Food stylists on sets are all-rounders, industry pioneer says

Food stylist Ko Young-ok arranges flowers for MBC's mystery drama 'Chip In' (2020).  Courtesy of Ko Young-ok

Ko Young-ok of Chorokchanjang Studio is a trailblazer in her field, recognized as a pioneering food stylist specializing in drama and film sets. She made history as Korea’s first “full-time” food stylist on a K-drama set, starting with MBC’s 2006 romance drama “Princess Hours,” also known as “Goong.””Back then, the profession of a food stylist was rare and just emerging. Typically, the food seen on drama sets was prepared by the food team staffers of the broadcasting company,” Ko told the Korea Times in an interview.”I was the first full-time food stylist hired for that special drama.”During her 20-plus-year career, Ko has worked on a number of hit TV shows, many of which helped spark the K-drama craze.Her prolific works include “Coffee Prince” (2007), “Boys Over Flowers” (2009), “Let’s Eat” (2013), “Mr. Queen” (2020), “Reborn Rich” (2022) and “The Forbidden Marriage” (2022). Ko, who studied French literature at Korea National Open University, never imagined a career in food styling until a chance encounter with a TV program that ignited her passion.”I’ve always had this interest in art. I learned flower arrangement and pottery. But as soon as I saw the TV program, I knew it was something I wanted to pursue,” she said.Ko took a one-year food styling course at the Asian Food and Nutrition Research Institute at Ewha Womans University in 2002. Since then, she has dedicated herself to mastering culinary skills and obtained certificates in cooking, baking, and pastry-making.Her first food styling work for a TV show was lunchboxes for a five-minute drama series on MBC called “Hanppyeom (one-span) Drama” in 2003. The series, telling the stories of ordinary people in everyday situations, was praised for its realistic portrayal of Korean life.

“Director Whang In-roi wanted really special lunchboxes, but back then, there were no pretty lunchboxes like today,” Ko recalled. “I had to make them from scratch. It took several days to prepare lunchboxes.””I made light, easy-to-carry boxes myself along with the food placed in them. The drama’s format was pretty innovative — a predecessor to today’s short-form content. Along with the fresh trial of the drama, my food also gained attention from viewers.” After that experience, Whang called her again for his new romance drama “Princess Hours.” The show, set in an alternate 21st-century Korea that has maintained its monarchy and imperial family, tells the story of Crown Prince Lee Shin (Ju Ji-hoon) and his bride Chae-kyeong (Yun Eun-hye). It became a major hit across Asia and played a significant role in spreading “hallyu,” or the Korean wave, internationally.”The director’s jaw dropped when I went to the meeting for the drama and submitted my ideas of the table settings, fabric colors and flower arrangement that I thought were suitable for the two main characters,” she said.Ko said shooting the couple’s wedding scene in Macao was very special to her. At the time, the production team hadn’t given her a script or any clue in advance as to what scenes they were going to shoot.”Everything was kept secret and I just carried scissors and wire with me just in case. After I arrived in Macao, I heard that I had to prepare for a wedding scene, and after that it was all hustle and bustle,” she said.”I ran around the streets at night to find materials to make corsages, a flower crown and flower decorations for a church wedding. The flower shops were all closed by then, so I had to call the owner 메이저 and beg him for help. I spent all night making flower props. It was hard but rewarding once I saw the scene.”

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