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Mary Carter has been behind the scenes in Nashville’s culinary world for many years.  Her own personal style is so unique, it’s no wonder she continues to recreate the art she knows so well.  For those of us who are neophytes when it comes to the world of food photography, the art of food styling is as revered as the artist with a paint palette. Mary Carter can whip up a meal that rivals the cuisine of any 5 star chef, but it’s her tricks of the trade when it comes to making food look its best through the lens of a camera that are legendary.

Where did you grow up?

Flint, Michigan

When and why did you move to Nashville?

I moved here 29 years go after meeting my husband while we were working together in Michigan. He had a job offer in Nashville. We thought it would be a short term move. Like everyone else who moves here, we ended up loving it and staying.

How did you end up becoming a food stylist?

After 3 years of working as Manager of the Executive Dining Room at Commerce Union Bank, I started hearing about food styling as a lucrative free-lance career.  My husband and I knew that we eventually wanted to start a family and a free-lance schedule sounded appealing.  I began by observing at John Guider’s studio.  He was the premier food photographer in town.  I was able to pick up a lot of the do’s and don’ts through observation.  Food styling is problem solving.  You have to have a strong basic knowledge of food, but you have to be an inventive problem solver.  You have to learn to work with creative people who approach each project with a vision. The stylist has to bring that vision to the table. A stylist has to have a discerning eye and great shoes (i.e. substantial support!)

Can you share an interesting food styling story?

Food styling has opened doors for me. One of those doors opened straight into Loretta Lynn’s parlor at Hurricane Mills.  We were shooting a country ham breakfast buffet in her home. She didn’t like sitting still, but photo shoots require a lot of waiting. She said, “Honey, have I read your palm yet?” She took my hand and led me into another room and told me my story. Years later, I met her twin daughters (Peggy and Patsy) on the Crook and Chase Show. I told them that their mother read my palm. They laughed and told me that I shouldn’t believe a word she said.

Recently, my son and I made about 100 plates over the course of about 14 hours of shooting a dinner scene in Nicole Kidman’s new movie Stoker. Maybe several will be shown. Maybe not. That’s how it goes. Regardless, I can’t wait until the movie Stoker comes out!

Any food styling or cooking tips for our readers?

Food styling: Pretty food on a plate is different than in a photo. However, I find that a bit of red always pulls the eye toward food. When styling, I like to balance around red accents. I find myself doing the same at home.

Cooking: Anyone can learn to cook. It makes me sad to see unused kitchens. The kitchen is the beating heart of the home.

What is the greatest piece of advice you have been given?

It’s a toss up between being told to follow the Golden Rule and that the truth sets us free.

Do you have an irrational fears?

Most of my fears are irrational.

What books can be found on your bedside table?

I’m on a V.S. Naipal kick right now. Every year my husband buys me a collection of short stories for Christmas. On a recent trip to McKay, I couldn’t resist buying “Change or Die.”  I’m still here, so I must be changing.

Favorite thing to do on a Saturday night?

Cook a nice dinner and share it with friends.  If there’s live music and dancing involved, that’s even better.

Event most looking forward to attending coming up in Nashville?

The Crown Affair for 50 Forward.  My husband and I are chairing it this April.

What is your “must-have” purchase for the kitchen?

The original Joy of Cooking.

Where is your favorite place to eat in Nashville?

At the homes of friends.

Favorite place to buy baked goods?

I still love going to Great Harvest Bread.  The free samples with butter fill me with nostalgia for the weekly trips I took there with my kids when they were little. Their bread has such a wonderful texture.  Cakes are another story.  Then it’s Crumb de la Crumb and Leland Riggins.  Cookies?  MY OWN!!!

Can you include a recipe?

Here’s a crazy recipe for Valentine’s Day. It sounds like it won’t be delicious, but it IS!

Surprise Chocolate Mousse:

1 package silken tofu
16-ounces Ghirradehlli Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips

In a microwave safe bowl, melt the chocolate chips on a low setting. With a spatula, scoop the chocolate into a food processor or blender. Puree with the tofu until very velvety smooth. Chill in ramikins or a souffle dish until set.  Serve with whipped cream and fresh berries.

Do you have a playlist for a dinner party that you can share with our readers?

My husband handles the playlist.  I like classic country and I am always ready for a polka!

A great workout?

Other than swimming and walking with weights, it’s house cleaning and yard work.  I kept threatening to write a book about the housework workout, but someone else beat me to it.

Name three things you can’t live without (excluding friends, family and God):

My entire kitchen, a good pair of tennis shoes and my car.

For more photos of Mary, from photographer Ashley Hylbert, click here. 

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