It looks great -- but you can't actually eat it - KMSP-TV

It looks great -- but you can't actually eat it

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Food tends to looks delicious in ads, so scrumptious that every morsel is just screaming, "savor me!"

But when you actually get that heroic meal in front of you -- it's a total let down.

Blame puffery. Puffery is the legal term that allows advertisers to exaggerate, to a point, their products in ads.

"It's really considered the norm," said Erika Matulich, a marketing professor at The University of Tampa.

Matulich said today's ads, as over the top as they might seem, are much more tame (and realistic) than those of the past.

"If you research the history of advertising," she said," it's been far less than honest, which is why we have a lot of advertising laws nowadays."

Matulich says Puffery is so pervasive in modern advertising that consumers dislike ads which lack puffery—even though we know they'll be a letdown.

"The marketers have trained the consumer," she said. "So now we have a different set of expectations."

That's fantastic news for Kat Barrott. She is the most unusual of chefs: she is completely unconcerned with smell and taste.

"My eye on the prize is: what looks good and for how long," she said.

Barrott is a food stylist, the kind of chef whose profession is puffery. On TV sets and photo shoots for national audiences, Barrott is backstage primping anything edible.

"I'm behind the scenes," she said.

The irony of Barrott's work is that much of the food she styles for broadcast and publication is completely inedible.

"You do not want to eat food from a food stylist," she said.

A breakfast plate Barrott whipped up in our studios had the glossiness and perfection of a national ad. Yet the egg whites were bulked up by a cotton make-up pad, the egg yolk was raw, the potatoes were only half cooked (so they didn't shrivel), the strawberry garnish had been coated in oil (to glisten), and the ice in the orange juice was something she said was toxic—a secret brew (so the ice didn't melt).

"I'm not giving that one up," she said.

Other TV kitchen tricks include using motor oil as a substitute for syrup and cake frosting to fake fickle ice cream, Barrott said.

Barrott concedes puffery is part embellishment, but says it is also part practical. She said professional photo shoots can drag on for hours, which isn't practical with real-life food that will wilt, wither, or otherwise rot under the glare of hot studio lights.

For example. Barrott said food that is photographed outside is usually coated in insecticide.

"It's almost guaranteed to have bug spray," she said.

Barrott takes pride in her uniquely visual corner of culinary arts. She'll take credit for her work, but leaves fame to her food.

With that she ducks away from the studio lights, "hopefully never to be seen," she jokes.

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