Food Styling Class with Denise Vivaldo

By Kelley Musson

If you’re like me, the best part of a good meal is that moment before the first bite. When your meal is actually placed in front of you and you’re able to scope out all of the colors and textures that your dish entails. You then, of course, must capture that moment with an amazing food pic!


As food lovers we understand that presentation is a huge deal. From the minute you walk into a restaurant, you notice the lighting, the décor, the smells, and even the temperature. As your waiter walks you to your table, you take a glimpse of the other patron’s food and drink combinations. The vision alone stimulates your taste buds and taps into what becomes your own food fantasy. In this instance, appearance is everything! We truly appreciate the work a great chef puts forth in order to present a beautiful meal.

For Denise Vivaldo, creating aesthetically appealing food has been her life. She’s been called a “seasoned food professional” by the Huffington Post. She’s the author of several food publications such as The Food Styling Handbook and Perfect Table Settings. She’s catered for the Academy Awards Governors Ball, as well as television shows such as Ellen DeGeneres and The Tonight show with Jay Leno. She founded Food Fanatic in 1988, which is a catering, recipe-development and food styling firm. Denise also founded the Culinary Entrepreneurs Program where she teaches catering and food styling workshops across the country and internationally.

Lucky for us, Denise is coming to Atlanta to share her vast knowledge of food styling. On October 4th and 5th Denise Vivaldo, along with Cindie Flannagan will be holding an intensive media food styling technique workshop at the Cook’s Warehouse in Ansley Mall. Whether you’re looking for a career in professional food styling or just want to be better at food photography, this 2-day course will be an eye opener and a truly invaluable experience.

Who: Amateur Food Photographers
What: Food Styling Course
Where: Cook’s Warehouse Midtown
When: October 4th and 5th
Cost: $695

Day one students will get an introduction to the class, with a focus on learning the elements of a great food photo. Denise has mastered the art of creating a picture perfect plate and will share some of her best kept secrets to making food not only last during a photo shoot, but also keeping food fresh and vibrant looking while braving the elements of a photo shoot.

Denise is definitely not afraid to think outside of the box in order to get her dishes flawless. She so carefully chooses the perfect temperature, the perfect way of cooking (or not cooking) her food in order to have them last to create an aesthetically genius plated dish. Hands on demo’s include:

  • How to make breakfast foods look fresh throughout a photo shoot
  • How to effectively garnish a dish
  • Painting poultry and how to handle
  • Sandwich and salad presentations

Day two will continue with tips and hands on demonstrations such as how to display a traditional plate, and how to work with the best part of every meal…dessert! The day will end with a Q & A session, as well as a book signing session. To purchase tickets or for more information – Food Styling Course Atlanta.

Nancy’s: Chicago Pizza in Atlanta?

The first time I visited Chicago, my most important goal was to have some of their amazing deep-dish pizza I’d heard such incredible things about. There were no apps or Yelp services (maybe that’s not such a bad thing) at the time. So we relied on the hotel concierge to direct us to his favorite pizza spot.

After what seemed like an eternity, we were treated to the most soggy, disappointing pizza ever at Lou Malnati’s. Lucky for us we were able to make our way to Gino’s East and they more than made up for the crap LM served us. I was recently given a $50 gift card to Nancy’s Chicago Pizza in Atlanta. I was anxious to see how they compare to the Chicago pizza I’ve had previously.

The decor is nothing fancy and I wish they had more of a craft beer selection. The only local beer they carry is Sweetwater, my least favorite of all our local breweries. I opted for a Blue Moon which they have on draft.

Nancy's Pizza Atlanta Deep Dish Pizza

Nancy’s Pizza Deep Dish Pizza

We ordered two pizzas: an “ultra thin crust” Hawaiian and a Deep dish (half Chicken Cacciatore and half Uncle Tony’s). The Hawaiian (see it in the background of the picture to the left) was pretty abysmal. I’d much rather have a Domino’s Hawaiian thin crust pizza – the one by my house puts a ton of crispy bacon on top. Nancy’s pizza was not “ultra thin” at all. In fact it was rather doughy and tasted like a frozen pizza. The barbecue sauce was way to sweet as well.

I’m happy to say that the deep dish was much better – well at least half. The chicken was hard and rubbery – just not flavorful at all. The Uncle Tony’s was the exact opposite though. It was hearty and delicious and made with quality cheese and lovely ingredients of sausage, mushrooms and green peppers.

All slices of the deep dish were crispy on the crust as I would have expected and the sauce was thick, not watery at all. There are only eight slices for a large but they are a decent size. It is nice to know you can order half and half if everyone can’t agree on what they want. Too bad my stepdaughter wanted chicken. I did think the price of $27 for the pizza was rather steep too.

On the bright side, the manager, John, couldn’t have been nicer. He was so pleasant and helpful.

Nancy’s Chicago Pizza
3167 Peachtree Rd
Atlanta, GA 30305

Rosa Mexicano’s 30th Anniversary

rosa mexicano anniversary

Pomegranate Margarita #Desde1984

Hard to believe that any restaurant makes it to a 30th anniversary nowadays. But Rosa Mexicano is celebrating three decades. To celebrate, they are having a throwback menu to some of the items featured when they opened in 1984. The special menu features 3 courses for $30 and is available now until October 12.

What’s a visit to Rosa Mexicano without a margarita? Try the Pomegranate one with it’s neon signature 80s look to kick off your meal.

For starters choose from items like the Taquitos de Tinga Poblana (Pork Tacos) or the Empanadas de Jaiba (corn empanadas filled with lump crab). These were fantastic. They serve a tomatillo salsa along side which is incredible.

rosa mexicano restaurant anniversary

rosa mexicano 30th anniversary


For entrees, the Chicken Mole Enchiladas are a signature favorite, but the Crepas con Camarones (Shrimp crepes) were particularly tasty. The Filete con Hongos (filet mignon medallions) were a unique item. To me, they tasted like beef stroganoff with a kick.

Postres (Dessert)

Tres Leches cake

Tres Leches cake

Choose from strawberry crepes in a caramel sauce or Tres Leches. You can’t go wrong with either, if you still have room after the rich and filling appetizers and entrees, but the strawberry crepes are slightly better than the Tres Leches cake at Rosa.

First Watch, Alpharetta, GA

Parfait at First Watch Atlanta

Siesta Key Cocktail (aka Parfait) at First Watch

If you had asked me what “First Watch” is two months ago, I would have guessed it was a tv show. When I got an invite to visit First Watch I had to go look it up because I’d never heard of it. Little did I know there are several First Watch locations around metro Atlanta.

I recently visited the newest First Watch location in Alpharetta. The staff is so cheery and helpful. For starters, their coffee is fantastic. They have their own proprietary blend and give diners their own fresh pot as soon as they are seated. I ordered something I normally wouldn’t – a yogurt parfait. Served with fresh fruit and poppy seed muffin, it was top notch.

Nothing at First Watch is half ass. The Italian omelette has a generous portion of sausage, sun-dried tomatoes and peppers. Try getting that kind of quality at J. Christopher’s. And the poached eggs with bacon? They are topped with fresh arugala, avocado, and hollandaise. Even the ciabatta bread is quality.

First Watch omeltte with Italian sauasage

Italian Omelette at First Watch

First Watch serves their breakfast / brunch menu everyday until they close around 2. Nice to know if you are a late riser. But First Watch’s lunch menu isn’t anything to dismiss either. A pesto quinoa chicken kale salad (listed under the “Power Bowl” section of their menu) was rather delicious. There were many pieces of fresh chicken breast meat throughout the salad. Salads are quite large and hearty enough for two to share.

First Watch Pesto Chicken Power Bowl

First Watch Pesto Chicken Power Bowl

But you know what I loved even more than the salad? The half sandwich / half salad option myself. So, you know when most restaurants offer the half / half combo it is a sad selection – like a lettuce bowl that comes with two cherry tomatoes and a dried out turkey club. Not at First Watch. For our combo we ordered a delicious Reuben sandwich thick with corned beef along side the Pecan Dijon salad. This salad comes with chicken, bacon, avocado, pecans, tomato and carrots with Cheddar and Monterey Jack.

First Watch reuben and half pecan chicken salad

First Watch Half and Half combo: Reuben and Pecan Dijon salad

They do a good job sourcing from local vendors as much as they can. Interesting fact: they build all their restaurants so that all windows face away from the sun. No need to worry about any glare while you are enjoying your breakfast / brunch. A couple other facts about First Watch:

  • You can substitute cholesterol-free eggs or egg whites at no extra charge
  • Want to share? There’s no split-plate charge
  • No auto-gratuity no matter how large your party is (I feel for the servers who work the Sunday Jesus crew)

Disclosure: My meal at First Watch was complimentary. But the opinions expressed are my own. First Watch gave us so much food at our brunch, we didn’t eat anything the rest of the day.

First Watch
3450 Old Milton Parkway
Alpharetta, GA 30005

First Watch on Urbanspoon

Malika’s Charity Rescue Mission this Fall

If you have my read my About Me page, you know a little about my beginnings. I was born in Mumbai, India and at the age of a week or two was abandoned at an orphanage. Because of lack of funding, abandoned babies like me are not given the care and attention they need.  This means malnourishment, and lack of basic needs like being fed, bathed and even held.

When my adoptive parents arrived in India to pick me up, they found me severely underweight and my entire body was covered in sores; quite the opposite of the healthy baby they were expecting. They were told quite matter-of-factly  ”this baby will die, you should choose another.”  But they were determined to save me, working with a team of great doctors and nurses until I was finally out of danger. Fortunately, they rescued me from certain death.

I was one of the fortunate ones. My parents bought me back to the U.S. where I grew up as part of a very happy family. I have always had a burning desire to help as many young orphaned and abandoned Indian children as I can. India can be a brutal place for these millions of babies and children (UNICEF pegs the number around 11 million babies and children that are abandoned – the majority girls). They need strong supporters to spread the word about their plight. I am one of those advocates, and that is why I am sharing my mission with you.

What happens to the children (especially girls) who aren’t adopted out of the orphanage?  They are shoved out on to the streets at the age of 16 with no education, no hope and nowhere to go. Millions become homeless or are forced into the sex trade.

I will never forget how many times my dad has quoted the late Dr. Thomas A. Dooley: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.”  So I have volunteered to light  ”one candle” and travel back to India for the first time since I was a little girl to give as much quality of life as I can to children who have so little. But I can’t make it back there without your help.


Our small team will be buying basic housewares, clothing and food much needed to take care of the babies and children living at the at the orphanage I was rescued from. We will also be:

* Scouting locations for new orphanages in other cities in India.

* Meeting with potential partners and donors in India who can carry on our work when we have returned home.

Malika’s Orphanage Rescue Mission

**Please note that all contributions are subject to an 8 percent fee**

My father, brother and myself have recently set up the Mardai Harricharan Foundation in Atlanta. We have applied for 501c3 status, and once that comes through, your donations will be tax deductible. Our mission is to grow our U.S. donor base through this campaign and other fundraising events, alliances and partnerships to publicize the plight of these children and continue to send aid and expand the number of orphanages we are able to help each year.

If you could contribute in any way to this trip, I would greatly appreciate it. Please note that any amount, no matter how small, it may seem, would be of great help. Beyond your financial support, your prayers and good thoughts will be greatly appreciated as we take this journey.