An empty plate is her canvas, food her muse. Food stylist extraordinaire Emily Anstadt is one of a creative cadre of behind-the-scenes food professionals that can transform even the most humdrum of dishes into exquisite epicurean sculptures.

Emily began her foray into food styling 15 years ago, initially out of necessity. After working as a room set stylist in Pennsylvania, Emily relocated to St. Joseph, Michigan to work for an agency that had recently acquired the Sur La Table account.

“They hired me as a set stylist, but ended up needing someone who could style food,” Emily says. “So I thought, ‘why not me?’”

Armed with a bachelor’s degree in studio art, Emily has a strong foundation of artistic fundamentals like composition, balance and color theory, which translate into food styling — but cooking was a different story.

“It was trial by fire,” Emily says. “I pretty much cooked just to feed myself and only cooked very basically.”

She dove right in and started cooking as much as possible, read countless cookbooks, scoured the internet for online seminars, and went to as many conferences as she could find. She was hooked almost immediately and her hunger for culinary knowledge proved insatiable.

“I had found my passion,” Emily says.

After honing her culinary prowess and food styling finessee for more than 10 years at the agency, she decided it was time for a change.

“After doing something creative for so long it can be easy to become stagnant and harder to push yourself creatively,” Emily says. “I was craving more variety.”

Emily went out on her own as a freelance food stylist and now has variety galore with clients running the gamut from local Michiana restaurants to larger corporations.

Combining her cooking skills, artistic flair, a variety of timeworn tricks, and a little bit of alchemy, Emily can take everything from a disheveled bowl of pasta to Brussels sprout leaves and make people salivate. She works in collaboration with a professional photographer to turn real-life dishes into cohesive, mouth-watering two-dimensional images.

A scroll through Emily’s Instagram profile, @emanstadt, shows some of these fantastical food scenes she has created by turning raw ingredients into works of art, and it won’t take long to notice that there is more there than just a feast for the eyes.

Each photo tells a story — like the carrot soup gussied up into an ethereal orange pool shimmering in a pink bowl and garlanded with wispy fennel fronds that paints a picture reminiscent of a mesmerizing island sunset.

Emily somehow manages to coax out the personality of single ingredients and showcase their whimsy — like the one time when she gave garlic scapes a personality as distinct as a human being’s.

In addition to styling food for clients, Emily has a small home studio where she can be found playing with food and doing shoots for fun to keep her creative spark lit.

“I wake up and I’m super excited to play with food all day,” Emily says. “I’m amazed and grateful and humbled that this is my job.”

The one thing most people are apt to ask: Do you eat the food after a shoot?

“Sometimes, but more often than not the answer is no,” Emily says. “After something has been sitting out on set for hours and sprayed with Pam for the umpteenth time it becomes less appetizing.”