Raw With Chef Yin - Lessons From Mega-Instagrammer Trisha Toh

Raw With Chef Yin - Lessons From Mega-Instagrammer Trisha Toh


1 May 2017


Hello! Have you been giving peas a chance?

I have! It’s been a crazy few months where I had my plate full (urgh, bad pun so intended) with conducting private one-on-one lessons with students from Portugal and Indonesia, public raw food workshops, corporate demonstrations, raw food talks, a full day professional video shoot as well as a private dining session. It’s uber cool that raw vegan food seems to be picking up a lot of interest lately in Kuala Lumpur. 

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In the midst of all that, I squeezed in some time to attend Prop & Food Stylist Trisha Toh’s talk at Creative Mornings KL, a monthly breakfast and lecture series for the creative community.

Have been trying to hone my food styling skills by learning from the pros including a Food Styling & Photography workshop at ILOHA Culture Centre (yup, I teach raw food workshops there too) by Justin Christopher Yap & Christopher Dai as well as the Raw Food Styling course by Russell James, UK’s leading raw food chef.

When I found out about Trisha Toh’s appearance at Creative Mornings, I was kinda split (like a banana split with raw vegan ice kream). I had to teach a raw vegan desserts workshop on the same day and usually preparation for these things take me an entire morning and waking at 5.30am isn’t unusual. How was I going to fit all that in the same day? But there was a voice in my head telling me to go and I’ve learnt to listen very carefully to this voice. It’s a wise voice indeed. Whenever I don’t listen, I regret. Plus Trish has ONE HUNDRED AND NINE THOUSAND followers on Instagram!!

So here you go, 7 cool things I learnt from Trisha Toh at Creative Mornings KL.

Teamwork is the theme
Putting together an amazing food photograph is not just the responsibility of one person. I like how Trisha acknowledges that chefs are the mastermind behind the food. She also attributes a lot of her success to the photographers and the chefs who took her in and supported her.

Grow with a growth mindset
We got to see some of her early works. “This is terrible!” she exclaims. “I’d run away and hide under a rock, if I could.”

She explained that the food photos were too messy. There were too many colours, and also bits of dirt that didn’t look appetising. Somehow the vegetables and garnish didn’t work as they were wilting away.

There were personal anecdotes on how she gave advice on using a raw squid instead of a cooked one. (Eh, raw food! Oh wait, it’s not plant-based. Heh.) And how using a black bowl for squid ink risotto wasn’t a good choice as one couldn’t see the dish. Admittedly, she was quite naive when she first started out but quickly learnt and picked it up along the way.

I think it was great that she had the courage to show her earlier photos and share with us what went wrong. All of us start from somewhere. And when you look at her current works, you can see how she has grown so much.

It’s a bit like how I always show people the photo of my very first fully raw meal way back in 2014. It’s a totally amateurish looking raw lasagna. The reaction is mixed. Most people laugh and admit it’s ugly. I’ve had one person say it looked nice though. But what’s important is that people see the progress. After all, it is a journey. You don’t get good at your first attempt. You need to work at it and grow.

Cool places to source for props
I wonder if I should name one of her favourite places to shop for props… Hmmm, perhaps I shouldn’t give away her secret. Let’s just say it’s at a flea market. She also picks up a lot of items when she travels. Her friends call her a hoarder. Does she think she is? Maybe… And of course she support local products like ceramics from Bendang Studio which can be found at Kedai Bikin in Bangsar.

How to style difficult food items
This was the question I posed when it came to the Q&A. Mr Jazz Guitarist calls me the “overachieving Chinese person” and so this overachieving Chinese person was determined to do her research by checking out articles, listening to the BFM Radio interview with Trish and also listing out potential questions in advance to ask.

My hand shoots up the moment they open up the floor for questions. I get to ask the first question. I introduce myself and to my surprise Trisha acknowledges “Ahhh...I saw you. You followed me on Instagram this morning! Thank you!”. The audience applauds. Wah! My two seconds of fame. ;)

Anyways, here are her tips on how to style a bowl of laksa noodles:
- there should be a balance between the noodles and the ingredients
- the ingredients should be prominent as they need to be seen in this dish
- prop up the base either with tissue or an inverted bowl so that your noodles won’t sink down
- use a squeeze bottle to squeeze out the soup so that you have better control of where to direct the liquid
- gloss your noodles with glycerine - add with water, mix it up with noodles to hold the shine
- garnish is always last. Garnish is the lifesaver of all food photographs as it gives the colour and contrast
- prepare more than one portion
- it gets easier with practice

Never say ‘no’ to networking
So maybe she didn’t say it in that manner but I thought that would be a pretty cool subheader. Never, No, Networking. Alliteration at its best.

What she did share with us was how she would post on Instagram constantly and she’d go out and network all the time and you’ll eventually get referrals if you do good work. Someone wanted to know if there was a need to use an agency’s service to get gigs. Trish said that was not necessarily and it would make more sense to go and speak to the owners of the restaurants instead.

It’s OK to be imperfect
Trisha describes her style as “a little more raw”. She talks about being a little more organic and how she loves focusing on the imperfections. “It’s just gotta look good. Like edible art,” she explains.

Edible art. I like that. I mean I’m always trying to make my edible food look like art, so bravocado for edible art.

Dedication to the art
I think the key thing I took away from Trisha’s talk was her pure dedication to her art. One could totally sense that she has a strong sense of pride in what she does and that every project that she works on deserves her very best. She’ll do intensive research. She’ll communicate with her clients to find out their intentions so she can convey them accurately in her styling. I loved how she expressed her attention to detail and how much respect she has for the art.

Thank you Trisha and Creative Mornings KL for a Saturday morning filled with learnings. You’ll be sure I’m going to incorporate this in my journey as a raw food chef! 


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