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The MVPs (Most Versatile Props) in Our Test Kitchen

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We partnered with Blurb, a self-publishing platform for creating your own books, to share behind-the-scenes stories on Food52 photography and styling.  

Our prop closet isn't huge—in fact, it's not even a closet. It's three cabinets on one side of our test kitchen's island. But we could whittle the selection down even further to the props we call on for photo shoot after photo shoot.

Open one of those six doors and enter our "prop closet."

These are the MVPs—the pieces that, no matter the season or the dish or the feel we're going for, the food will probably look good on or with them. Sometimes, I try to go rogue—use a plate or cup I haven't used in a long time. And nearly every time, I switch it out for the same plates I'm sick of in the way I get sick of my mom's minestrone: It's so familiar, yet it will never ever get old.

We've picked out some of our prop all-stars to tell you a little about why they're so great and how they help us know what to look for when we're scouting for new props (maybe, hopefully, the tips will help you make pretty pictures, too).

Here are the props that get a lot of play, and for good reason (you might have seen them on the site once or twice):


Porcelain Paper Plates

  • Where they came from: Each of the porcelain paper plates from our Shop are a little different—no two have the same amount of ridges on the rim. That's what makes them so whimsical and witty. They photograph well because they're not very shiny and their curves make a nice shadow.
  • Why it has MVP status: We've shot breakfast, lunch, appetizers, dinner, and dessert on these plates, but because they're casual and have a homemade feel, they also work as prep plates. They fit right in on the dinner table and the kitchen counter.



Weck Asparagus Jar

  • Where it came from: You can find Weck all over (thankfully); these asparagus jars are in our Shop (thankfully).
  • Why it has MVP status: The jar has this in between size that makes it great as both a glass for drinking and a jar for holding jams, pickles—particularly pickled asparagus—and pantry ingredients like sugar or nuts. The little lip up top gives it a bit of personality but doesn't detract from seeing what's inside the jar. 



The Little Yellow Knife

  • Where it comes from: The editors got this knife set at Whisk back when Food52 was working at General Assembly so that they could make themselves lunch and cheese plates. The rest of the set has disappeared along the way, but the yellow knife lives on.
  • Why it has MVP status: This little paring knife is a muted color, the only kind of color you'd find on our props (we want to let the food shine first!). It's the right knife for communicating some light slicing or chopping—like citrus for a cocktail or fruit for breakfast. It looks especially good with lemons, for obvious reasons.



Scalloped Silver Tray

  • Where it comes from: Kristen picked it up for a whopping $3 at a thrift store in Massachusetts. 
  • Why it has MVP status: Despite its pricetag, the tray can look upscale and fancy—or casual and everyday. That's because it's not too shiny and the embellishment is subtle and not overly intricate.



Egg Coddlers

  • Where it comes from: Egg coddlers and Food52 go way back. Amanda purchased one in Europe and many of the first photos on Food52 were shot in it (see the red pepper paste and lemon sponge cups below). Users kept writing in wanting to know where we bought it, so when we opened The Shop, we made sure to stock one.
  • Why it has MVP status: You know a tool deserves an award when it's supposed to have one function (eggs) and is used for many, many other purposes. It's a natural at being a sugar dish, a jam jar, a bowl for dressing, and a holder of mousse and puddings. Its feet makes it look light and delicate, while the thick glass makes it utilitarian. Sometimes the lid makes an appearance, but really it's all about the bowl part for us.



Porcelain Tea Saucers 

  • Where it comes from: These wee saucers were designed by Art et Manufacture just for us. They were inspired by Downton Abbey, a show the maker adores.
  • Why it has MVP status: They're just the right size for your tea cup, sure, but these saucers fit right in as a delicate plate for cheese, an appetizer, a breakfast pastry, or a slice of cake (or pie or galette or tart). It's also been known to moonlight as a candle holder. The dainty designs and impression add just a bit of flare, but not enough to make you forget about the food.



The Takeaways

  • Thrift, flea, hunt all you want, but don't disregard the basics that can be picked up from your local Target or grocery store.
  • Pick items that are versatile, that read "fancy" and "casual," "daytime" or "nighttime," or "summer" or "winter," depending on what else is going on.
  • Something that you think has a solitary purpose can be used in other ways. Divorce the item from its purpose (a saucer from its tea cup, an egg coddler from its eggs) and think about the shape of it instead.
  • Just about every food looks good on a white plate. 
  • Shine is not typically your friend. It'll detract from the food when photographed. And, at the end of the day, it's all about the food—right?

Photos by James Ransom, Bobbi Lin, Mark Weinberg, and Rocky Luten.

Tell us: What items in your kitchen always make your food shine?  

In partnership with Blurb, a self-publishing platform for creatng your own books, we're sharing behind-the-scenes stories on Food52 photography and styling. Check out all of Blurb's book options here.

Tags: props, photography, kitchenware, food52 shop