Originally published September 04, 2019.
Here in Toronto, you’re known as a food stylist as well as a photographer, curator, television expert and farm-to-table advocate. What does a typical day or week look like in the life of Irene Matys?
I am definitely one of the lucky ones to be able to follow my passion and make it a career. A typical week for me is filled with a balance of what I truly enjoy. Monday to Tuesdays and the occasional Wednesday are my farm days. I spend my day on Plan B Organic Farms where I volunteer my time helping the farmers plant, weed, harvest and prepare CSA Shares for delivery to our family clients who order straight from the farm. One of my favourite things to do on the farm is prepare a farm to table lunch for our farmers and volunteers. On an average day, I usually feed 14-16 people which is one of my highlights of the day. I also share my journey on the farm, as to what is in season, and recipes on social media and my website.
A few of the other days, I freelance for CTV/Bell Media as a freelance food stylist. Here I support food experts and chefs for their segments. I am responsible for reviewing their recipes, grocery shopping and home preparation a few days prior. The day of airing has a very early morning start where I finish prepping recipes in the studio, styling them in time for the experts or chefs to do their segment. It doesn’t end there as I head back home with my things for clean up.
In between farm and segments, I also have contracts I work on with brands or restaurants. I develop recipes, food style them and photograph them in my home studio for their marketing, social media and websites. For restaurants, this is a trip to their establishment for food photography. My weeks are full but it is something I don’t mind as I have a love and passion for what I do. Weekends are for shutting down and enjoying time with family and planning for the week ahead.
Before immigrating to Toronto, you were raised among the farming and cultivation of olive trees in Cyprus. What are some of the challenges and benefits of being an advocate for farming and local foods in a more urban jungle like Toronto?
Accessibility is the biggest challenge in the city. Also, in some cases, local food can be much pricier than imported which can cause a challenge for our local producers. Having access to local farms is a fair drive away but in saying that, we are now starting to see more farmer’s markets popping up in the city as well as urban gardens. More and more exposure on social media as well as chefs supporting local with farm to table menus has become a trend which is helping with exposure. The more we share and provide exposure, the more support you will see in our city.
How, if at all, does the seasonality of Ontario affect your farm-to-table and other food projects?
With the short summer season and local accessibility, it has made it challenging during the winter months. It has helped me get more creative with what’s available as more and more farmers are looking into greenhouses to provide more local food through the off-seasons. Educating my followers on preparations for the winter seasons ahead, like freezing and canning, also helps.
Having been a Food Style Segment Expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, what were some of your favourite or most memorable TV moments?
There are three that are quite special to me, the first being my very first segment. I was so nervous but it was a pinch me moment where I could not believe that it was happening. Marilyn and the team were amazing. They were very supportive, kind and gave me the confidence I needed to make it a successful one.
The second most memorable is when the Marilyn Denis Show came out to film me on the farm. I was able to share my story, the farm and my farm family. This was very special as it brought attention to the importance of our farmers and supporting local.
The third was the most recent where I was asked to step in last minute and do a segment to cover a spot. I shared a farm to table summer lasagna but at the end, Marilyn asked me to teach her to take an Instagram flat lay photo with her phone. Being nervous with shaky hands, her phone accidentally slipped and fell into the lasagna in front of a live studio audience and on-air. As devastated and horrified as I was , Marilyn and the team embraced it and loved it. It made for one of the best bloopers for season 9. Oh, and I got to keep my job! 😉
Speaking of TV and media, what are some of your favourite methods of using social media to promote your passions and endeavors?
I would say Instagram and Insta Stories. Instagram is more visual and with food styling and food photography, its the most ideal and captivating way to share my love and passion. Insta Stories also help me take my followers with me not only on my farm journey but for a behind the scenes look at the life of a TV food stylist.
How did you first learn of Branding & Buzzing, and what was your first collaboration together?
I first connected with the team of Branding & Buzzing through Instagram. My first invite with them I attended was for the Canola Eat Well Grilled Cheese Challenge with Afrim Pristine from Cheese Boutique in March of 2016. I would say my very first collaboration was a very exciting one which was with them and Bonne Maman Jams. I had the opportunity to host a group of influencers in my home for an elegant holiday dinner. I was challenged to get inspired, creative and prepare an entire dinner using the jams. Definitely a beautiful memory in the books.
What is most exciting or rewarding about undertaking food (ex. styling) collaborations with an agency?
To be able to make a career of your passion and love of food. Seeing my passion of photography, styling and recipes in print for everyone to enjoy, it is such a fulfillment to see your hard work appreciated.
What can we expect to see in the near future from Irene Matys? What are some new projects or goals you’d like to achieve?
I currently joined on as a freelance recipe developer with LCBO Food & Drink Magazine. Its been on my bucket list of accomplishments since 1998. I would like to flourish this relationship and continue to grow as a recipe developer and food stylist with the magazine.
Another project that has been on my accomplishment list is to eventually write a cookbook about my refugee journey and how it connected me to give back to our farmers. I want to share my passion for farm to table and my Cypriot family recipes. This book is important as I would love to leave a legacy for my three girls, Zoe, Alexandra and Kristyna.
Finally, what’s your sole favourite ingredient that comes from a farm?
One of my favourite farm ingredients is our farm tomatoes. We grow a large variety and they are the most flavourful meaty fruits. It is my absolute favourite (fruit) season!
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