Delores Custer, 79, Dies; Gave Star Turns to Cornflakes and Noodles

Delores Custer, a meals stylist who made stars out of hamburgers and cocktails, cereals and crackers that twinkled from journal pages and tv screens, died on Aug. 18 at her residence in Portland, Ore. She was 79.

The trigger was non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, stated her daughter, Danielle Custer.

Ms. Custer was the Maxwell Perkins of meals pictures — in a position to form the unwieldy, the drab and the formless right into a crisp and dazzling greatest vendor, because the famend editor as soon as did with the prose of Fitzgerald and Hemingway. She was affected person, keen-eyed and dexterous. She would sift by way of packing containers of cornflakes to discover those with essentially the most character, and by way of luggage of Goldfish crackers to pluck these with essentially the most “smile definition.”

She as soon as eliminated all of the hairs from a single raspberry to use as a garnish atop a goblet of white chocolate mousse. She knew how to prepare rice in order that no two grains have been parallel. Her sandwiches have been architectural marvels. Her builds, to use the business time period of artwork, have been aspirational.

In the parlance of meals styling, the product is named the hero. The job of a meals stylist, as Ms. Custer, who taught the craft everywhere in the world, informed her college students, was to make it behave.

An elementary faculty instructor turned prepare dinner, Ms. Custer labored for corporations like Kraft Foods, General Mills, Campbell’s and Bacardi. When she began out in 1979, it was the daybreak of the Reagan period, and the visible tropes of meals promoting mirrored that of the tradition: outsized, buttoned up, nothing misplaced. Perfect meals, in different phrases. In the a long time since, culinary trend has relaxed. Turkey pores and skin can wrinkle; crumbs are welcome.

She styled for commercials, print advertisements and packages, like one for Lipton’s Cup-a-Soup, for which she made certain the noodles appeared bountiful by tucking their ends again into the soup with a pair of tweezers. She sliced a steak within the form of Texas, embellished a meat loaf to appear to be Groucho Marx and reworked a waffle into Tweety Bird.

Ms. Custer’s software package included the needle-nose tweezers present in medical provide shops. Their pointed ideas decide up small gadgets simply, so Ms. Custer might “sculpt” a soup for max visible deliciousness. Credit…Denis Gottlieb

Finally, she wrote the guide on the topic. “Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera,” printed in 2010, is greater than 400 pages lengthy, a “Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management” for the career. In it, she talked in regards to the instruments of the commerce — the syringes, atomizers, tweezers, Elmer’s glue (to affix sesame seeds to hamburger buns), Wildroot hair oil (to substitute for milk in cereal shoots), fishing line, emery boards (for smoothing the tough edges of cookies) and mortician’s wax (to maintain berries from rolling off a plate) that go together with the traditional batterie de delicacies required on a meals set.

Ms. Custer’s software package was well-known, stated Mariann Sauvion, a colleague and former assistant, and included a peculiar heating gadget made by one other colleague from a porcelain ceiling socket and a Depression-era heating factor that screwed into the socket (image a glowing cone the dimensions of a lightweight bulb), all of it lashed to an extended picket board.

This gadget, which Ms. Custer used to joke was good for retaining artwork administrators in verify, was her answer to attaining the cheese pull — the cash shot in a pizza business when a slice is lifted from a pie however continues to be linked to its mates by a stretchy, steaming curtain of cheese. (Ms. Custer, a nonsmoker, preferred to use cigarette smoke for steam.) The cheese pull is extraordinarily exhausting to pull off correctly, Ms. Sauvion stated: “It could take half a day to get it right.” Ms. Custer, ever exact, additionally rigged her spatulas with thumbtacks so the slice wouldn’t slide off.

She might sweat a glass like nobody else, utilizing a toothbrush to flick glycerin and water onto a glass to simulate condensation. To create an ideal droplet for close-ups, she would possibly use a syringe.

Among the tons of of things Ms. Custer stored in her package was a walnut shell, completely cracked in half, which had nothing to do together with her craft however reminded her of residence. She referred to as it her “sanity walnut.”

Some meals stylists have specialties; Ms. Custer might do something. She is seen right here, readying a salad for its close-up.Credit…Jim Scherzi

Delores Jean Borgaard was born on Nov. 11, 1941, in Junction City, Ore., considered one of three kids. Her father, Herman, bought actual property; her mom, Anne (Evenson) Borgaard, was a homemaker. A walnut tree grew of their yard, and it was a household custom after Thanksgiving to harvest and shell the nuts and ship them as Christmas items.

She earned a bachelor’s diploma in elementary training from Oregon State University in 1963, after which she taught fifth and sixth graders close to San Francisco and navy kids in Okinawa, the place she labored as a instructor for the Department of Defense. In 1967, she married Arthur Custer, a composer who was dean of the Philadelphia Musical Academy (now the University of the Arts School of Music) and later composer in residence for the Rhode Island Council of the Arts, amongst different positions.

She took cooking courses in Okinawa however, she wrote, actually discovered to prepare dinner from watching “The French Chef,” Julia Child’s public tv present. (Many years later, she helped Ms. Child and Rosie O’Donnell make crêpes suzette on Ms. O’Donnell’s discuss present.) While learning for a grasp’s diploma in meals science and vitamin at New York University, she met her first meals stylist and helped her make meals for a business for aluminum foil.

Ms. Custer taught workshops world wide and, for greater than a decade, on the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N. Y. She retired after her guide was printed.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her sister, Sally Wright; her brother, Robert Borgaard; her stepchildren, Jan Congdon and Paula Held; 4 step-grandchildren; and one step-great-grandchild. Mr. Custer died in 1998.

“Some stylists have specialties, but Delores could do anything,” stated Colin Cooke, a nonetheless life and meals photographer who shot tons of of advertisements with Ms. Custer. However, he stated, she shone notably in margarine. At one level they labored for a corporation that owned 11 completely different manufacturers.

“She was the master of the pat,” Mr. Cooke stated, “the queen of the dollop, the swirl and the curl.”

Margarine, he added, might be difficult.

“You need to be one with the margarine,” he stated, “because if it’s a bit too cold it won’t swirl. If it’s too warm it will melt. It’s a sculptural job. Delores understood that. She knew how to make it drip or swirl just right. If it was a pat, she might bring a hot knife to it, and wait until she got a drip forming on a corner.”

Then, on the essential second, she would pull again and Mr. Cooke would step in and take the shot.

Mr. Cooke was not with Ms. Custer when she filmed a business within the Mexican rainforest for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! The story line concerned the mannequin Fabio, of bodice-ripper book-cover fame, swinging on a vine towards a girl pal providing up the aforementioned product, unfold out in attractive swirls on a slice of bread. During the shoot, Ms. Custer blew out the set’s fuses with a sizzling plate, compromising 60 kilos of soon-to-melt margarine within the makeshift fridges.

With typical sang-froid and ingenuity, Ms. Custer wrangled the hero into form. Fabio appeared OK, too.