When you sit down with the brilliant Sharon Hearne-Smith in her home it is exactly what one would expect when you go to sit down with one of Ireland’s top food stylists. From shelves and presses full of cooking utensils and styling props to an office tucked away in an alcove with photos from her first book covering the wall, it sums up Hearne-Smith’s style to perfection.
And as one would expect, a chat about a career that has seen Hearne-Smith work with some of the top chefs in the world simply cannot begin without a cup of tea and a quick sample of treats left over from filming a segment on Ireland Am.
‘I started off training as a Home Ec teacher in Dublin’ explains Hearne-Smith as conversation turns from chocolate treats on the table to how she started off in the food world. ‘I never necessarily wanted to be a teacher but I loved the whole idea of the course and the creativity of it. So I did that and I got qualified and went off to London teaching.’
While in London however she was persuaded to work in food magazines, as at the time that was the only form of food media there was. It was this opportunity that opened her eyes to the world of food styling and being a home economist. ‘Working on movies, television shows and that whole side of the food world really exploded for me and I just phoned the school and said I wasn’t coming back’ she says with a smirk.
Since then Hearne-Smith has gone on to work with some of the world’s top chefs. With a list that reads like the who’s who of the food world she has worked with the likes of Jamie Oliver, Lorraine Pascale, Gary Rhodes, Rachel Allen, Neven Maguire and Donal Skehan. On the different chefs she has worked with in the past Hearne-Smith explains ‘Their food is often very different. I worked with Jamie Oliver and his food is very beautiful and uses great ingredients but it is very achievable at home and normal compared to Gary Rhodes who is a very high-end chef.’
Hearne-Smith also explains that making a television cookery show or shooting photos for a cookbook involves a lot more work than some would believe. She uses the example of shooting a simple Pavlova recipe with Lorraine Pascale in London and the need to make nine or more perfectly identical ones that can be used at different stages of the filming process. ‘It is a big process coming up with a half an hour or an hour show. There is a lot of work behind it all.’ The end result though is a seamless story that showcases the recipe perfectly with Hearne-Smith explaining ‘Even when I sit down and watch the show when it airs I think ‘What was all the fuss about?’. When it airs it looks all seamless and streamlined.’
Hearne-Smith’s attention to detail and skills at food styling have not just been limited to television and cookbooks however; she has also worked on a James Bond movie. ‘We spent three or four days preparing all the food for one of the scenes in the Ice Hotel. It was a big banquet setting and they had big lobster displays and prawns and all sorts of lovely things. Then on the day we got up at four o’clock in the morning and travelled there, got everything set up and then no one was around and nothing was happening. We got word a few hours later that the scene had been cancelled as Halle Berry was having some personal issues.’ While her exact work didn’t make it on to the silver screen she does have the pictures to prove the work.
Of course now it is not simply about the books she styles for other chefs; Hearne-Smith has just released her own cookbook No Bake Baking to great acclaim. On getting her own book deal she explains ‘I have always dreamt of doing my own but I never had the time because I was busy with everyone else. Then an opportunity came up with one of the publishers I work with in London and they offered me my own book. I accepted and grabbed the opportunity even though I had very little time in my schedule and they needed it rather quickly, which was great in a way because I didn’t have time to think about it too much and I just did it.’
As Hearne-Smith explains this cookbook is unlike any she has worked on before and one which was ‘something different so I would not drive myself bonkers doing the same thing’. The book banishes the oven from the kitchen and appliances like the microwave, sandwich toasters and the fridge take centre stage. This makes the book in Hearne-Smith’s eyes ‘more approachable’ for those who fear baking or even students who are just starting off to cook for themselves at college.
Still riding the wave of success from her first venture at writing her own cookbook, Hearne-Smith explains ‘I have always dreamed of building up my own empire or brand. So I have been doing lots of TV appearances so I have a lot of appearances on Ireland AM cooking and I have been working on a few videos for online. Three of the videos I have done are actually for Jamie Oliver’s Foodtube.’ The first video for Oliver’s Foodtube will air within the next week to mark Halloween with the others coming in November and December.
With a clear passion for the world she finds herself working in and infectious work ethic it is clear that Hearne-Smith will no longer just be known for the work she does for others but is fast becoming a food star herself.
Win a signed copy of Sharon Hearne-Smith’s new book No Bake Baking. To enter simply make one of the two recipes found either in Cook’s Corner overleaf or exclusively on universityobserver.ie and share a photo of the finished dish on twitter or Instagram using the hashtag #UONoBake. The winner will be the one judged best executed by Sharon. Entry closes on 14th November.