On a Cookbook Assignment in Belize!

by Matt on October 31, 2011

If you follow me on twitter and facebook you might have seen some updates involving a jungle, a camera, a “few” mosquito bites and a cookbook. That’s because I and the  illustrious team of Adam Pearson and Gaby Dalkin headed to Belize to work on a project titled “Flavors Of Belize”. It’s a book about the traditional cuisine of Belize, a wonderful big delicious melting pot of cultures and flavors. I can’t give away too much about this book so I’ll leave it at this: Belizean cuisine is delicious and I’m looking forward to its release early next year.

With so much focus and attention to detail going into each image I was remarkably surprised that it was also so thoroughly covered from the other side, too. These days it’s not unusual to craft a behind-the-scenes video or story from all the moments that happen around a cookbook. I must admit that I adore working on books, the creative freedom and time spent really allows you to work together as a team, to enjoy it without a team of nine art directors standing around you staring at your monitor and asking you to move this, move that. Not that I don’t love each and every one of my clients, ya know :) But sometimes projects are so magical that you feel nothing short of bless from above for being a part of it. That was certainly this project. The people, the production, the friends we made will forever stay in my heart.

And I’m pretty sure the bug bite scars will stay on my legs for quite some time. More on that later*.

We arrived in Belize City and then headed to Chan Chich, a jungle lodge and nature reserve located in northwestern Belize in the Mayan jungle. This 130,000 acre private nature reserve is located in Orange Walk on the Gallon Jug estate and is more breathtaking than I could ever describe. If you’re a naturalist, researcher or bird watcher than you simply must go. We didn’t have much time to absorb nature, we were there to work and got to it immediately!

After a few Belikins, of course.

We stayed in a beautiful lodge, nestled directly in the center of the grounds. As usual I had a difficult time sleeping in due to the fact that I really wanted to explore my surroundings as well as the calls of the birds and monkeys all around us. Just look at how beautiful this place is.

One of the most impressive things to me were the unearthed Mayan mounds all around us, literally outside our door. Because Chan Chich is situated in La Selva Maya and is also private property, these historical hills have never been unearthed and remained untouched.

When it came time to work, the main building’s gorgeous deck became our studio. With perfect ample light, a verdant backdrop and a few clouds passing by, we photographed half of the book in this location before heading back to the city.


Thanks to the amazing Olivera Rusu, there were many amazing behind-the-scenes photos taken during the whole process. Here we are working, and judging from the smiles on our faces you can probably tell how the shoot went.

These images © Olivera Rusu

We took a few side trips to villages in the area to meet with locals and document their food culture. This was such a fantastic part of our journey but you’ll have to wait for the book to see what we photographed. Let’s just say it was quite the experience!

Image © Olivera Rusu

It takes a village! One thing I’ve learned about being a photographer is that you cannot be shy. With so many cameras, iphones, and video all around you’re never quite sure who’s filming what. Sometimes it feels more like a tv or film production than a food shoot but there’s never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

We all took our turns in front of the camera, giving some background about the project. Filmmakers and cinematographers Autumn and Jeff Bierman worked on the production as well and it was nice to meet our Los Angeles neighbors in Belize. WE LOVE THESE TWO PEOPLE. It’s unreal how cool and incredible they are.

Here they are reviewing some footage and also interviewing Adam for his segment. I’m pretty sure Autumn is concerned about being eaten alive by insects. Adam was already scratching.

I mentioned the journey from jungle to city was quite an adventure, right? Thanks to wet unpaved roads it took almost 6 hours and caused our van to get stuck in the mud. With no cell service we were in quite a bind until a good Samaritan arrived on the scene. He pulled us out and we were on our way! Note to self: next time make sure your van is stranded in front of a Four Seasons or W rather than the jungle.


I’ll make sure to keep you posted about the book’s release. I can’t wait to share so many Belizean recipes that we fell in love with!


With so much love and gratitude for the team, I want to thank everyone involved on this project and to the lovely people of Belize. Especially Tanya, Shelly, Wayne and Carla!

*About those bugs: EATEN ALIVE. I was. When people tell you to take every precaution available, wear long pants, bring ample protection, please heed their warnings.