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America's 25 Best Desserts You Have to Try

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Why save the best for last? These desserts are so impressive, they deserve a spot at the top of the menu—and the top of your personal 'must eats' list. Savor 25 essential sweet eats from around the country.

1. EDIBLE HELIUM BALLOON, ALINEA // CHICAGO

Balloon dessert Alinea
Basheer Tome, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

The fare at this three-Michelin-starred restaurant gives "light meal" a new meaning. Along with a tasting menu filled with savory works of molecular gastronomy, chef Grant Achatz serves up edible helium balloons in a variety of flavors, including grape and banana. Of course, a seat at one of these tables doesn't come easy or cheap. Reservations—which start at $175 a person—are released two months in advance and fill up quickly after the release date on the 15th of each month.

2. KOUING AMAN BREAD PUDDING, LES MADELEINES // SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH

Les Madeleines Kouign Amann
Simon Gibson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Once featured on The Best Thing I Ever Ate, the French-inspired pastries from Les Madeleines reign supreme. The sweet-and-salty treats are flaky as well as crunchy and are finished with a salted caramel topping. According to the menu, "If you love salted caramel, this is the pastry for you."

3. SEASONAL DOUGHNUT, HOLE DOUGHNUTS // ASHEVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA

Asheville
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Asheville, North Carolina's Hole Doughnuts shop keeps it simple with one yeast doughnut recipe in four varieties: vanilla glazed, toasted almond sesame, cocoa rub, and an ever-changing seasonal flavor. But that doesn't mean the flavors aren't complex. Light and airy, the handmade treats are a must-try.

4. CHILTON COUNTRY PEACH UPSIDE DOWN CAKE, HIGHLANDS BAR AND GRILL // BIRMINGHAM, ALABAMA

Highlands Bar
coast2coastmove, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Dolester Miles, an award-winning pastry chef, dreamed up this creative dessert just for the Alabama eatery. Topped with chantilly cream, the fruity dish is an unconventional twist on a classic.

5. ICE CREAM SUNDAE, ABC KITCHEN // NEW YORK CITY

ABC Kitchen Sundae
Erin McCarthy

The inside scoop on ABC Kitchen's indulgent sundae: The dessert is a balance of popcorn, salted caramel ice cream, hot fudge, candied peanuts, and whipped cream.

6. TRIPLE COCONUT CREAM PIE, DAHLIA'S BAKERY // SEATTLE

Dahlia's Bakery Seattle
javacolleen, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0  

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

This sweet eat from Dahlia's Bakery is POTUS-approved. President Obama is such a fan of the dessert that he's returned to it a number of times, according to Seattle Weekly. Sample the famous pie—a coconut crust filled with shredded coconut cream and topped with toasted coconut, fresh whipped cream, and shaved white chocolate—as a whole pie (either a "baby" 6 inch or a 9 inch), by the slice, or as an "individual bite."

7. STICKY BUN, FLOUR BAKERY + CAFE // BOSTON

Flour Bakery and Cafe Sticky Bun
Arnold Gatilao, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

It's not hard to track down a sticky bun in any city, but the gooey caramel pastry from this award-winning brand—in eight locations across Massachusetts—is a real winner. In fact, the sticky bun once defeated one of Bobby Flay's creations. (Another honorable mention: The bakery's famous meringue clouds have also earned rave reviews.)

8. BREAD PUDDING SOUFFLÉ, COMMANDER'S PALACE // NEW ORLEANS

Commander's Place Bread Pudding Soufflé
City Foodsters, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Commander's Palace is an award-winning institution in New Orleans. While you can't go wrong with any item on the menu at this restaurant, located in a Victorian-era mansion, the bread pudding soufflé—a creole bread pudding served with a warm whiskey sauce—is a standout among diners.

9. WHOOPIE PIE, LABADIE’S BAKERY // LEWISTON, MAINE

In Maine, you’re often just steps away from a fresh whoopie pie. (There's a reason the delicacy was declared "the official state treat" in 2011.) But Labadie's Bakery claims to sell "the original Maine whoopie." And their treats don't get points just for originality. The bakery sells a variety of flavors of the creamy staple. Can't decide? Spring for the sampler of a dozen.

10. CHURROS, 180 XURROS // PORTLAND, OREGON

Portland
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Vegan and dairy-free, these made-to-order churros are delicious in any form, whether they are "lightly dusted in cinnamon and sugar" or packed with Nutella. Mix things up with the bakery's dipping sauces, like lemon curd or marshmallow swirl.

11. SEASONAL PIES, SISTER PIE // DETROIT

Sister Pie Detroit
City of Detroit, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

At this bakery, patrons can choose from a rotating menu of pies (Think Coffee Chess Pie and Apple, Sage, Gouda Pie), all made from natural, local ingredients. The Salted Maple is a favorite among fans of the so-called "piebrary." Feeling generous? Customers are encouraged to "Pie it forward" and purchase a slice for a future customer.

12. TRIPLE BERRY CAKE, SWEET LADY JANE'S // LOS ANGELES

Sweet Lady Jane's Los Angeles
kara brugman, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

There's a reason Sweet Lady Jane's popular treat has inspired dozens of copycat recipes and earned a spot on Oprah's favorite things. Three layers of fresh blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries are heaped onto this whipped cream-frosted yellow butter cake. Can't make it to La La Land to snag a piece in person? The bakery also ships the cake frozen.

13. LEMON ICEBOX PIE, THE SILVER SKILLET // ATLANTA

The ultimate southern comfort when you're in the Peach State: homemade pie from a neighborhood mainstay. And The Silver Skillet in Atlanta delivers with the popular lemon icebox pie. Featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, the restaurant is known for the dessert, a lemon-based mixture on top of a graham cracker and vanilla wafer crust.

14. STATE FAIR FRY, YARDBIRD SOUTHERN TABLE AND BAR // MIAMI

Batter up: Fried twinkies, fried freshly-baked oreos, and vanilla ice cream come together to make up this decadent dish. "Who doesn’t love our deep fried Oreos?" the restaurant asked followers in 2016. The answer: not many. The restaurant even earned a shout-out from The Food Network.

15. CHOCOLATE BOMBE, PISTACIA VERA // COLUMBUS, OHIO

PISTACIA VERA chocolate bombe
Not for the faint of heart, this rich dessert features chocolate in three different textures: "thin layers of chocolate buttermilk cake, marsala chocolate mousse & semi-sweet chocolate ganache," according to the menu. And if cake isn't your thing, go for the also-popular Parisan macarons, available in a dozen flavors.

16. PB&J ICE CREAM PIE, TARTINE COOKIES AND CREAM // SAN FRANCISCO

Tartine Cookies and Cream San Francisco
Yuichi Sakuraba, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

A modern take on a childhood favorite, the PB&J ice cream pie from Tartine Cookies and Cream is a blend of sorbet, soft-serve, and fresh fruit on a cookie crust and garnished with candied peanuts—and Bon Appetit's best dessert of 2017.

17. FRUIT TARTS, PASTICHE // PROVIDENCE, RHODE ISLAND

PASTICHE fruit tart
David Z., Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Locals take pride in the freshly baked fruit tarts from this small café. Cozy up to the warm fireplace in the winter and pair your pastry with Pastiche's teas or hot chocolates.

18. THE ULTIMATE COCONUT CAKE, PENINSULA GRILL // CHARLESTON, SOUTH CAROLINA

Get your sugar high from Peninsula Grill's towering 12-layer delicacy of fresh coconut, cream cheese frosting, and vanilla cake. Since its debut in 1997, the famous treat has earned praises from Bobby Flay and The New York Times, among others—and continues to top itself, literally. Today, each coconut cake stands at five inches.

19. BOURBON AFFECIONADO, 610 MAGNOLIA // LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY

610 Magnolia
Mike Lutz, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

This dessert from 610 Magnolia has a lot of spirit. Namely, bourbon. As executive chef Kevin Ashworth told The Whiskey Reviewer, the dish involves "bourbon soaked banana cake, there's bourbon in the butterscotch, the maple syrup is aged in Pappy Van Winkle barrels, we use bourbon staves for the smoke. If we can put bourbon in it, we put bourbon in it."

20. FRIED MILK, UCHIKO // TEXAS

fried milk uchi

This Sushi spot—with locations throughout Texas and an upcoming restaurant in Denver—offers up a famous take on dairy: fried milk. Conceptualized by Top Chef winner and pastry chef Paul Qui, the dish is a combination of ice milk sherbet, toasted milk, cornflake crumble, and chocolate powder.

21. APPLE PIE, BLUE DUCK TAVERN // WASHINGTON, D.C.

Blue Tavern
albedo20, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Climbing up the ranks of D.C.'s hottest restaurants was as easy as pie for this establishment. Applesauce and filling are combined to form the middle of this famous pie, all baked in a thick, buttery crust. Add a scoop of the restaurant's homemade ice cream to really complete the dish.

22. BROWNIE ROYALE, BAILEYS' CHOCOLATE BAR // SAINT LOUIS, MISSOURI

Bailey's Chocolate Bar
Lee Davenpost, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Chocolate lovers won't know what to sample first at this Missouri restaurant, which boasts a variety of chocolate creations. One popular choice: the Brownie Royal, a fudgy brownie with hot fudge, bananas, and a cherry.

23. POI GLAZED DONUT, KAMEHAMEHA BAKERY // HONOLULU, HAWAII

KAMEHAMEHA BAKERY poi donut
Capsun Poe, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

Kamehameha Bakery is known for putting a local spin on traditional desserts, like adding the tarot root poi to Portuguese malasada. The purple, glazed donuts are a favorite among locals and tourists alike. In the words of the bakery’s website, "There's nothing quite like a donut, warm, fluffy, and a little bit gooey."

24. CUPCAKES, CARYTOWN CUPCAKES // RICHMOND, VIRGINIA

CARYTOWN CUPCAKES
Giselle Leung, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The gourmet cupcake shop keeps customers guessing with rotating themed flavors, like "Polyjuice Potion" and "Butterbeer" from the "Cary Potter" menu, as well as nearly a dozen other varieties.

25. DUCK FAT DONUT & ICE CREAM, THE GREY PLUME // OMAHA, NEBRASKA

THE GREY PLUME duck fat donut
Shelby L. Bell, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Eco-friendly restaurant The Grey Plume offers up this unique treat. The name says it all: Each brioche creation is fried in duck fat before being paired with vanilla and brown butter ice cream.

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18 Tea Infusers to Make Teatime More Exciting
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Make steeping tea more fun with these quirky tea infusers.

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. SOAKING IT UP; $7.49

man-shaped tea infuser
Amazon

That mug of hot water might eventually be a drink for you, but first it’s a hot bath for your new friend, who has special pants filled with tea.

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2. A FLYING TEA BOX; $25.98

There’s no superlaser on this Death Star, just tea.

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3. SPACE STATION; $9.99

astronaut tea infuser
ThinkGeek

This astronaut's mission? Orbit the rim of your mug until you're ready to pull the space station diffuser out.

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4. BE REFINED; $12.99

This pipe works best with Earl Grey.

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5. A RIBBITING OPTION; $10.93

This frog hangs on to the side of your mug with a retractable tongue. When the tea is ready, you can put him back on his lily pad.

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6. ‘TEA’ ALL LIVE IN A YELLOW SUBMARINE; $5.95

It’s just like the movie, only with tea instead of Beatles.

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7. SHARK ATTACK; $6.99

shark tea infuser
Cost Plus World Market

This fearsome shark patrols the bottom of your mug waiting for prey. For extra fun, use red tea to look like the end of a feeding frenzy.

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8. PERFECT FOR A RAINY DAY; $12.40

This umbrella’s handle conveniently hooks to the side of your mug.

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9. AN EGGCELLENT INFUSER; $5.75

cracked egg tea infuser
Amazon

Sometimes infusers are called tea eggs, and this one takes the term to a new, literal level.

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10. FOR SQUIRRELY DRINKERS; $8.95

If you’re all right with a rodent dunking its tail into your drink, this is the infuser for you.

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11. HANGING OUT; $12.85

This pug is happy to hang onto your mug and keep you company while you wait for the tea to be ready.

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12. ANOTHER SHARK OPTION; $5.99

If you thought letting that other shark infuser swim around in the deep water of your glass was too scary, this one perches on the edge, too busy chomping on your mug to worry about humans.

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13. RUBBER DUCKIE, YOU’RE THE ONE; $8.95

Let this rubber duckie peacefully float in your cup and make teatime lots of fun.

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14. DIVING DEEP; $8.25

This old-timey deep-sea diver comes with an oxygen tank that you can use to pull it out.

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15. MAKE SWEET TEA; $10

This lollipop won't actually make your tea any sweeter, but you can always add some sugar after.

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16. A SEASONAL FAVORITE; $7.67

When Santa comes, give him some tea to go with the cookies.

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17. FLORAL TEA; $14.99

Liven up any cup of tea with this charming flower. When you’re done, you can pop it right back into its pot.

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18. KEEP IT TRADITIONAL; $7.97

If you’re nostalgic for the regular kind of tea bag, you can get reusable silicon ones that look almost the same.

Buy on Amazon.

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14 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Hollywood Food Stylists
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Hollywood food stylists are little short of magicians—only instead of pulling rabbits out of hats, they’re turning piles of mashed potatoes into ice cream sundaes. Indeed, making food (or food-like products) appear photogenic and appetizing onscreen is a job for a true illusionist. Mental Floss spoke to a few food stylists working in TV, film, and commercials—from Game of Thrones to Taco Bell—to bring you the tricks of their magical trade.

1. MOST OF THE FOOD BEING FILMED IS REAL.

While food stylists are well-versed in the old-school swap tricks—using a pint of white glue to impersonate a glass of milk, for example—those are being phased out. Now, directors want actors to interact with their food, and high-definition camera lenses have made the fake stuff much more obvious. Plastic food props only appear in the background of scenes today, where they're less visible and susceptible to scrutiny.

“I only deal with real food,” says Chris Oliver, who has styled food for movies including Gone Girl (2014) and TV shows such as Seinfeld and Big Little Lies. “You also have to think about how a character would cook something or put a plate together. Realistic food is not all beautiful and perfect. I make ugly food and burnt food, too.”

There’s a trend in commercial food styling to present dishes that are less-than-perfect, too. Shellie Anderson, who styles food ads for clients including Burger King and Ragù, says it’s the consumers who are demanding food look more realistic and therefore more approachable.

“People are tired of seeing something in a TV commercial and then ordering it in a restaurant and it doesn't look the same,” she says. “You don’t want it to look staged anymore. You want a burger to look like the cheese naturally dripped off and landed on the plate.”

2. THEY GO THROUGH A LOT OF FOOD ...

Bowl of strawberry ice cream
iStock

If a food stylist needs one sprig of parsley for a shoot, they’ll often order 10 bunches. They never know what the condition of the parsley is going to be when it arrives from the produce vendor, or if the shoot is going to require more than they originally planned for. Carving a turkey in a scene? That may require two dozen birds if an actor keeps flubbing his line.

“It really depends on how much of a story point the food is and how important the scene is for the director,” Oliver says.

Food stylists usually have relationships with produce vendors, who can look for products with the specific size, shape, and color that stylists need. No bruises or dents, and no frozen lettuce! But stylists can hide those things if they have to.

Ice cream is infamously hard to keep intact because it melts so quickly. Food stylists have been known to replace the scoops with dollops of meringue, which don’t melt, or butter rolled in sugar. Oliver makes her sundaes the day before and sticks them in the freezer, spoons and straws and all. If they freeze rock hard overnight, they can last a few hours on set the next day before being replaced with another sundae lined up in the deep-freeze. Anderson sprays her ice cream with cold spray, an aerosol can of super-chilled gas used for cooling electronics.

3. ... BUT THE FOOD RARELY GOES TO WASTE.

On film and TV shoots, there are rarely leftovers. In fact, good food stylists often compete with the caterers: Actors usually have to eat the food during their scenes, and the crew finishes off the scraps. While shooting a Chinese New Year scene for the show Fresh Off the Boat recently, actress Lucille Soong told Oliver, who was styling that episode, that she was going to skip lunch because she wanted to enjoy eating her food on camera. “That was pretty freaking flattering!” Oliver says.

Because Oliver works on multiple TV shows in a single day, if an item doesn’t get used on set and never comes out of her cooler, she can just take it back to her shop and recycle it for use on another show. If something can’t be used again, she’ll take it home and make salsa or jam. “When it gets really old, I'll just stick it in vodka,” she says.

Commercial shoots tend to have more unused food. Anderson says anything that’s still edible will be given to a food pantry. “I once donated an entire swordfish when we did a commercial for a fish restaurant,” she says. “We never even used it. So I kept it on ice and took it to a men's homeless shelter. They were thrilled to have it.”

4. THEY VALUE FOOD SAFETY.

Another reason food stylists swap out on-camera food so much is because of safety concerns—hot and cold foods need to be kept at certain temperatures that may not be practical on-set. Sushi-grade tuna may be replaced with watermelon, for example, because the fish spoils so easily.

Oliver requires all of her employees to have a food handler’s license. She also only works out of commercial kitchens (including the one on her fully-equipped food styling truck). But not every food styling team does; some prepare food in their homes. “The reason that I get so much work is that everybody knows I'm a chef and I have a real kitchen,” Oliver says. “People trust my food. I’ve done a bunch of movies with Reese [Witherspoon] because she knows that if I’m on set, the food is safe to eat.”

5. WOMEN DOMINATE THE FIELD.

woman styling food
iStock

While there are a few well-known male food stylists, for the most part the key food stylists in the U.S. are women. (Both of Anderson’s daughters are food stylists, too.) The reason for this dates back decades.

Before food styling became its own career in the 1990s, it was up to network employees with home economics degrees (almost always women) to cook on-camera food. Then props departments became responsible. “But props guys can’t even make spaghetti,” Oliver says, laughing. So according to her, these guys would go home and ask their girlfriends or wives to make whatever food was required for the next day’s scene. “Eventually they would just hire their girlfriends or wives to do it; keep the money in the family,” she says. “I know five food stylists who at one time were in relationships with prop masters.”

Also in the 1990s, networks began making more multi-camera TV shows. A lot more food began appearing on screen, and actors openly discussed their dietary restrictions. They were vegan, sugar-free, and low-carb all of a sudden. Oliver trained at the Culinary Institute of America and had worked in restaurants and catering jobs before stumbling into this career. “Because I was a chef, and I understood how food works, I knew how to feed people and make food last on set,” she says. “And I could charge anything I wanted to.”

To get a job as a food stylist today, it helps to know someone already in the industry and have a culinary background. Everyone starts as an intern, and then may be able to work their way up to being an assistant and then a stylist. “Not everybody can be a food stylist,” Anderson says. “You have to be able to cook, but you still have to be creative. And you have to be able to work fast and under pressure.”

6. THEY LIVE OUTSIDE OF LOS ANGELES NOW.

Now that movies and TV shows are frequently filmed all over the world, instead of just on sets in Los Angeles, food stylists can be based anywhere. There is a concentration of stylists who live in Vancouver, British Columbia, for example, because that's where many shows are now filmed. Labor laws also often require production crews to hire locally, so residing outside of L.A. can be a real advantage.

Some commercial food stylists, like Anderson, are flown in for shoots. “Food stylists can make or break a commercial,” she says. “And if you have trouble and you don't know what you're doing, it can be a real problem for production.” This is especially true on out-of-the-country shoots, when stylists don't have the resources that they’re used to. So clients who know her and her skill level, such as Taco Bell, will fly her to wherever they're filming.

7. THEY TALK LIKE CHEFS AND FILMMAKERS.

hand styling pancakes
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Food stylists use a mix of back-of-the-house kitchen lingo and film jargon. Some examples: The “hero” is the food that is written into the script, is being shot, and must appear in front of the actor. “Bite and smile” is when an actor takes a bite of food and pretends to like it. “All day” is the total number of items needed; if they needed five turkeys on a set, they would say “five all day.”

8. NOT EVERYONE WANTS TO BE IN THE MOVIES.

Food stylists usually specialize in different media: film, TV, commercials, or print editorial. Stylists often prefer one over the other. Print editorial is shot in a controlled studio and tends to have more leeway for creativity. Commercials are tied to a brand’s specifications. Film and TV shoots on location are in unpredictable settings and can be physically demanding. But everyone tends to work long, 12- to 14-hour days. For commercials, it can often take three days to shoot one 30-second spot.

When working on a movie or TV show, the actors’ demands usually take precedence over the food needs. After working on one film, Anderson had had enough and dedicated herself to commercial work. “When I do commercials, the food is the star,” she says. “So [the directors] want to make sure I have everything I need. On a movie, they could care less about you.”

9. FOOD STYLISTS DON’T JUST MAKE FOOD.

Laurence Fishburne as Jack Crawford, Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter on Hannibal
NBC

Sometimes food stylists are expected to create sci-fi props—what would a person eat in the year 3000?—or fantasy items that they have no experience with. While working on the TV show Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Oliver made gooey, edible slime from her imagination. “I also had to roll with the [actors’] different dietary needs,” she says. “I had to be able to make vegan slime, sugar-free slime, gluten-free slime, gelatin-free slime … Slime, any way you want it.”

Oliver also has to make items that you don’t really want to put in your mouth. While filming the TV show Big Little Lies, she made green-colored vomit for actress Reese Witherspoon of cucumbers and parsley. She says it was tasty, like green gazpacho. For a war film, she had to make 400 pounds of “dirt” for a group of prisoners of war to eat. She got Pakistani soil shipped to California so she could match it exactly. (Her recipe: ground-up Oreos and graham crackers, mixed with brown sugar and white sugar.)

Janice Poon, the food stylist behind the cannibal-centric TV show Hannibal, had a more challenging obstacle: how to make dishes that resembled human flesh. She refused to do research on cannibalism websites, she told HopesAndFears.com, but she studied a lot of anatomy books. “I’m just like Dr. Frankenstein,” Poon said. “I’m always stitching things, exchanging, putting one kind of meat on a different bone, patching stuff together. ... The key is to let the viewer’s imagination do more of your work.” She transformed veal shanks into human legs, and used prosciutto slices to mimic slivers of a human arm.

10. THEY PACK SOME SERIOUS GEAR.

When shooting, stylists need to be prepared for anything. They carry tools including tweezers, scissors, paint brushes, knives, offset spatulas, wet wipes, syringes, rulers, Q-tips, and spritz bottles.

“Think about your kitchen: all of your mixing bowls and utensils … I have that times 10 in my kit,” Anderson says. She also has a torch on hand for quick-cooking burgers and cold spray for extending the life of ice cream. Other stylists may have glycerin for adding shine or Kitchen Bouquet sauce for adding color. Poon often uses a white ceramic knife so she can see what she's doing on dark sets and work more quietly, so as not to disturb the acting process.

Food stylists sometimes work in erratic environments. Oliver brings her own 17-foot, cab-over truck to shoots. “It has a lift gate and everything's on wheels, so I can take everything out and have a kitchen in the middle of the desert, if I want,” she says. Inside, she has a full commercial kitchen: a six-burner stove, refrigerator, microwave, grill, freezer, prep tables, storage, TV, and a generator.

11. THEY’RE SKILLED AT IMPROV.

When production starts, the prop team sends memos to actors or their reps asking about food allergies and dietary restrictions. As trained chefs, most food stylists are happy to accommodate such limitations, cooking convincing swap-outs. “I find out what they will eat and make it happen,” Oliver says.

For example, Poon once made a convincing vegan “raw meat” on Hannibal using only grains. “I made lamb tongues out of bulgur and water,” Poon told HopesAndFears.com. “It’s like making a Lebanese kibbeh. You mix cracked wheat with water and it makes a kind of mush that holds together. The texture is a little 'nubbly,' so I added a pink food coloring, made little tongues out of kibbeh dough, steamed them up, and they were my little lambs’ tongues.”

Sometimes a director changes his or her mind at the last minute, and what was supposed to be a spaghetti dinner, for example, is now a breakfast spread. So the food stylist will squish down the meatballs and turn them into sausage patties. In an interview with NPR, food stylist Melissa McSorley recalled a time when a movie director suddenly decided to cut open a birthday cake she had made. The problem: It wasn’t real.

“So we had to cut the cake that was made out of Styrofoam, and I had to use a saw in order to do it because none of my knives could get through it,” McSorley said. “And then we had to layer in cake so it did look like it was real and then we had to send people scurrying to many markets to find white layer cake so it looked like people in the background could be actually be eating the cake.”

12. THERE’S ALWAYS THE SPIT BUCKET OPTION.

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, David Bradley in Game of Thrones
HBO

Professional actors will often pick at the food in front of them, but not eat it because they know their scenes are going to require a lot of takes; they could be eating birthday cake for eight hours straight. Others dive right in. For a scene in The Guilt Trip (2012), actress Barbra Streisand had to pretend she was in a steak-eating contest. Oliver says they went through more than 300 pounds of meat for that scene’s three-day shoot and Streisand was totally game.

“But there’s a part towards the end where she has to eat really quickly and do a line without, you know, choking and dying,” Oliver says. “So I switched out the steak with seared watermelon. She took one bite and it sort of dissolved in her mouth, so she could do her line. If you watch it, and you really listen, you can hear the crunch of the watermelon.”

Sometimes, though, the spit bucket is the only option. In season one of Game of Thrones, the character Daenerys Targaryen had to eat a whole horse heart. But the actress who plays her, Emilia Clarke, actually had to eat 28. They were made of solidified jam, which tasted like “bleach and raw pasta,” she told The Mirror. “It was very helpful to be given something so truly disgusting to eat, so there wasn’t much acting required. Fortunately, they gave me a spit bucket because I was vomiting in it quite often.”

13. SOMETIMES THEY’RE SURPRISED BY THE FINAL PRODUCT.

Food stylists who work on multiple projects at a time, like Oliver, can’t always stick around to see how their food will be used. They may later find out that a gorgeous spread was relegated to the background, or worse. For a scene in Seinfeld, Oliver was once asked to prepare a perfect, glistening turkey. “Later I was home watching the episode and they had put the turkey on Kramer!” she says. “I was literally crying I was laughing so hard. Never in a million years did I think my turkey was going to end up with a guy’s head.”

14. THEY THROW EPIC DINNER PARTIES.

Food stylist preparing vegetables
iStock

You’d think that being around food all day would make food stylists tired of making things look nice. But most food stylists love to cook, and on the days they aren’t working, they love to throw parties. “People always expect to have beautiful food,” Anderson says. “And I don't disappoint.”

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