Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest: The Judging

Last month I flew to San Francisco to judge the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Adventure Contest. It was a fantastic day filled with chocolate, chocolate, and more chocolate along with great company. The winners have been announced and the recipes were phenomenal. The winning recipes were simple and effective, very creative uses in the most basic of ways. They really allowed the flavor of Scharffen Berger chocolate to shine through. Here’s a quick video of the event, I hope you enjoy it!

P.S. Edwina, if you are reading I must tell you this: your recipe ROCKED!

In Defense Of Food Stylists

A few weeks ago I was on the phone with a potential client. We were discussing photography needs for their restaurant, a spot that features natural and vegan food. We talked about how many shots are feasible in one day, what their usage requirements would be, and how many people I’d need to assemble for the shoot. Like all restaurants I work with, I asked if they’d need a food stylist.

“No, we don’t want anyone doing any tricks to the food, pouring motor oil on it, those sorts of things.”

It’s very good to know what people want, and even better to know what they don’t want. But in the course of my job and shooting food, the whole question and discussion of motor oil seems prevalent.

You’d think I was a mechanic.

When my partner Adam tells people what he does it’s usually followed with a “What? What’s a food stylist?” or “You put motor oil on things, don’t you?”  I cannot blame people for thinking this, I’m sure someone somewhere has indeed used motor oil on food. But we’re not of that generation.

When I think about it, apart from food sitting out way too long to be safely eaten, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a stylist use motor oil. I discourage the use of chemicals on my set because I work fast and usually get the image I need rather quickly. Yes, vegetable oil and soy sauce is brushed for that fresh out of the oven look and many stylists I know are best friends with spray bottles, but still, this idea of fake and artificial seems to be the norm.

Can I tell you it’s not?

So then what would a food stylist do on a restaurant location shoot? They’d make sure the food was styled perfectly for the camera. They’d liaise with the chef and communicate the best way to build and position the food while maintaining the integrity of the chef’s vision.  They might advise on holding off saucing that entrée until I’m ready or may ask for extra greens and herbs since those always need to be replaced (they die quickly!). They might even get back into the kitchen and show the chef a quick trick or two for the camera, but I can tell you this: they wouldn’t finish off a plate with WD-40.

Some chefs and cooks just get it, no styling required. Chefs like Mark Peel of Campanile can create beautiful camera-ready food with seemingly no effort, just like Chef Jesse Perez of Long Beach’s Fuego restaurant. Shooting with him is like working with an accomplished food stylist, plate after plate comes perfectly from the kitchen and requires nothing.  Then there are the chefs who require a little hand-holding and editing, but if you think I’m mentioning names then you’re crazy.

My life as a food photographer certainly wouldn’t be as fun without stylists. They create the food that I photograph 75% of the time. And my life would cease to exist without a certain stylist I just happen to be married to! So as you read this, yes, food stylists have a million tricks up their sleeves from the days of hot lights, long studio advertising shoots and film, but thanks to digital and the speed in which it takes to capture an image we’re able to bypass so many of those greasy, syrupy artificial steps.

Which reminds me, I’m due for an oil change.

Cookbook Reviews: Spain

I’m so pleased to bring to you the second installment of the new Cookbook Review column here at Mattbites from our friend Kristina Gill. The fact that she lives in Rome yet doesn’t visit Spain regularly is a point of contention for me but imma let that go for now. Take it away, Kristina!

This week’s book reviews all began with an article in a magazine about San Sebastián, and a conversation with my {Italian} husband trying to convince him to take me to eat my way through Spain.  I began to look for Spanish cookbooks, and settled on what I think is a top quality bibliography.   If you have titles you’d recommend, or restaurants, please share!!  It’s my newest crush!  After my dog Crash! of course.

The Cuisines of Spain:  Exploring Regional Home Cooking by Teresa Barrenechea (Ten Speed Press, paperback 2009; food photographs by Christopher Hirsheimer, location photography by Jeffrey Koehler). This is the starting point for learning about Spanish cuisine.  Basque author and restaurateur Teresa Barrenechea provides a comprehensive look at the geography, customs, and recipes of Spain.  As a Spanish cuisine newbie, I appreciate the notes explaining the origin of the cuisines in the different areas and the usage and preparation of ingredients.  I try to have at least one book like this for each of the cuisines in which I am interested to better understand the people and the place which produced the food I like.

Pintxos: Small Plates in the Basque Tradition by Gerald Hirigoyen with Lisa Weiss (Ten Speed Press, 2009; photography by Maren Caruso) I haven’t been to San Francisco recently, so I haven’t had the chance to eat at one of Gerald Hirigoyen’s restaurants, but after reading his most recent cookbook Pintxos (pronounced “peenchos” in Basque, or tapas in Spanish), I want to skip his place and book a ticket to San Sebastián.  This book is divided into chapters which follow the menu at Bocadillos, Hirigoyen’s San Francisco restaurant.  And while there are quite a few ingredients in the book that I can’t source in Rome, the ones which are readily available more than make up for it.  This book spans all skill levels, offering the easiest of recipes (Griddled Ham and Cheese Bocadillos (sammiches)) through the more involved (Pork Medallions Confit with Curried Apple and Celery Root Salad).  My favorite chapters, wow, how to decide…just about everything except the organ meats!  That means bocadillos (little sandwiches), estofados (stews and braises), fritos (fried bites), ensaladas (salads), pintxos (skewers), and montaditos (bites on bread).  As Hirigoyen points out in his intro, most of these dishes are meant to be served room temperature and can easily be made ahead, so I really really recommend this book for anyone who likes to entertain.  Believe me, you will use it a lot and probably gradually create your own pintxos. { P.S.  I bet this is the first cookbook ever to feature liver and onions on the cover in a way that makes you want to eat it! }

Seasonal Spanish Food by José Pizarro and Vicky Bennison (Kyle Cathie Limited, 2009; photography by Emma Lee). As this book suggests, this is all about seasonal Spanish food.  Organized by season, the book presents recipes by the ingredients which are abundant in each particular season.  The book starts with Spring, and the first recipe is a brilliant green pea soup with Serrano ham (the ham is served on a piece of toast placed on top of the soup).  Every few recipes, there is an information page – about Spanish cheeses, salt cod (bacalao), Easter, vinegar, and so on – to put the food into a greater context, so you have the feeling you’ve made a connection with the place and the customs through Pizzaro’s recipes.  None of the recipes is too difficult– I appreciated his simple technique for preparing Galician-style Octopus, which is much shorter than other recipes I have seen, and produced a lovely dish.  I do recommend keeping an eye out for your preferred level of seasoning as I found some of the recipes, as written, tended to be under salted.  The photography in this book is beautiful, and together with the recipes, makes this a great general Spanish cuisine book, and now I am wondering myself why I didn’t stop at Tapas Brindisa in Borough Market two weeks ago when I was there!!!)

MoVida Rustica: Spanish Traditions and Recipes by Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish (Murdoch Books 2009; photography by Alan Benson). I really saved the best for last this time.    MoVida Rustica is Melbourne-based chef Frank Camorra’s second book about his native Spain’s cooking.  It is the fruit of almost two years of research.  Camorra, owner of MoVida and MoVida Next Door restaurants, ties the recipes together with his own personal experiences and the people and places he got to know as he traveled Spain to put together this volume.  This is not a book for people who don’t like to make an effort in the kitchen, as most of the recipes, although not at all difficult, do require a bit of organization and studying first, like the octopus terrine (can you tell I love octopus??). [You can see a video on how he prepares his octopus here.]This is however a book for anyone and everyone who is captivated, mesmerized even, by amazing food photography.  Alan Benson photographed my top two favorite books from 2009.  And though I don’t like to shunt the food content to the background, this really is first and foremost a high impact visual extravaganza.  The food and travel photography in MoVida Rustica is so fantastic, and the writing flows so well in this book, and the book just feels so nice in your hands, that even if you never cook from it, you’ll find yourself opening it again and again for photographic and styling inspiration.  It is available in the UK and Australia, and I hope that it will be available in the United States.

Gazpacho

Gazpacho, how much do I love you? This cold, raw tomato soup hails from Andalusia, Spain and if I don’t get my butt to España soon I will be forever cranky. I wanted to do something Spanish to coincide with the new Cookbook Review column here on Mattbites from the lovely Kristina Gill. This week it’s all about Spain. I could easily dedicate an entire blog about the country of Spain, it’s one of my favorite places on the planet that I would gladly pack up and move to tomorrow if I had my druthers. The only problem is that a) I am an American so there’s that pesky paperwork problem and b) I’d fall asleep at the dinner table each and every night. Oh who am I kidding? I would have been in bed for 2 hours by the time everyone assembles for dinner. Old man, me.

These two recipes for gazpacho come from Chef José Andrés. Whenever I think of him I get warm and tingly and I am thankful that he has chosen to live here in the US. I believe it makes this a better place, for sure. Saving the conversation about Spain being a gastronomic mecca for a later date, Chef José’s recipes have always worked for me and these two recipes are not only extremely flavorful (and one packs a punch!) but easy to prepare. You may not want to think of cold tomato soups in February I realize but I am in Los Angeles and we’ve had glorious sunny weather lately.  Plus I wanted to pretend I was in Spain. I even listened to a little Segovia.

Remind me to tell you about the time I ran into him at Disneyland while I was hosting my friends visiting from Palma de Mallorca. You’ve never heard two Spanish men squeal like children, it was Mallorquín on fire.  My friends I mean, not Chef Andrés.

These two recipes may be similar in their no-cook Spanish spirit but they are quite different. The first gazpacho was made with green tomatoes which gave it a pleasant tangy green flavor. It was the second–a white gazpacho made with almonds and bread– that made me so happy. Garlicky, savory and intense, it’s almost easy to forget that this robust soup hasn’t been cooked at all. And those green grapes? Pure heavenly contrast. It’s amazing how delicious they are in this soup. I really couldn’t get enough.

Gazpacho from Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America by José Andrés, Clarkson Potter

For the gazpacho:
2 pounds ripe red tomatoes (about 10 plum tomatoes) or you can use heirloom tomatoes or even green tomatoes!
8 ounces cucumber (about 1 cucumber)
3 ounces green pepper (about 1/2 bell pepper)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
3/4 cup Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste

For the garnish:
1 tablespoon Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice rustic white bread
8 plum tomatoes, with the seeds prepared as “fillets”
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cucumber, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4 pearl onions, pulled apart into segments
2 tablespoons Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
Sea salt to taste
4 chives, cut into 1-inch long pieces

1. Cut out and discard the core at the top of the tomatoes, and chop the tomatoes roughly into quarters. Place in the blender.
2. Peel the cucumber and cut into chunks. Add to the tomatoes in the blender. Cut the pepper in half, and remove the core along with the seeds. Again, chop into large pieces and place in the blender.
3. Add the garlic and sherry vinegar to the vegetables and blend until the mixture becomes a thick liquid. At this point the red tomatoes will turn a wonderful pink color. Taste for acidity. This will vary with the sweetness of the tomatoes. If it’s not balanced enough, add a little more vinegar. Add the olive oil and season with salt to taste. Re-blend, then pour the gazpacho through a strainer into a pitcher. Place in the fridge to cool for at least half an hour.
4. While the gazpacho is chilling, prepare the garnish. In a small pan, heat the olive oil over a medium-high flame and fry the bread until golden, about 2 minutes. Break into small pieces to form croutons and set aside.
5. To serve, place in each bowl 4 croutons, 2 “fillets” of tomato seeds, 4 cherry tomato halves, 3 cucumber cubes, and 3 onion segments. Add a few drops of olive oil to each onion segment and drizzle a little more oil around the bowl. Add a few drops of vinegar to each cucumber cube and drizzle a little more around the bowl. Sprinkle sea salt on the tomatoes, and sprinkle the chives across the bowl. Serve chilled.

White Gazpacho from Jaleo Restaurant
7 ounces blanched almonds
1 ounce garlic cloves
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 ounces bread
1 1/2 ounces freshly pressed white grape juice
1 1/2 ounces sherry vinegar
1 cup  Spanish extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and white pepper, to taste
18 grapes, peeled and halved

Combine almonds, garlic and water in saucepan. Bring to a boil; cool slightly. Place mixture in food processor with remaining ingredients except grapes. Purée until frothy, season to taste and and refrigerate. Serve cold and garnish with plenty of grapes.