Karina is only 28 years old and already her resume is pretty drool-worthy. After graduating from the University of Melbourne in Creative Arts, she lived the dream of many a-foodie and moved to New York to be trained as a chef at the French Culinary Institute. Since then, she’s focused her skills on food styling – and now works with many high profile photographers and chefs to create those incredible images that make you want to drop everything and make a dash for the kitchen. You know, the ones you pin on Pinterest.
Friendly, bubbly and full of local Melbourne know-how, get to know the lovely Karina Duncan.
Where did your love of food begin?
I have always loved food. We have a joke in our family about the fact that there are very few pictures of me as a baby/toddler and child without food all over my face or surrounded by food of some sort. I love seeing, playing, smelling, and of course eating food. All of my childhood memories seem to centre around food and cooking. From playing ‘cafes’ with dad and my sister, to the smell of popcorn and lemonade on my first holiday to Disneyland, and then standing on a stool learning how to bake cupcakes with my granny, they all come back to food.
What’s in your fridge right now?
Peaches (hello summer!), kale from mum and dads garden, kimchi, eggs and Coyo.
Tell us about training to be a chef in New York, what an experience!
Going to the French Culinary Institute (now called The International Culinary Institute) in New York was the best decision I have ever made. It was pretty gruelling, but being thrown together with other students from all around the world who were in the same boat as me was fantastic. I loved every moment of studying there, from learning all the culinary basics through to the pressure of cooking for restaurant service. The school is located on Broadway in Soho so I couldn’t have been any more immersed in the hustle and bustle of NYC.
If you were to cook a healthy meal for friends, what would it be?
I rarely make the same thing twice but it usually centres around some kind of salad full of seasonal veggies and either a beautiful slow cooked lamb shoulder or side of salmon on the bbq. I keep it simple!
One of Karina’s beautifully styled shots. Photographer: Mark Roper
Let’s talk sweat, how do you stay active?
I exercise every day as it makes me function so much better mentally and physically. I used to run every day for an hour without fail for about 7 years. However this last year I decided to mix it up a bit and alternate running with walking, yoga and pilates reformer classes. I am loving the new classes at One Hot Yoga and Pilates in South Yarra. For me, not being so regimental about an exercise schedule and balancing cardio with more slower paced exercise has definitely worked for me.
Any tips on getting started as in the food styling industry?
It might sound obvious, but you really need to know food and how to cook to be a food stylist. I have quite a few graphic design or visual merchandise students emailing me asking for work experience, and as much as visual skills are very important, it’s about having sound knowledge on how the food should be prepared and cooked. I recommend doing some kind of cooking course to get the fundamentals, then it’s about gaining experience with other food stylists in the industry.
Styled by Karina. Photographer Mark Roper.
What’s the craziest food shoot you’ve been on?
This year I was lucky enough to style Lola Berry’s new cookbook The Happy Cook Book (plug alert – out in March 2015). It was crazy in the best way possible. There was A LOT to coordinate in terms of food and props but I got to work with the best team and everyone is super excited with the results. Lola has outdone herself with her new recipes…so delish!
Next holiday and go-to snacks when you’re travelling on the road
In a couple of weeks I am going to the UK to visit my brother for Christmas and then we are going to Rome for New Year. I can not wait! When I travel, I always take snacks along with me as I am gluten intolerant and try to steer away from dairy, so its not always that convenient when you are out and about. It’s getting much easier though. I usually try and find a local health food store and market when I get to the destination I am travelling to (hello Wholefoods!). Raw nuts and seeds are usually floating around in a container in my handbag!
The Local Roundup – Melbourne
Best Café: This is a really tough question. There are so many wonderful cafes in Melbourne that it makes breakfast on a Saturday morning such a tough decision! I almost don’t want to tell you about one of my favourites as it’s still one of the few cafes in Melbourne where I don’t have to wait an hour to get a table at. But if I must.. SOJO (South of Johnston) in Collingwood is always so delicious and has such a great atmosphere. I also love Pope Joan, Dead Man Espresso and Tall Timber (sorry…picking only one is too hard!).
Best Walk: I live in South Yarra and love walking along the Yarra River. I still can’t get over the views of the city, surrounded by beautiful old trees and the bordering Botanical Gardens. It’s so beautiful first thing in the morning, especially at this time of year when the rowers are out training.
Where I’d take a tourist: Prahran Market. We are so lucky in Australia to have some of the best quality and variety of produce in the world and I think Prahran Market may be my favourite place to shop. It’s rare that I don’t make a stop at the market every day it’s open as I just love the smells, sounds and characters there.
A recipe from Karina:
Beetroot and Dill Salmon Gravlax
Food styling Karina Duncan. Photographer Eve Wilson.
This dish is regularly on my table at a dinner party or celebration because everyone loves it! Not only does this recipe look beautiful and taste fantastic, it is so easy to make. You do have to start to cure the fish a day before you want to eat it, but all the work is done in about 5 or 10 minutes! Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids which provide cardiovascular health benefits as well as being a great source of vitamins B3, B6 and B12. However, if you would prefer to use a more sustainable variety of fish, ocean trout works just as well with this recipe too. Any leftovers will keep in the fridge for about a week.
- 1 side of salmon (around 1kg) skin on and pin boned
- 500g coarse rock salt
- 3 tablespoons white (or demerara) sugar
- 1 cup dill, finely chopped
- 1 small beetroot, grated
- Zest of an orange
- 1 tbsp coarsely ground peppercorns
- ¼ brandy or vodka
To serve – buckwheat blinis/dark rye bread with lemon wedges and pickled cucumbers
Place the salt, sugar, dill, beetroot, orange zest, pepper and brandy (or vodka) in a medium size bowl, and stir well to combine. Place two sheets of plastic wrap, long enough to envelope the salmon in, overlapping by half, on a workbench. Spread with half of the salt mixture then place the salmon, skin side down on top and then cover the flesh completely with remaining salt mixture. Wrap the ends of the plastic tightly around the salmon to cover, and then wrap once more in foil, before placing onto a large deep tray. Top with another tray and a heavy object to weigh it down (I use cans or bottles of water) and transfer into the fridge. Refrigerate for 24 hours, turning over the salmon after 12 hours.
To serve, unwrap the gravlax, tip out any excess liquid, and wipe the salmon clean of the salt mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut very thin pieces of salmon (leaving the skin behind), and serve with blinis, rye bread, lemon wedges and pickled cucumbers.
Serves: 10 people