As a freelance food stylist, Lisa Cherkasky of Arlington isn’t hurting for work. On a Thursday she’ll labor over a baked potato, fluffing it into an ideal mound for the outside of a box. The next day, it’ll be a tart for the food pages of the Washington Post or a roasted red snapper with lemon and sage for WebMD. For all of her clients—National Geographic Kids, the Almond Board of California, the Australian Beef and Livestock Council, Manischewitz, etc.—Cherkasky, a former chef, is a perfectionist. She has to be. “You can’t look at it and taste it,” she says. “You have to eat with your eyes.”
Eating with your eyes in Cherkasky’s case often involves forceps and tiny paintbrushes and, if pancakes are involved, Scotch Guard: “It’s so the syrup doesn’t immediately soak in,” she says.
Recently Cherkasky, 51, brought her giant Craftsman toolboxes to the Glover Park studio of photographer Renée Comet. The two, who’ve worked together shooting food for years, had lined up a client looking for updated package images on a line of frozen shrimp and sauces. The first of three dishes is hickory garlic shrimp pasta with avocado and tomato relish.
First up, the pasta. Cherkasky places spaghetti on a plate, then later uses a bamboo skewer to achieve an “organic” pile, tucking in any noodle ends. “It’s funny,” she says. “Food lines up. It always wants to go into a square or a pattern of some sort.”