Olivia Casson: My work life

BOSS food stylist Olivia Casson is a well-known veteran on the Manchester food scene. From plating up Michelin star food to launching the biggest restaurants in the city, we spoke to Olivia about what led her to her current role as a Food Stylist.

How did you get to where you are today?
I have always loved food and cooking. My Mum never enjoyed cooking, so I started creating dishes from a young age. I went to catering college as well as working three or four nights in a restaurant in Alderley Edge.

When I left college I thought: ‘Right, now I want to be the world’s best chef!’ Longridge in Preston was the only 2 Michelin star restaurant outside of London. I had an interview, got the job and started the week I finished college.

From there I moved onto head chef, operations, front of house and opened numerous restaurants – too many to count – but Menagerie; Piccolino’s; Banyan; Neighbourhood and Victors are just a few on the list. I naturally moved into consulting and then decided to try my hand at Food Styling as the skills I had developed could easily transfer into this aspect of the industry.

What is something important you learned along the way?
I’ve learned about the important details of not only being a great chef, but also recreating food for the restaurant business.

For example, people think making a burger is really easy but it isn’t. It’s about coming up with the right recipe, the right cheese to meat ratio, perfect bun, grade or mince – that’s what makes the difference. It seems so simple but somewhere, someone has done all the research.

What would you say to someone who wanted to get involved in the business side of restaurants?
I wouldn’t have got where I am today without the 20 years of experience behind me. Whether it was an independent, a Michelin star restaurant or a big operation with lots of different sites, I always made sure that I learned everything I could.

The trick is not just making something pretty, it’s learning how to cook, cost something and most importantly understand that it’s a business.

What are some highlights from your career so far?
The feeling that you get when you’ve done a good job is always a highlight. Last week, when a creative director specifically asked for me I was extremely happy. Making things look good when they’ve been under lights for four hours isn’t easy!

The people I’ve trained and worked with – seeing them progress and be successful – that makes me really happy. The fact that they still message me to tell me what they’re up to now is really nice.

If you had to show someone Manchester in three meals, where would you take them?
I would start at Hispi in Didsbury because it’s really good bistro food and it’s a place that exudes a passion for cooking. Next on the list would be Yuzu in China Town, as we have the second biggest China Town in he UK, it’s not something every city has. To finish it would have to be Menagerie because I’ve helped create it. The food is amazing but it’s the bells and whistles that go along with it that really makes it an unforgettable experience.

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