I mention in my bio here that one of the most creative hands-on things I get to do at Lark is food photo shoots. Food is like a second language to me, my favorite topic. It’s the thing I think about every 7 seconds. So I love diving into food shoots because I get to cook, plate, and garnish the art, then create the world it lives in. And I get to graze through some amazing flavors throughout the day—for better or worse (hey! no stopping to count calories).
For Lark’s Homemade Living Series, Nicole and I storyboard a thumbnail bookmap and a shot list. Come photo shoot time, we plow through that mighty list with our well seasoned (ahem) shoot team—Lynne Harty, the series photographer; and Ashley English, the book’s author.
We do all the how-to and food photography in my kitchen and dining room. (File this under Better the mountain comes to the pack rat than the pack rat schleps his chattels to the mountain.) Everything we’ll use for the shoot (plus much, much more) stays put until we’re done—materials, food, props, and camera equipment. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s actually pretty exhilarating to live in the action.
Here are 3 recent shots for Homemade Living: Home Dairy
(coming out spring 11)
Food photography is a little fantasy and a little alchemy. Shortcuts are necessary, and fun to devise. Often you have to pull from pre-made ingredients. For Mascarpone Strawberry Shortcakes I envisioned the fluffy and golden shortcakes my sister Molly makes. But I certainly would not ask her make a dozen precious shortcakes to be poked and manhandled only to be recorded on camera then tossed into the compost.
But there just happens to be a place close by where something that looks very similar to Molly’s glorious, pillowy cakes is made 24/7. It’s BoJangles, folks. That’s right. They make big shortcake-like biscuits by the dozens and there’s no guilt in composting them at the end of the day. But I gotta admit the little bits of these beautiful pagodas of loveliness I nibbled while styling the shot were very tasty. If they weren’t so salty I would recommend trying this at home.
Paneer is a quick and easy cheese typically used in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. It’s firm with a light texture much like tofu’s, but it’s 5000 times more delicious, I think.
I decided to shoot it in Saag Paneer—the cheese imbued with turmeric and floating in an emerald sea of spinach. It’s one of my favorites. So that the spinach stayed vibrantly green it was cooked until almost done the day before and warmed slightly for the shot. (Nobody knew this but for dinner that night I reheated it, made four big divots, and cracked in some eggs. Yum-O!)
A tough creative challenge is deciding how to ‘serve’ the shot. For this, flatbread off to the side is a given. And thinking Indian style dining, using a stainless steel patter seemed right. But my favorite part of this shot is totally obscure. I got to pull out an intricately detailed silver serving spoon from Cambodia. (Wondering now… would this shot make my trip deductible? Just KIDDING, IRS agents reading this!)
I’m going to describe our “lunch break” shot with a quick play-by-play of how it came to be.
“Another white cheese… needs color. Pizza is colorful. Spoon fat dollops of cheese, flower-petal style, on a thin crust job. Keep it simple. Crust and sauce. Choose three picturesque ingredients—mushrooms, red onion, fresh basil. Prep ingredients the day before. Assemble pie 30 minutes before shot. Pass it quickly through oven so basil stays green and mushrooms plump. Have blow torch ready for last minute caramelization of cheese and onions when camera is set. (As Julia said, ‘Use a blowtorch!’) Brown that baby. Frame. Light. Shoot. Done. Let’s EAT!”
(P.S. We devoured this specimen 20 seconds after the shutter clicked the final pic.)