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Recipe Developing and Food Styling with Betty Crocker Kitchens

When I walked in the door Friday evening after being away for about three days, my son Will‘s eyes lit up. “Mommy! We have a surprise for you. Paige and I made it,” he said, immediately running off to retrieve two wood cuttings (they were cuts from brush and debris that my husband cleared while I was away) that had been lovingly colored with markers. And with it was a hand-written note welcoming me home.

It was the sweetest welcome home, and just made my afternoon. Those wood cuttings are in my glass cabinet next to shells from past beach adventures and mementos from trips. Every time I see them, I smile.

So where was I? Last week, I jetted off to Minneapolis, Minnesota, to meet with the other blog contributors and our in-house cohorts at General Mills. I develop recipes and write for several of the General Mills properties including Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, so it was nice to have a little face time with the people I usually only correspond with via email or phone. It was my second trip out there, and was worth every second.

Here’s what happened.

We arrived Wednesday and started our visit with a great dinner out at Cafe Lurcat in Minneapolis. We dined on lovely salads (I had one with fresh apples and manchego cheese — mmm!), scrumptious entrees (a to-die-for miso-glazed sea bass for me) and amazing desserts (housemade mini donuts). We also were treated to a lively wine talk by Dara Moskowitz Grumdahl, a food and wine writer who penned Drink This: Wine Made Simple. Hearing her speak passionately about the carefully chosen wines was so interesting — and discussing our favorites around the table made for a great evening.

Thursday was a packed day at General Mills Headquarters. While there, we had new headshots taken, filmed video shorts and met so many people who help take our articles, recipes and photos and make them shine online. We also partook in a friendly, spirited activity creating recipes in groups in a sort-of Chopped-style atmosphere. We were given a basket of ingredients to work with and had to come up with something using all the ingredients and up to five others. After some speedy brainstorming we made mini fruit pizzas with an orange-y cream and a bit of bruleed topping. I can’t share the recipe yet, but once I can you will want to make this. The dishes all went before a tasting panel, which was an interesting experience seeing how the tasters tried and discussed the foods. Fortunately our fruit pizzas were as good as they looked.

Then, after lunch, we go to make the dish again for a photography lesson. It was thrilling to see how the General Mills photographers shoot tethered to a computer and really take their time arranging and plating every element. A lot of thought goes into everything. It was a really inspiring thing to be part of.

Some tips I picked up:

  • Background: It’s important not to let the background overpower the food. So less (props) is more.
  • Highlights and freshness: If something your photographing should have a sheen to it, it’s okay to refresh it while photographing. Use water on a paintbrush for things like berries. But if the sheen would be from oil (like on a pork chop) use a little oil instead.
  • White: When photographing white foods (like the cream on this pizza), be sure to give it texture and take advantage of shadows and shading to prevent it from getting blown out.
  • Make it real: The plated food should reflect reality — meaning that you shouldn’t garnish with things not included in the recipe or show more of something than would really be used in it.

Perhaps my favorite part of the whole thing though? Getting to walk around the prop rooms at Betty Crocker. The rainbow-hued rows of plates, bowls, cups, linens and more are a food styling dream. I’d love to have shelves like these. Although white is the hot color du jour for food photos, I love seeing brightly colored dinnerware.

And this photo? It’s for my dear friend Cate, who has a bit of a straw-hoarding problem (well, I call it a problem, she calls it a collection – I counted close to 2,000 in her cabinet when I visited over the winter). I think she’d love to get up close and personal with this collection in the photo studio prop room, don’t you?

This trip really got me thinking about my photos, and how I am capable of so much more. That’s what sparked the mini-makeover I gave Sarah’s Cucina Bella this weekend (if you’re reading on a feed reader or via email, be sure to pop over and check out the refreshed look!).

What do you think of the new look?


Wednesday 30th of May 2012

Hi Sarah! This is a great post! Visiting such place like Betty Crocker Kitchens will help us learn more about kitchen.. I know you have a fun time visiting the said place..


Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

Your kids are the best.

Sarah W. Caron

Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

Aww, thanks. I think so too. :)

Stephanie @ Girl Versus Dough

Tuesday 22nd of May 2012

So nice to have finally met you, dear! And I kind of wish I was on your team so I could take a bite of that yummy looking fruit pizza :) Loving the redesign, too!

Sarah W. Caron

Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

I'm so glad we got to chat!! It was way too long overdue for us to meet.


Tuesday 22nd of May 2012

Great meeting you!

Sarah W. Caron

Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

It was great to meet you too, Paula!

Grace Pamer

Tuesday 22nd of May 2012

What a great few days you must have had. I love watching the care and attention that goes into a real connoisseurs deliberation on what to pick to go with what - especially the likes of Dara.

Great post. I've tweeted it out. Grace

Sarah W. Caron

Wednesday 23rd of May 2012

It was wonderful, Grace. And Dara's down to Earth approach to things was amazing.