Photographer & Creative Director


Toronto native, digital producer and director, Kyla Zanardi, has experience in developing factual content for both TV and the digital space. Kyla began her career in TV production as a coordinator for Travel + Escape’s food and lifestyle show, REBEL WITHOUT A KITCHEN, now streaming on Netflix worldwide.

Kyla Zanardi
Kyla Zanardi - Rebel Without a Kitchen

Kyla is currently working as Founder and Creative Director of BENSON & OAK, a Toronto-based digital content agency while continuing her co-ownership duties behind the scenes of FIDEL GASTRO’S and LISA MARIE.

Originally published October 31, 2016


First off, tell us how your career as a food content creator (photographer, videographer, producer, writer & recipe developer) unfolded?                            


By accident. I always photographed people at leisure but I never followed through with it. I went down a very different path which lead me to public health. It was at that time I met a copywriter who had an idea for a sandwich company called Fidel Gastro’s. When I met Matt, I told him that he couldn’t even start to think about the company unless he knew what the food and branding was going to look like. I told him that we should take some photos of what he had in mind for food and our careers grew from there. 


Tell us a bit about the work you’ve done with Branding and Buzzing.              


I’ve worked with Branding & Buzzing, it’ll be a few campaigns now, and all in very interesting facets. With their client Samuel Adams, I was only shooting photos, and it was great seeing ongoing work roll out over a year. Canola was fun because it’s all of my worlds coming together; working with Matt’s YouTube channel and creating recipes. B&B is a team you work with in everflow to make things work and happen. When Matt’s involved in a B&B project, I’m able to see the really neat events that fold out when I’m only doing one very specialized part of it. It’s a very cool process. I’m in a really unique position with having Matt and being able to see a campaign full circle without only really having my hands in every part of it. Not many producers or photographers get to see that. It’s something I get to see when working with B&B that I don’t get to see with any other clients. 


What are some of the challenges that you’ve had to overcome as a food content creator?    


I do a lot of branded content and  I don’t see this as a challenge, but maybe some people see it as a challenge, and it’s that there are so many content creators and so much content. How do we figure out a story that sticks? We’re in a time where content is everywhere and someone is always saying something. How do we create content that says something and someone is listening to it? That’s what makes my job interesting when working with brands. It’s making sure that the stories they need to tell get told but by doing it in a way that people hear it and are listening to it. Also ,the production landscape in Canada is changing drastically so it’s interesting to see how the next ideas will play out in a way where it’s still engaging. Often times you’re dealing with brands that have very particular messaging and sometimes you need to find a way to get that messaging across in a way that you’re not talking about it directly.


How do you think social media has affected the way we see food and interact with food?                             


It’s a big question. I think that people understand food experiences very differently now because of social media. It’s like this intimate story telling component that we’ve now integrated into our lives. Take an amazing example like Sweet Jesus. They are a beautiful example of how social media has changed the way in which we think about our food experiences. They make food that is meant for Instagram. In the restaurant space, it’s a very interesting way of thinking about dishes and meals. I often have to go to Matt and our Fidel Gastro’s team when we’re creating new menu items, flavours, and how the person experiences it with all of their senses. And then does it pass the test of Instagram? When we started out with Fidel Gastro’s, there was no way that our company could have grown without social media. We started without brick and mortar so we required social media to sell our experience. And back then, Twitter was really important. By the virtue of not being able to to afford a store and having a pop-up model, there was no other way we could get our message out there, we couldn’t put an ad in a newspaper. I couldn’t imagine Fidel Gastro’s starting the way that it did other than at that time.


Which content creators have been your biggest influence or inspiration?


I look elsewhere for inspiration, non of which are food content creators. I think when we all just look at each other’s stuff we end up recycling a lot of the same things. I’m a big fan of what Matt Barns (photographer) is doing. He shoots incredible editorials where there’s a theme of food. I’ve had a lot of amazing mentors and one of them is Josie Crimi (The Scott Brothers). She’s been a mentor in terms of a production mentor. She has a long history of developing food & lifestyle content. I worked for her in development production, which involved the nitty gritty of idea conception and pitching. She’s been one of the most influential. Another one is Instagram in a weird way. If you ask any creative personality, they spend hours and hours on Instagram. Never before have we had all this visual content at our finger tips before you go to bed. Before it was books or going online, now it’s all there on our phones. 


What advice would you give to aspiring content creators?


Go and shoot. I get a lot of people coming to me saying that they don’t have the gear etc. You have no excuse for the simple fact that there are iPhones. By shooting more, you get better. Go through the motions you need to and shoot as many people and as much food as possible. You can leverage your own skills to get access by, say, shooting a portrait or dish in exchange to grab some photos of a chef.


In the beginning, I shot a lot for free.  I’m definitely not the model for putting structure in my career. I am totally self taught, so I was always acutely aware of making sure that I was able to under promise and over deliver every single time. When you first start out, you need to be realistic as to where you’re at. Food is not like anything else. You have to understand it in a different way. The way we eat versus how we shoot it, it’s not the same. If you’re lucky, you pair up with a food stylist to prepare your portfolio. I wish I did that instead of going and shooting everything. I should have spent more time pairing up with a food stylist that was young and eager to develop their portfolio too.


Third tip, early on you really need to start to develop what your aesthetic looks like. As you should you, you end up developing style for the client but the best work is your portfolio work. Spend more time creating our own work.


These are all tips I wish I took when I started out that I didn’t do. 


How do you see content creation evolving in the next few years?


From a producers point of view, I think what’s happening in the States around brand disclosure with content creators is really important.  Disclosure of working on branded content we’ll see more of here, which I think is for the better. Already with the YouTube talent I work with, we have to be very clear with our audience if we are working with brands. 


In terms of storytelling, I think there’s still a life cycle of Tasty/Buzz Feed content and I’m really excited to see what the next type of video will be.  I would love to see more long form content but, you know, that’s really difficult when as content creators we’re challenged with the idea of making content that is less than three seconds. Platforms like Snapchat and Instagram, and six second bumpers, are forcing us to change how we tell stories. 60 seconds versus three minutes, they are not the same. I’d like to see more long form content, which is me being a nerd and wanting to dive in more. I get really uncomfortable when we try to squeeze things in small boxes but I’m also challenged by it. 


What is one thing everyone should know about you?


I’m a Nonna in training. I love nothing more than spending Sundays making pasta and pasta sauce on a Sunday. 


What do you do when you aren’t shooting food?


If I were to have more free time I would be outside of the city by the waters with my dogs, Simba and Argo, and with my family.