Indeed...i used a direct flash without a soft box. I wanted to get some shadows and the details in the strawberries and texture on everything. Could I have done that by either reflecting or using a soft box? I'm not sure if harsh direct light is considered a technical mistake or if it's a matter of preference. Any suggestions on how I can improve this in a future re-shoot / re-edit are most welcome.
Yeah - if you don't have a softbox try bouncing off a wall/ceiling or even a large piece of card. You need to soften those shadows.
Window light, if there is any, is often the best light for shooting food.
Try to avoid direct flash even if it is off camera.