house to try and get the baboon out! We had a plan… Jules would open the door, and I would close the window. We were in our positions and Jules shouted ‘Go’! But when Jules opened the door the baboon was standing in the door-way! She quickly slammed it shut causing the baboon to run towards me at the window. It stood up and ROARED at me! I quickly dived out the way as the six-foot baboon jumped through the window. It was terrifying!

Shortly after we said to Toby ‘Where did you go?” He replied… “Oh, I got a shot of the baboon”. The cheeky baboon was sitting quietly in the garden eating a mango. 

Shortly after we said to Toby ‘Where did you go?” He replied… “Oh, I got a shot of the baboon”. The cheeky baboon was sitting quietly in the garden eating a mango. 

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7

What has been the biggest learning curve in your career?

60% is being able to do the job. 40% is listening to your clients to understand what they really want. I’ve also become quite patient.

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8

Who is the dream brand? What brand would you love to work on?

I’d love to be at the start of something that becomes global. For example, I would’ve loved to have worked on ‘Innocent’ when they first launched. To make an impact on a successful brand in the early days would be amazing.

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9

If you weren’t a food stylist, what would you be?

Something to do with people and bringing the best out of them. A Therapist or a Motivational Speaker that runs workshops around the world to help increase their individuality, effectiveness and self-esteem.

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10

What’s your secret weapon on a shoot? Do you have a go-to in your toolkit to prepare you for the unpredictable on a shoot?

My Assistants are my secret weapons. I couldn’t do what I do without them. They are worth their weight in gold! Equipment wise, I have three kits. Kit 1 is for chef type work and menu development, Kit 2 is for food styling, and Kit 3 is for wackier tricks of the trade. 

My Assistants are my secret weapons. I couldn’t do what I do without them. They are worth their weight in gold!

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11

What’s the vision for Sal Henley? What does success look like?

Continuing to have a work-life balance is really important to me. It’s taken a long time to get there. I changed that about 3-4 years ago with a business coach. I worked out a few things personally which lead to better clarity in my work. I knew I wanted more advertising work, so I found an agent to represent me. These days, I work less and make more money – allowing me to travel, spend more time with my family and friends, and take January off every year!

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12

What song pumps you up before you head into the ring?

Barcelona by Freddie Mercury and Montserrat Caballé; or ‘Fire it up’ by Joe Cocker.

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Connect with Sal Henley…

> Website

> LinkedIn

> Instagram

 

 

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