Steffi Langner

My day job is being a food stylist for print and advertising. My company is called Simplyfoodstyling.

I started out in photography in Germany—there you go through a three-year apprenticeship and get a degree from a technical college. Then I moved to the US and got a degree in art and photography from UW-La Crosse.

After I graduated, I worked as a photo assistant for a marketing company in La Crosse. I met a food stylist on a project, helped him out for a day and thought, “This is my career.”

I’ve cooked my whole life—we have lots of cooks in my family. My first job was in the restaurant business and my siblings did the same thing. The hours were horrendous—12-14 hour shifts on the weekends—things they’d never allow nowadays. But I loved it! The pay wasn’t great, but the experience was priceless.

My first job was for a butcher turned restaurant owner. There would be whole sides of beef hanging and you’d go over and cut a steak off. Everything was made from scratch, like it should be.

We were a tourist restaurant near the Hohnzollern Castle—which was the castle of the last emperor of Germany. It was very busy; we served 300 meals a day. Some days things would get to be too much—you’re only 15 or 16 years old—and the boss would say “Go for a walk.” You’d come back and finish work, finish up by 10, clean up, have a beer and be sent home. Your parents would have to come and pick you up: In Germany you can’t drive until you’re 18 but you can drink when you’re 16.

I worked my way through college cooking at an authentic German restaurant in La Crosse, The Black Rose Brewhaus. Cooking has always been part of what I love doing. I just have a knack of putting colors and flavors together, a feel for what goes together. 

After La Crosse, I ended up in Monroe, Wisconsin in 2003 and was hired as a food stylist by The Swiss Colony. I stayed there until 2009 and started freelancing in 2011. 

It was a bit rocky at first—I was separated and then divorced and had two small children. I couldn’t accept jobs that took me on the road overnight. To make ends meet I worked at a gas station, at a bakery and a pig farm. I sold brats at Farmers’ Market—I have 12 state-certified recipes for brats from the State of Wisconsin.

I worked hard not to let go of this dream. As the kids got older, I had more local clients and started to get some good gigs with big marketing companies. Today with the digital world and marketing online, there are lots of opportunities for food styling: social media, short videos, recipe videos, how-to videos. In the past it was more about packaging photography.

I love projects where clients trust my judgment and give me a lot of creative freedom. It takes a lot of homework to stay on top of trends, to understand the heritage elements for ethnic foods.

Foods that are hard to style include anything heavily drenched in cheese and baked beans: no matter what you do or how good something tastes, it’s hard to make those things look pretty. They either look like baby food or dog food.

Packaging shots can be challenging because you have to make sure you’re not implying something you’ve used as a garnish is part of the product. And there are a lot of technical elements and limitations to be aware of. 

When I’m handling the food styling on a job, I don’t do the photography too—it’s impossible to do both well in a big setting. I do still take my own photos for my blog and sometimes for clients’ websites. 

My most memorable caffeine is the coffee I drink morning, noon and night. People laugh about the fact that I can drink coffee at 10 p.m. and go to bed. Growing up in my parents’ house there was always a pot of coffee—brewing or ready to drink.Coffee is a really big thing in Germany. You have morning coffee, afternoon coffee. If friends are there you have coffee with cake. And you have coffee after dinner. It’s part of my life. 

My current caffeine of choice is coffee with sugar and cream. I enjoy flavored coffee: Highlander Grog is a favorite. And I just got gifted some turtle coffee. It’s very yummy with a really nice oomph.

My favorite place for caffeine is on my kayak over on the Sugar River by Albany.

The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is my maternal grandmother. She died when I was 17. I had a high respect for her, but I also feared her a little bit. She was a really stern, half-Austrian, half-Czechoslovakian woman, a great cook and a big coffee drinker. I miss her dearly.

I wish I could have a conversation with her now, knowing what I know now. We would have had some really great conversations. I feel like I really missed out on a lot of wisdom that she would have been able to give me.

As I’ve raised my own kids, there have been times, more than once, when I’ve had that ah-ha moment, “Damn! My parents were right!” I hear myself saying things that sound just like my parents.  

One thing my grandmother did leave me: a killer coffee cake recipe. It’s called Malakoff and is basically Austrian tiramisu. You soak lady fingers in the strongest coffee you can make and make a coffee buttercream. You wrap that up and put it in the fridge overnight. The next day you enrobe it with unsweetened heavy cream and slice it really thin. The coffee flavor is so in your face. You can find the recipe on my blog Curvaceous Rebel – A German born foodie stumbling thru life

World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: World stupidity. It sounds cruel, but I think we’re getting to the point where people don’t use their brains anymore. We’re only firing on half our cylinders—we need to drink some more coffee so we use our brains!

I think we need to learn how to find a place in ourselves where we can be completely still. No thoughts about what I need to be or do, no thoughts about what you look like. Just a total stillness so you can soak in the energy around you, clear out the garbage and make smart moves.