Food stylist takes stage at SCCA

Published 9:37 pm Friday, April 6, 2012

Food stylist Susie Noona arranges a display of food before her presentation at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Wednesday. The display included lobster shells, fresh plants and quail eggs dyed bright colors for Easter.

Susie Noona feels like she’s in school whenever she plays with her food.

“It’s my world of Technicolor,” she said. “It’s a big kindergarten class for me.”

The diminutive Noona, a Virginia Beach native who now works as an instructor at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City, gave a food-filled presentation at the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts on Wednesday as a fundraiser for the center’s Flower Guild.

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As a “food stylist,” Noona specializes in the plating and presentation of food.

“You eat with your eyes,” she told about 70 guests at the presentation. “You won’t look at food the same way after today.”

Noona doesn’t immediately come across as a food expert. She’s short and thin, though her husband admits he’s gained 20 pounds since their wedding.

But once she puts on her apron decorated with red peppers, takes the stage and starts wielding a knife, it’s hard to imagine her doing anything else.

She has done plenty, though. She has a degree in art, is certified to teach kindergarten through 12th grade and was a dancer with Joffrey II in New York. All of her prior experience helps her in the food business, she said, especially her art background.

“Color is your best friend,” she told the guests at the presentation. “Color is what it’s all about.”

Among all the primary and secondary colors, the only one that’s off-limits when it comes to food presentation is blue, she said.

“Blue is an appetite suppressant,” she said. “A lot of people associate (it with) mold and old.”

For presenting food, Noona suggested ideas such as covered risers (“Now you���ve got a new use for those encyclopedias”) a large, lighted martini glass for shrimp cocktail and other displays. Also, hors d’oeuvres should always be presented in odd numbers, she said.

“Always work in odd numbers,” she said. “Your eye perceives odd numbers.”

For trays, all manner of flat surfaces — slabs of marble or granite, mirrors, rocks and even the Mayan calendar — make good presentations, she said.

She also suggested using a picture frame to present hors d’oeuvres by putting dried fruit and nuts in between the back of the frame and a piece of Plexiglas that fits the frame, then placing the appetizers on the clean Plexiglas.

Rocks also are good for displaying food, she said, adding they can also help curb overeating.

“If you serve them in an interesting way, they’ll know you get one shrimp,” she said.

She also suggested ways for manipulating vegetables — using warm, lightly salted water to make them pliable or using ice water to make them curl and contract.

Finally, she showed the guests how to make sauce dishes out of just about anything, from coconuts to peppers. Just make sure you steady it on the plate with twisted grapevines, scallions or cellophane noodles — you don’t want it tipping over, she said.

“You don’t want to serve your guests and then have to pay for their dry-cleaning,” she said.