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Patio Platter with Friends

Truly, these decadent Jell-O molds would surely drive Marie Antoinette to envy. America’s culinary history was bookmarked by industrialisation, and the mass production of non-perishables. The food industry’s push for novelty resulted in humour, strangeness, and charm. Here, Marshall-Garrett masterfully allows us to look through the time glass—and the largely unassumed art of fashioning foods for filmic releases is a pure visual feast, but no easy feat—as the chef herself knows perhaps all too well.


We picked the chef's mind on everything from her shopping cart at the grocery store to a delightfully specific breakdown on Jell-O, so check out the interview below.


How long did it take you to prepare all the food for this series?


About three days, about a half day of shopping, and 2.5 solid days of cooking. The plating occurs on shoot day, so I guess actually four days.


What was on your grocery list when you went shopping for the materials to make the spread? 


Haha! SO MUCH CANNED FOOD. I won’t bore you with a complete list, but the highlights include:

  • Cheez Whiz

  • Fruit cocktail

  • Maraschino cherries

  • Lil smokies

  • Jell-O Instant Vanilla Pudding

  • Frozen peas and carrots

  • Curly kale

  • Canned mandarins

  • Evaporated milk

  • Bologna

  • Canned pineapple

  • Various flavors of Jell-O 

  • And of course: mayonnaise


If we were to eat the lobster jello, what would it taste like?


Champagne Wishes and Caviar Dreams, of course. Obviously, I kid. In reality, any seafood mousse mold will taste like a blend of whipped dairy, the seafood you choose, and whatever herbs you include—in the case of seafood, it is usually flavored delicately. The real question is what does is feel like? And the answer is: cool, fluffy, kind of melt-in-your-mouth, and depending on how emulsified, clarified, or strained the recipe demands, there may or may not be some texture. You can tell by the smooth versus rough appearance if there is a texture. Compare the lobster (smooth) to the Patio Platter mayo mold (rough), and you can see what I mean. Bet you didn’t expect a dissertation on Jell-O molds, but as it turns out, this is my weird mission in life.  


How did you decide to pursue culinary artistry?


A feature film prop master and a dear friend, Jonathan R. Hodges, trained me. He is probably best known for his work in the movie Pulp Fiction—the most epic prop film of all time, and he has a storied career. He saw something in me, and he gave me my break. We worked on some hilarious and epic jobs together, including a McDonald’s commercial called “Ronald Has a Bad Hair Day,” which you can totally find on YouTube and Jay Z’s "Hard Knock Life" video.


I first got into the media business working with my high school BFF photographer and general badass boss lady, Danielle Levitt, who pushed me to style her early work in NYC in the '90s. Eventually I moved home to LA and met Jonathan. I also worked very closely with Stephen Stickler, a now deceased music photographer who was a dominant force in the '90s. Jonathan pulled me back to the film industry in 2014 when I food styled The Astronaut Wives Club. This is when the ham and gelatin Kraken was really released. I’d always been fascinated by period food, and I was given the opportunity to just go crazy. I made every single weird thing I could think of in those six months—except maybe a Patio Platter, as it turns out. This is really the job I cut my teeth on and is directly responsible for why I was able to pull off the Justin Bieber "Yummy" video recently. A truly epic quantity of gelatin and other fantastically weird foods were made for that video—hat tip to Maya Bookbinder and our assistants who I couldn’t have done it without. 


What’s it like seeing your work featured on such high-profile projects and knowing millions of people are seeing it as well?


I’m going to be real here and say: I LOVE IT. Seriously, the love of gelatin molds, foods made into towers, and Sputnik-shaped appetizer presentations are so close to my heart, and it gives me GREAT JOY to represent this odd slice of American history to other people. Plus it’s really, strangely, what I am best at, and there is a pleasure to playing with all the cards in your deck.

What’s a challenge people might not necessarily expect when it comes to preparing food for filming and photography purposes?


That is has to last! This is especially true in film and television. In a food styling environment such as a print shoot where the food is the main event, often the whole day is built around the food, and it’s normal for the rest of the production to orbit around it. In the motion picture industry, surprisingly even in food advertising, where the whole reason we’re there is to sell food, the food is only one aspect of a very expensive production. Generally speaking, the order of operations is prioritized around the talent and the location. So, no matter the circumstances, whatever you are bringing to set, you have to be able to get it ready in the blink of an eye, and then it may wait hours until it’s filmed. Or it may be filmed over the course of several hours and under hot lights. So, the food really has to be sturdy. 


Also, the work environment is more often than not anything from decidedly unglamorous to utterly insane. Like doing all this in rough camping type environs. And there is almost never plumbing or a water source.


Do you or others eat your work afterwards?


Generally, no. Food safety is a major issue, and the food sits out. If it is being eaten for the scene or job, then you are cooking and preparing it fresh over and over. I always give away the properly stored unused food though, and depending on what it is, sometimes I take it home and eat it myself. Cookbook food stylists often eat their work! They’re known to schedule the shoot around meal times—like we’ll shoot this gallette or whatever close to lunch and then eat it after. I think overall, print allows this more easily than motion picture, and food storage determines a lot. 

If you could imagine any person in the world, real or fictional, sitting down and eating the food in the photos, who would it be and why?


I love the idea of people from other nations and/or times consuming these prototypical industrial food complex foods of the mid-20th century with the kind of nose-wrinkling disdain we historically applied to anything non eurocentric. It’s hard to believe now that we as a nation disdained things like garlic, but we did—we associated it with immigrants and crime. So, I think it’s only fair that this kind of "EW GROSS" thinking is applied to these super establishment foods now. This kind of food is the ultimate expression of leaning into the middle and exerting great effort to assimilate into the mainstream from the time in which it ruled.  


It’s such an evocative food group. I think the only possible person it could look natural with is a fictionalized space alien or a 1960s idealized housewife, and both of these are tropes from the same era that produced this food, of course. 


For me, that’s why it’s so powerful. It has such a theatrical quality to it. And of course, it’s very pretty and, for all its clean architecture, has real maximalist potential—which is why you see it cropping up in the media today. There’s this high-low culture aesthetic built into it. You see this in the Bieber "Yummy" video, and the Gucci Resort collection film directed by Harmony Korine that came out last year. I mean, obviously I am here for it, this is my favorite topic and one I think quite deeply about. So I guess really, I can see anyone and everyone getting into a gelatin mold. 

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