Heather Grilliot

Greenville Technical College

"Something came alive in me when I attended the culinary institute. Not only was I able to make food look good, but I was also able to make it taste amazing!"

Hello, foodies and friends! My name is Heather Grilliot. I have been a food photographer for the past ten years, preparing and styling food for my clients, but I decided to up my game by adding Greenville Tech’s Quick Jobs Culinary Training to my toolbelt. Something came alive in me when I attended the culinary institute. Not only was I able to make food look good, but I was also able to make it taste amazing!

Food photography… that’s not a job we hear about very often, yet it seems like it would be a lot of fun. What inspired that career choice?

I started out as a portrait photographer but have always loved styling and lighting food shots for my own amusement. When clients saw my food shots, they were never satisfied with just seeing the image. They wanted to know where the food came from, where they could savor it for themselves. That made me consider the need for food photographers in my foodie city of Greenville. I soon realized that I could use my skills to help businesses and restaurants market their menus.

Building a client base with local chefs has been easier than you may think. When I visit an establishment and enjoy a well-prepared meal, I ask for the chef, introduce myself, and tell them I would like to work with them. I have been very selective in who I work with, but this approach has brought me a lot of business. I have been working with local restaurants for over eight years and have many clients from all over the country send me their food products to style in my studio.

And your studio has undergone quite a transformation, correct?

That may be an understatement! In 2018, I transformed my basement storage room with its red brick walls, cracked ceramic flooring, and clutter of the month (toy overflow, holiday décor, camping gear) – let’s just call it what it was: a dungeon – into a beautiful, bright studio space. I bought fresh new white curtains for a steal off Amazon. I installed deep drawer space for my cameras and lenses and storage for my tripods, stools, and backgrounds. All my favorite photography books and cookbooks are an arm’s reach away. And my assistant, Alexa, works wonders. It’s the perfect set-up to create images that make people hungry!

And that’s really my goal – to capture an image that makes the viewer want to dive in and take a bite. I also love the human connection to food, with hands passing a plate or pouring or serving something delicious – a ribbon of golden honey or a sprinkle of kosher salt. There is also art in the simplest of things, like a shot of cranberries, backlit and rolling towards the viewer, or cooked asparagus spears, vibrant green against a textured background.

You’re making my mouth water! Food photography seems to be deeply fulfilling work for you. Why add the culinary component?

As strange as it may sound, my therapist was the one who helped me discover that I wanted to make the leap to the culinary industry. Every time we talked, our conversation always made its way to my food photography and the different restaurants I was partnering with. He knew before I did that I should tackle a new challenge but one that was still related to my current line of work. Attending Greenville Tech’s Truist Culinary & Hospitality Innovation Center seemed to be the ideal solution.

I fell in love the moment I walked into the building! The kitchen is state-of-the-art – a chef’s dream. One of my favorite classes was learning how to make choux paste for profiteroles and eclairs. Something that I thought was impossible to make myself suddenly became very possible.

And the instructors were the best – both during the classes and afterwards. All of them – Chef Bill Twaler, Chef Tori Blackstone, Chef Keith Roberts – have been readily available to talk to me about my future work. They have mentored me on how to open my own shop, taught me additional skills like sourcing food products and pricing out my own bakery, and given me a realistic understanding of life in the industry. They’ve had an open-door policy ever since I enrolled, and that’s something you don’t find just anywhere.

You are clearly invested in being the best you can be – whether that’s a food photographer, a baker, or an entrepreneur. How else have you challenged yourself creatively?

Grey Salt Collective is an online food photography community that really helped me hone my skills. Gina Weathersby, who ran the collective, has been a phenomenal mentor to me over the years. She taught workshops and shared food photo tips, and her challenges were so fun. She encouraged photographers to take ordinary food and create art, tell a story, or visually inspire the viewer.

For instance, we might be challenged to explore camera angles, lighting, styling and composition based on a variety of prompts: Shades of Marigold, Raw Food, Valentine’s Day, Cut Up + Stacked, etc.. Gina provided guidelines and inspo boards, and we would have guest judges, guest sponsors, and cool prizes. It was a great way for me to stretch my skills and be part of a creative community.

So what are you up to now?

I have taken a position at Old Europe Desserts, a bakery in Greenville that specializes in pastries, macarons, and locally roasted coffee. It’s the perfect place for me to utilize my new culinary skills along with my photography to help promote the bakery. If you’re ever in town, stop by sometime!

To see Heather’s food photography and/or sample her delightful treats, check out Heather Grilliot Photography and Old Europe Desserts.