A certain restaurant has hired me to cook, style, and shoot some dishes for their menu: two pastas, two breakfast dishes, one soup, and one sandwich. I was told what to cook, but I would use my own recipes. I spent about an hour last night shopping at the supermarket for ingredients I’d need for the shoot. Shopping for food that’s to be photographed is an entire dimension in itself. Appearance matters more than anything ”“ is this tomato photogenic enough? will this photograph well? Questions, questions. That night, I took some of my favorite cookbooks (no, not baking books) to bed with me, focusing on plating and shot angles. I fell asleep, my mind full of pictures and ideas.
After the gym and a lunch meeting today, I spend the better part of my afternoon cooking, styling, and shooting. I have to work fast because I only shoot with natural light and I only use real food, since that’s what I’ve always done.
I crack many eggs trying to get the perfect egg… I slice a lot of fruit to look for the best slices…I cook nearly a dozen sausages trying to get the perfect grill marks, and I go through a heap of paper napkins to clean up the plates. I also can’t turn on the fan in spite of the sweltering heat because I don’t want the food to cool too fast and congeal on me (mag-sebo). Suddenly, the things I’d taken for granted — like the size of my minced onions matter ”“ they look monstrous on camera. Dried herb seasonings also can’t be used too liberally ”“ they tend to look like specks of dirt behind the lens.
I also discover that some regular household tools prove to be indispensable: toothpicks, to nudge something into place (real food stylists use tweezers); a basting brush and oil to make food shine, and a good sharp knife to make the thinnest slices. Most importantly, I use my hands (what chefs Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger call “your God-given tools”) to fluff up pasta and atchara (pickled green papaya) better than any other tool could.
Three hours later, I have a whole load of food that my Bin and Boo are going to sample for dinner. I’m at my desk with a sore back and a headache, not to mention my two scrapes. Doing what I love is fun but hey, it’s work too. Just in case you’re wondering, the photos turned out great. I just can’t show them to you yet because my client gets first peek. Now excuse me while I go and collapse.