Behind the Scenes: Dr. Oz’s Food Stylist Spills

082306 Showing Cook Ulli Stachl in her Home at 580 Huntington Boulevard in Peconic, Long Island, New York, holding Fruits and Vegetables.

Food stylist and chef Ulli Stachl talks about what it’s like to work for The Dr. Oz Show. In a candid interview she reveals how much work goes into prepping food for television, her favorite foods to cook and style, and even the things she’s made for Dr. Oz himself.

Q: How do you prep for a big show with a lot of recipes? 
First I get a look at the prop sheets with recipes or recipe requests and a suggested layout by the producer. Then, I start writing shopping lists to figure out my priorities in terms of what foods can be prepared ahead of time, what has to be done last minute, where I can find some of the unusual ingredients, and how to transport the food to preserve the look and taste.

Some of the ingredients for the recipes I can order online and others I just go to the grocery store for. Once all the ingredients are in my apartment I have a battle with my fridge for storage space: my family knows during show prep that the fridge is off limits!

Through my years of food styling I have learned that the recipes you have to work with often don’t work on the first try. So it’s essential that I test them out and adjust them until they do work. This process can be very time consuming and stressful, but it’s important to make sure I am presenting the viewers with recipes that work.

I do most of the prep work in my tiny New York City kitchen, since I usually only have very limited time to assemble everything once I arrive at the studio—The Dr. Oz Show starts rehearsal for the morning show at 8:15 a.m. and I have access to the studio and my “kitchen” (which is really just an electric hot plate) by 7:00 a.m., so it is always a time crunch. I can proudly say that, despite all morning rush, in my 17-year career of food styling I have never delayed a single segment or show.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about food styling?
I love the creative freedom that TV food styling gives me. Getting to create flavors and dishes and then getting to present them my way for the camera is like creating a painting for me. The plate is my canvas—a truly satisfying experience.

Q: What is the craziest show you’ve ever had to prep for?
I once made a pizza larger than six feet! Originally, the show contacted tons of pizza places in New York City for the job, but no one had an oven big enough for the request. The producers then asked me if I could help them come up with a solution. I didn’t want to let the show down, so I decided to try to make the pizza slice-by-slice at home.

First I had to get the dough, so I went to a local pizza place and bought all their dough. Each slice was three feet long—this was the only way I could possibly fit it into my oven and be able to transport it to the show. It took me all weekend to bake that beast!

At the studio, the art department made a huge pizza box for me and I assembled the slices into one huge pie there. Then, I slathered it with pizza sauce, shredded cheese, and sausage. It felt great that I could find a way to create this pizza even though none of the producers thought it was possible. That’s the kind of challenge I love—making the impossible possible.

ulli-2

Q: What’s your favorite food show you’ve done?
I don’t have a favorite show, but I like all the shows where I get to work (as I like to call it) “combat” style. Combat style means there is no need for a fancy kitchen – just give me a cooler, a hot plate, a folding table, and let me do my magic. I like to be a one-woman team battling it out backstage with a hot plate.

Q: What’s one thing most people don’t know about food styling or cooking?

Many people don’t know that there are several branches of food styling that all require different approaches. Print and commercial work is a different ball game where tweezers are used to place the perfect parsley leaf, white glue is used to create the look of milk, and ice cream is made from lard and powdered sugar so it can stand up to the hours under the photographers’ lights. For me, TV shows are the ideal forum. I love that my foods are made from the real ingredients in the recipes—that way they are both beautiful and delicious! Plus, the foods I style don’t get thrown out after the show but instead are for everyone on The Dr. Oz Show crew to devour and enjoy.

Q: Out of all the foods you make, which dishes are Dr. Oz’s favorites?

The most excited I have seen Dr. Oz about food is when we did a segment on Greek food and I prepared a large platter of fresh roasted sardines. He was positively beaming and couldn’t wait to have them for his lunch! He also loves when I make him dishes that have nuts, olives, berries, and any foods that remind him of his Mediterranean background. He doesn’t like overly sweet food, but he does indulge in chocolate—only if it’s dark chocolate!

ulli-3

Q: What’s your favorite food to make or style?
I love to make and style foods that tell a story: where I can create a background with beautiful ingredients and props to complete the tale. For example, recipes from an ethnic cookbook or a regional specialty food that are colorful are some of my favorite things to work with. Television is a visual medium, so creating exciting visuals with food by showing off beautiful ingredients is one of my favorite things to do.