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10 questions with local food stylist Christine Tobin

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This piece is part of our BOStoday Q+A series. Know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.

Have you seen HBO Max’s show Julia” yet? We got to know the local food stylist who brought all of the chef and television food star’s iconic dishes to life.

Christine Tobin is a Roslindale resident and mother of two who has worked on many film sets, including “American Hustle,” “Labor Day,” and “Little Women.” Her latest project debuted on March 31 and was just picked up for a second season.

We asked Christine 10 questions about working on the “Julia” set, her take on the Boston food scene + what’s next for her.

What does a food stylist do? Can you walk us through a typical day at your job?

Well, crafted food styling is very different from editorial styling for advertising, commercials, and film work. Food styling in motion picture work is far different and more multifaceted than the work with still photography in the sense that you’re working from scratch, you’re working with various departments and the director to ensure that the scene is executed exactly how that director envisions it. It is very similar to still work, but the amount of who’s prepared in the action it takes to prepare it and volume and sort of babysitting it and the timeliness of it. The beat of it is much faster than doing scope photography.

If you were going to take someone on a tour of Boston, where would you take them?

I always follow my stomach wherever I go, so it would definitely be a culinary tour. I love going to Watertown. It’s one of my favorite places with all of the Middle Eastern, Turkish, and Israeli markets that just go back to back to back, and Sevan is one of my favorites. So I would say that would be an area of the city that I would want to take someone who might not know that it exists or know even how that food is prepared. I would also take them to Gourmet Dumpling House in Chinatown and all of the bakeries to get buns and small cakes, and then end my journey in the North End. We go all the time with my family and when I was little being from a Sicilian, Italian and Irish household.

If you’re going to ask me where I get the cannoli between the modern and Mike’s — it depends on my mood and how long the line is.

Do you have one specific dish that you love? One that you crave and won’t stop talking about from a local place?

I would say it depends on my mood and situation. I’ll give you a couple of examples.

If I’ve been working a super long week, and I’m really sick of food because of always being in front of it — any chef will tell you this, they just want to have a grilled cheese sandwich. So I go into the Pleasant Cafe in Roslindale, which is an establishment that has been there forever, and I get a grilled cheese with a martini. That’s my go-to ultra stressed out craving.

I love going to Oleana and it’s been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to get over to Cambridge, because it’s like the other side of the planet going over the river, as many of us Bostonians say. I crave the flattened lemon chicken over the Turkish cheese pancake. I crave all of her food, it’s like going home to me because I worked there for so long. And I always love a good dumpling. So I will go to the Blossom Bar in Brookline for their Sichuan dumplings and there’s always a Mai Thai.

Are you watching the work of any other local chefs that you’d like to shout out?

I’ve known Cassie Piuma at Sarma since she was 19-years-old, and we worked together early on. People that I worked with, and were my co-workers at Oleana for so many years. I will cheer them on forever, both the women of the crew and the men of the crew, so I definitely follow what they’re doing quite closely.

I wish I could go out more often because there are so many restaurants that I would like to try. I’ve never been to Toro. I always give a shout-out to the chefs because the chefs from Ivy Pearl are the same chefs and owners of the Blossom Bar.

Whenever you’re doing your personal grocery shopping or food shopping, where are your go-to places?

Well, I have an incredible fish market here in Roslindale — the Roslindale Fish Market. I get my fish, feta cheeses, and my olives there. Oh and produce, quite a bit of produce there and dried dry goods like beans + grains. I go to Tutto Italiano in Hyde Park for the cured meats, balsamic vinegar, and pasta. I should probably preface this, I cook at home quite simply, and definitely more in the Mediterranean angle of the spectrum.

I do like little field trips, like I’ll go to Norwood where there’s an Indian food market. I’ll get some of my more exotic chutneys and relishes and maybe some frozen things that I can always whip up.

For those busy nights — I love going to the Dorchester Asian Markets like Quincy Dorchester where I mean that’s just like going to the aquarium, you know you see all fishes and seafood, from snails to eels to crabs, so I think that’s a lot of fun. And being a single mom to two kids, I go to Price Right to get all of my kids’ lunch goodies like Oreos, chips, and things. If I was going to Clear Flour in Brookline for their bread — they make spectacular breads and European baked goods and they always change their menu to sort of have this lovely regional focus, so I like supporting them a lot.

What was it like to work on the set for Julia?

To say it was an honor would be an understatement, and to say it was a lot of pressure is an understatement. I had an incredible team with me that supported me in bringing her dishes to life. It’s her love of food, not just preparing it, but also having it at other establishments and having people cook for her that brought me as much joy as any other aspect. It was an incredible experience.

Would you say that Julia Child inspired or influenced your career at all?

Oh, absolutely. I grew up having her as a background [on TV] when I was little, I started picking up on things and then I would start sort of emulating her while I was remaking home economic recipes in my parents’ kitchen. Then my paths sort of went a different way because I focused on visual art, but always worked in restaurants to support my schooling. I think that’s part of her being a local and a local icon as well, she’s part of who we are here in Massachusetts. It’s a wild full-circle moment for sure.

So if you have the opportunity to cook a meal for Julia, what would you make for her?

I think she was quite simple. I’d never met her and I wish I had the opportunity to meet her in person and having talked to local chefs, primarily women who were mentored by her — what an incredible experience that must have been — she liked it when people came to her house to cook for her. And she just asked questions and we take that as her own education and that curiosity. It’s well known that she loved a good tuna fish sandwich. But I think I would cook for her my Nana’s zucchini quiche that is more of a cake. It’s a cross between a cake and a quiche that Nana included once on her mother’s day menu at Oleana. And it’s a very special recipe. That just brings me right back to the nine being with my Nana in the kitchen cooking. So I would make that for Julia.

What do you think Julia would think of Boston’s food scene today?

There’s so much talent and there are so many women. She pioneered the food culture with her cookbook and “The French Chef,” and having had the experience of working with some really incredible women chefs, I think she’d just be jazzed about it. And it’s also the celebration of various cultures in the foods. I think we’ve gotten away from fusion and now it’s more like a celebration of just an overall farm to table, back to the basics of food preparation.

What’s next on your table?

Well, right now I have a little bit of time to spend with my kids. But I’m talking as much as I can to support Julia and the series. I share about the craft because bringing attention to the niche and the craft of it is something I’m focusing on and putting some words on paper. Maybe that’ll grow into something but I just finished a cookbook project as the key food stylist and I’ve just finished a different production. So there’s always stuff happening.

Curious about the zucchini quiche recipe? Christine was kind enough to share it:

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 4 cups thinly sliced zucchini (on the round)
  • 1 cup bisquick
  • 4 eggs
  • ½ cup chopped onion
  • ½ tsp. Salt
  • ½ tsp. Oregano
  • ½ tsp. Black Pepper
  • One clove, Garlic (finely chopped)
  • ½ cup Vegetable oil
  • ½ cup Italian parsley
  • Optional — A dash of red chili flakes (for a tiny bit of heat)

Directions:

  • Preheat oven 350 degrees
  • Grease baking dish (preferably with oil spray)
  • In bowl, mix dry ingredients
  • In another bowl, mix wet ingredients
  • Pour wet ingredients into bowl and mix with hands
  • Arrange zucchini in formation
  • Bake until golden brown for ~25-30 minutes
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