Marisel Salazar always thought she would become a nutritionist, but the cost of advanced education (specifically getting her dietetics degree) held her back. Her plan? To hit the real world for a bit after college, then re-assess. Simultaneously, she found herself in Madrid. “I’m obsessed with the Disney movie Ratatouille,” she says. “When I was in Spain, I had this anchovy-stuffed olive that was a total Remy the Rat moment where I bit into it and it was this explosion of flavors. I couldn’t believe something could have so much depth, plus a cultural aspect behind it, too. I knew right then I wanted to get into the business of storytelling around food.”
But Marisel is a self-proclaimed traditionalist, so fresh out of school, she first picked up a job as a web analyst for a small healthcare startup—a place she could earn a steady paycheck—and moonlighted as a food writer on the side. When her bosses at her day job gave her their social media accounts to run, she realized she had a knack for it. And when more and more publications that she was freelancing for needed food pics to accompany her write-ups, she picked up a camera.
Before long, Marisel realized she needed her own outlet to showcase her work. “I had zero intention of making my Instagram account anything more than a storage space for portfolio overflow—basically, the photo outtakes that didn’t make the cut for the assignments I was working on,” she says. “But when I noticed my followers kept increasing, that idea evolved.”
Now, she works for herself full-time, not just as a food writer, but as a food photographer and social-media producer for a number of culinary clients (including several chefs). She also helps hospitality brands produce culinary events and rebrand their websites, but to Marisel it’s all in a day’s work.
On the most Instagram-worthy restaurants in NYC. “I really love Nickel & Diner. It’s so beautiful and a throwback to these five-and-dime lunch counter eras, but the food is not your typical greasy spoon diner menu. It’s more elevated. You’ve also got brass sconces and marble tabletops and blue banquettes. I love it there. I also really like Sunday in Brooklyn. From the way they plate their food to the taste of the food to the overall aesthetic, they can do no wrong.”
On her go-to trick for styling a food shot. “I always use a napkin or paper towel to press away any food drips or anything that makes the plate look messy. I’ve actually gotten so used to doing this that I’ve started wiping my bowls before I eat even if I’m not going to take a photo of it. I’m like: ‘What are you doing? You’re just eating this in your PJs on the couch while checking your email. Relax.’”
On the food trend she’s most excited about. “We’ve been seeing everything-bagel seasonings from Trader Joe’s coming out and people sprinkling their breads and their dishes with black sesame seeds. I’ve also noticed Togarashi, this delicious umami-flavored bottled Japanese seasoning popping up everywhere. So shakable toppings are really becoming a thing. I love seeing so many restaurants experimenting with them.”
On the etiquette of food photography at the table. “No matter what, do not let the food get cold. To save time, I do my research beforehand. That way, I already know the angles of the restaurant and what dish I want to photograph because I want to get in there, bang out a photo and then put my phone away. I’ll even request a table by the window so that I can take advantage of the natural light, nail the shot and be done.”
On the hardest part about running her own business. “It’s really keeping a good sense of how many clients are too many and if you do scale back being prepared for the worst. Because you’re freelance and every single client is operating on their own timeline and schedule. A project that might seem locked and loaded could disappear quickly because of internal conflict. So it’s really a matter of setting yourself up for stability in an unstable world.”
On something no one knows about her. “I love to exercise, which is good because food and fitness go hand and hand. You have to take care of your body in order to operate as a freelancer. I had to tweak my routine a ton to manage my workload: I wear sneakers to get through my day instead of heels; I started weight lifting to give myself a stronger back to hold what is in my purse when I run from meeting to meeting. Fitness and becoming stronger has become job-related.”
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