Shooting the Chefs

by on March 19, 2011

Good people. A couple of our recent photo gigs have reminded me of why I diverged off of the University path to follow a life in food. I really like the type of people which gravitate to this industry.  They are good people.

One of these recent jobs was for the Terranea resort, shooting the chefs, interiors, and food of their signature restaurant mar’sel. In general, chefs don’t like have their photos taken. They are blue collar, 16 hour day working dudes.  Or chicks.  The day of the shoot, about half of mar’sel’s kitchen staff were chicks.  Not ladies, women, or gals.  These femme fatales were definitely “chicks.”  Rock n roll and sharp knives filled their mojo.

Mar’sel’s Executive Chef was true to norm. The strappingly handsome Chef Fiorelli was exceptionally polite and gracious, but spending time in front of the lens probably doesn’t make his Daily Top 10. However, he knows it comes with the job, and he seems the type of man who does any job to the best of his ability, and with great diligence.

Dirty jokes, taunts of “pictures for mom” or “a second girlfriend” brought out smiles and relaxed expressions, but it was really when the talk turned to food that we felt we were accepted. After the “pin-ups and portraits” were done, we set to shooting the food. Chef and his sous started turning out dish after luscious dish. We swooned over pickles and pate. Talked about the qualities of a great English muffin.

We struck that common love with the chefs and were able to get a  glimpse past the polite, reserved demeanor normally given to outsiders. We were able to see some of their inner charm.

Chef kept bringing out members of his crew to see the photos.  “Do you mind showing him the last shot?  He’s my fish guy,” he’d apologetically ask.

“Can she see the chocolate shot?!”

Their eyes giggled and glowing at images of their food. They were proud of their food, and to see our perspective capturing their dishes in gorgeous light meant something to them.

Maybe it is because we love and respect their craft. Maybe just the recognition of their labors. I don’t know if they would be able to put it into words, but they didn’t need to.  It was evident on their faces.

It is kind of weird to me, but I’ve recently just started to make this connection in my life: chefs and cattle ranchers seem to be cut from the same cloth.  They’ll both often have a stoic ruggedness, but underneath lies a sort of boyish integrity and pride.  Maybe that is why I’m drawn to the food industry now that home is the Metropolis of southern California instead of the hills and valleys of our cattle ranch I grew up on.

Both chefs and cattle ranchers are a special breed. Not saying there aren’t egomaniacs and assholes amongst them.  But as a whole, I find them to be my type of people.

-Todd

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{ 33 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Justin Ide March 19, 2011 at 9:21 am

Great photos and nice post. Love shooting Chefs!

Remember, Food is Love!
Cheers,
Justin

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2 Simone March 19, 2011 at 9:30 am

Love these shots!! Just beautiful… Can I ask what lighting setup you used for these photos? Was it all existing light or did you use reflectors or additional lights? Just curious!

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3 White on Rice Couple March 19, 2011 at 9:36 am

Hi Simone,
These were all just existing light. Fast glass and finding the little pockets of lighting we liked in the kitchen and in the dining rooms. We used reflectors for some of their food shots to lighten up some shadows, but none of those are in this post.

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4 Fresalina March 19, 2011 at 9:43 am

It is true. We dont like our pics taken, at least not me while I’m in the kitchen. I guess I am in the need-to-get-this-food-ready mood while in the kitchen. Im very girly but when Im wearing my coat I mean business. :)

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5 Joyce Pinson @friendsdriftinn March 19, 2011 at 10:17 am

Y’all always inspire me with food shots! I have done some worksite photography for print work, and for me people are so much more fun than a still plate of food no matter how “artsy.” Loved the photos, so understand the energy and connections. Thanks for sharing!

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6 Geri Miller March 19, 2011 at 10:27 am

Oh…loved these shots! Chef F. is such a special guy…I knew you’d capture his magic beautifully! Soooo proud of them all! Can’t wait ’til you come back to shoot the gardens (Terranea just signed my contract and gave me the ‘green light’ to put in another 1000 square feet of garden this summer!). I’m officially mar’sel’s grower. How cool is that?

xxoo gm

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7 Anjali Shah March 19, 2011 at 11:34 am

What great photographs! I feel like you really captured the essence and mood of the kitchen and I love the lighting in your pictures. I recently started getting more into photography and your blog – and photos – are an inspiration. Thank you! :)

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8 Averie (LoveVeggiesAndYoga) March 19, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Awesome photos and such an insightful post, Todd!

I love your perspectives and comparisons of chefs and cattle ranchers. I have worked in many restaurants and bars in my life and everything you hit on with the chefs I find to be true!

And I love that I see tattoos poking out from their chef’s whites. I have tats and love to see them :)

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9 White on Rice Couple March 19, 2011 at 7:05 pm

Thanks. I spent about 15 years in the restaurant underbelly, and now we’ve been shooting chefs for 3 or 4 years, and I couldn’t find better company. Chef tattoos tend to be some of my favorite, too. One of Chef Fiorelli’s is of the molecular structure of salt. Love that.

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10 Michelle March 19, 2011 at 1:34 pm

This is a great behind the scenes look at the places we love and cherish. Thanks for the unique perspective and catching people in their craft.

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11 veronica gonzalez March 19, 2011 at 5:05 pm

The photos are gorgeous…so are the chefs…I love how your pictures capture their inner light.

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12 Maryann March 19, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Great article and awesome photos! Chef F. is passionate about his work, as is evidenced in the details in these photos…..especially like the magnificent table setting…..simple elegance!!

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13 susan March 20, 2011 at 8:30 am

I love the saturation in these photos. And how get such clear and wonderful shots under those fluorescent lights is a mystery to me. You two have such a gift and I am so glad to be witnessing all your successes and your journey.

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14 venu March 20, 2011 at 10:46 am

these are fantastic! thank you for continuing to inspire

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15 SMITH BITES March 20, 2011 at 4:57 pm

a privilege to see both your work and the behind-the-scenes work of the chefs; obviously, we don’t have access to ‘the underbelly’ of the restaurant business but i’m mesmerized. for the record, you are not arrogant nor an asshole . . . but appreciate that you ‘get’ them!

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16 a frog in the cottage March 21, 2011 at 4:14 am

this is amazing how your pictures show the chef’s concentration & love !! beautiful !!

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17 TripleScoop March 21, 2011 at 8:33 am

Thanks for giving us a glimpse of what is like shooting behind the scene. All good stuff!

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18 Jenn March 21, 2011 at 10:37 am

Beautiful photos and story Todd!

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19 Anne March 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

Lovely article! And lovely photos as well!

What tips can you pass on about “Shooting the Chefs”?

I was recently in Toronto, and was eating at awesomely delicious restaurants (all discovered during the trip) and wanted to get some shots of the chefs preparing the food (most of these places had open kitchens). I ended up feeling like I was in the way and retreated back to our table. I have plenty of still food shots but not much of people. I also get shy but I would love to have more people in my shots.

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20 White on Rice Couple March 23, 2011 at 6:33 pm

Hi Anne,

Thanks! I think one of the biggest keys to shooting chefs is to stay out of their way! ;) If it is during service, we will try to find corners, edges of doorways, any spot where we are out of the direct flow but can still get a cool angle on the action. Even then you still always have to be aware of everything going on around you and have to keep moving around or back and forth to keep from being intrusive. Sometimes it is actual help because you are forced to find unique angles and perspectives just out of survival. Observe how the chefs, bus boys, and wait staff are moving about it the kitchen and use that to guide you. It may take some time. For me helped that I worked in the tight quarters of restaurants for many years so I can feel the flow fairly naturally. It is fun to shoot in the kitchen, but also can be very challenging. Hope you keep it up, swallow the fear and dive in.

Todd

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21 Anne March 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm

Thank you Todd for the advice! I will dive in the next opportunity :-) I know there have been plenty of moments when I’ve left the restaurant wishing I’d gotten this shot and that shot.

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22 Linda Steidel March 21, 2011 at 5:32 pm

Your pictures are extraordinary – beautiful, beautiful work. As a (chick) chef myself, I appreciate your efforts and your very true words!

Keep up the great work!

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23 Nate @ House of Annie March 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm

The glimpses of his tats coming out from underneath this chef’s whites – that’s what this story is about. You’ve told it so beautifully in prose as well as in pictures.

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24 Lena @ vietfoodrecipes March 22, 2011 at 11:35 am

Beautiful pictures! Piece of art work! Nice done!

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25 Nick (Macheesmo) March 23, 2011 at 9:59 am

Really amazing shots. It almost makes a kitchen look calm… ;)

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26 Imladris Farm March 23, 2011 at 6:52 pm

Perhaps the best overall description of the folks in the kitchen I’ve ever read. I’m always awed and amazed by the combination of raw, incredible talent, and down-to-earth, fun attitudes that drive the kitchens we serve. It seems that your experience was/is a lot like ours – we go out of our way to work around their busy schedules, kitchen crisises, and general mayhem…and then, in the middle of an unfortunate dinner-time delivery, with flames under my left elbow (why, oh why, are kitchens never big enough?), the machine-gun rat-a-tat of a knife chopping vegetables in one ear, and the constant string of incoming orders in the other, a chef stops whe he/she is doing to inquire about the season, comment on the quality of our product, or, as you’ve pointed out, show off a new tat! I love those moments – we’re very fortunate here in Western North Carolina that our chefs consider us (farmers) part of what they’re building, and as such they treat us with respect and love.

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27 Angela (Oh She Glows) March 23, 2011 at 8:00 pm

There is so much passion just oozing out from each photo I can almost taste it! Who knew shots (and story-telling) from a kitchen could look/feel so romantic? There is just something about the lighting and the way you captured expression that draws me in. It is almost like a love story in the kitchen.

I love the attention on the pans and the out of focus chef working in the background in the second shot. It really tells a story. Nice work!

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28 Lori Lynn March 30, 2011 at 4:12 pm

Hi Todd & Diane – I am thrilled to see this post. We live nearby – mar sel is hands down the best restaurant on the hill – when we ate there for the first time last November we were so happy to finally find a restaurant of this quality in our backyard from the ambiance to the service and finally the food, all exceeded our expectations.
Your photos are awesome, as usual. Were can we see your food pics?
LL

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29 White on Rice Couple March 30, 2011 at 8:20 pm

So glad you’ve found mar’sel as well. They really are doing a fantastic job.

Food shots will have to wait on our site until we see which ones the resort wants to use first. They have the rights to the photos’ use. I imagine they will be updating the resort and restaurant pics soon, but all larger businesses usually have a few chain of commands things need to pass through.

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30 lisa dowling April 1, 2011 at 8:04 am

as an english professor i think “shooting chefs” is a hilarious title. i half expected a bloody kitchen and food in the shape of a handgun. but i just love wordplay, so forgive me for amusing myself at your expense. as a foodie, though, i just ADORED your article, and i loved seeing those behind the scenes shots. i want to eventually get good enough in the kitchen that i look as calm and confident as your chefs, and not like a sweating dervish with a sauce spattered apron.

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31 White on Rice Couple April 1, 2011 at 9:56 am

Looks like the title grabbed the intended reaction. I lay great weight on the titles and opening paragraphs. If attention or amusement isn’t gained by then, the post is lost.

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32 lisa dowling April 4, 2011 at 10:16 am

rock on! :)

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33 Nancy@acommunaltable April 15, 2011 at 7:13 pm

As always, I thoroughly enjoyed this post I never really thought about it before, but I can definitely see where chefs and cattle ranchers have much in common – both work incredibly long hours, face challenging physical conditions and both jobs require a lot of physical stamina!!!

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