Delores Custer, 79, Dies; Gave Star Turns to Cornflakes and Noodles

Ms. Custer taught workshops around the world and, for more than a decade, at the Culinary Institute of America, in Hyde Park, N. Y. She retired after her book was published.

In addition to her daughter, she is survived by her sister, Sally Wright; her brother, Robert Borgaard; her stepchildren, Jan Congdon and Paula Held; four step-grandchildren; and one step-great-grandchild. Mr. Custer died in 1998.

“Some stylists have specialties, but Delores could do anything,” said Colin Cooke, a still life and food photographer who shot hundreds of ads with Ms. Custer. However, he said, she shone particularly in margarine. At one point they worked for a company that owned 11 different brands.

“She was the master of the pat,” Mr. Cooke said, “the queen of the dollop, the swirl and the curl.”

Margarine, he added, can be tricky.

“You need to be one with the margarine,” he said, “because if it’s a bit too cold it won’t swirl. If it’s too warm it will melt. It’s a sculptural job. Delores understood that. She knew how to make it drip or swirl just right. If it was a pat, she might bring a hot knife to it, and wait until she got a drip forming on a corner.”

Then, at the crucial moment, she would pull back and Mr. Cooke would step in and take the shot.

Mr. Cooke was not with Ms. Custer when she filmed a commercial in the Mexican rainforest for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! The story line involved the model Fabio, of bodice-ripper book-cover fame, swinging on a vine toward a lady friend offering up the aforementioned product, spread out in enticing swirls on a slice of bread. During the shoot, Ms. Custer blew out the set’s fuses with a hot plate, compromising 60 pounds of soon-to-melt margarine in the makeshift refrigerators.

With typical sang-froid and ingenuity, Ms. Custer wrangled the hero into shape. Fabio looked OK, too.

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