This image was for the cover of a recipe book for Regina vinegar. While it is a valid food shot, the focus of the image is the bottle of vinegar near the center of the table.
There was no layout for this job. There was only a list of recipes and the definition of "Tuscan". The rest was just playing in the camera with the art director until everything balanced and the bottle of vinegar was the hero.
This job required a great, hard working food stylist to make a full round of stand in food and then the finals. There was and art director who worked with the photographer to get everything set and a prop stylist who brought in a table full of plates, table cloths, flowers and cloth.
It is hard to describe just how difficult it is to create 6 different recipes, provide stand ins and then deliver to the set all 6 (plus cut fruit) all at once. It is a huge undertaking and Alyssa did it perfectly.
We use optical and fresnel strobe spots often when shooting food. The hardness of these lights allow us to break up the lights using cookies which are cards or metal inserts that have holes of various shapes poked in them. The effect then is like the noon sun being broken up by tree leaves. To increase the natural "Tuscan" look of this shot, the tablecloths were crunched to create soft folds, the spot lights made nice highlights and shadows and the cookies made little pools of light just like the sun and tree leaves. I guess that's as far from a plate of food as I would get. Near or far, the food photographer has to be ready to make art in the mane of commerce.