They futz over the smallest detail to make images look perfect and natural.
In her Italian Village condominium, food stylist Cathy Walsh uses a hair pick to shave off crumbs of chocolate cake.
"You're just creating a little bit of texture so it's not flat," Walsh said.
Then she slices the cake down the middle, displaying ivory icing between two layers of cake.
She begins to scrape away the dark speckles from the exposed frosting.
"Sometimes (clients) don't want crumbs in the icing, so you have to clean, clean it up," she said.
The fairly small number of central Ohio-based food stylists devotes the attention to a cake or a pizza that a makeup artist would give to a Hollywood starlet about to traipse across the red carpet.
"It's actually a fun job and we get to work with creative people," Walsh said. "There's a lot of variety."
They work on expensive advertising campaigns for some of the biggest names in food: Grande Cheese, Wendy's, ConAgra Foods, Nestle and T. Marzetti Co., just to name a few.
"And we get to work together sometimes, if the projects are large enough," Walsh said.
The stylists are contacted by photographers, agencies or companies to set up for a shoot, which can take several days.
Food meant for consumption must be made from real ingredients.
"The clients want the food to look real, more organic, not as perfect," Walsh said.
But food items created for advertising don't have to meet the same standards. For example, when stylist Lisa Weber was preparing a cup of cappuccino for a coffee-maker manufacturer, she made the beverage from dark spice-rack seasonings and touched it off with a swirl of foam from an unlikely source.
"Stylists frequently use Kitchen Bouquet Browning & Seasoning Sauce in place of coffee because real coffee has oil, which creates a rainbow oil slick on the surface," said Weber, who lives in Hilliard. "With Kitchen Bouquet, you can also easily adjust the color of the 'brew.'
"In place of steamed-milk foam on a cappuccino, I once used high-volume styling mousse because the mousse held up longer on the set under the hot lights, and I was able to create a swirl and peak in the mousse using my fingertip, whereas steamed milk pops when touched," she said.
Consider the tools of the trade: giant scissors, cotton swabs, makeup brushes and other equipment used to spruce up otherwise ordinary-looking food.
"It's always fun to buy a blowtorch," Walsh said.
There's a seemingly limitless number of jobs for food stylists. Go down the aisle of any supermarket and virtually every can, jar, bottle or package displays a colorful picture of scrumptious-looking fare.
"All of that has to have a photo on it," Weber said, "and that has to appeal to you in seconds -- and people buy based on what it looks like."
Then, consider websites, catalogs, cookbooks, menus and magazines. The emerging world of video presents different kinds of challenges, said stylist Sharon Reiss, who lives downtown.
"There's not a lot of opportunity for retouching, which is expensive," Reiss said. "The food has to look really good -- perfect."
"It's different because it's a faster pace," she said. "I don't want to say it's more complicated. It's more action."
But even companies that don't specialize in food need stylists for other products. For example, Bath & Body Works hired Weber to create images for the labels of food-scented candles.
There's an inordinate amount of detail in every picture, from checking out the thickness of a slice of tomato to making sure there's a half-ounce of mushrooms on a sandwich.
"We weigh it all out," Walsh said. "There's a creativity part of it, but there's also a technical one. (Clients) have a certain way they like their food to look."