Mattbites in Bon Appetit Magazine

I recently had the honor of taking a few minutes to chat about food photography with the fine folks at Bon Appetit Magazine for a small feature in the August 2010 edition. It’s out on newsstands right now and to say I’m touched and humbled would be the world’s greatest understatement. It’s a wee bit surreal to open a magazine and see your mug looking back at you*. And for the record, I could easily eat fifteen of those parfaits on the cover. I’m not joking.

The magazine is out now, let me know what you think!

*Perhaps one day after the shame subsides I’ll share with you some back story about that self-portrait.

Behind the Scenes: Good Bite Cookbook

Well hello there my friends! This week I’ve started a new cookbook project and thought it’d be fun to share a bit of it.  Called Good Bite’s Weeknight Meals: Delicious Made Easy, this cookbook will be published by Wiley & Sons in 2011. My friends at Good Bite and Wiley were cool with me posting some behind-the-scenes images from the shoot — thank you! Of course you’ll have to wait for the book which features some deliciously simple recipes from the Good Bite roster which includes Jaden of Steamy Kitchen, my pals White On Rice Couple and Elise of Simply Recipes. In the meantime I can tell you that it was a great day photographing some great dishes thanks to the team.

Wanna meet them?


This is the amazing Emily Henson. She is the prop stylist on this book and brings a wonderful aesthetic to the images. Formerly a display coordinator for Anthropologie, her creativity knows no bounds. I love working with Emily because it’s definitely a collaborative effort and she’s adept at patterns and mixing styles. Plus I admire her approach to creativity and style and believe that all tabletop and prop stylists should have British accents. In fact I think I just made it a new rule at my studio, justthisverysecond. It just makes sense. But don’t take my word for it, you should definitely check out her feature on Design*Sponge as well as her portfolio.

Asking Emily to describe her style and what inspires her, she says “I suppose it’s Modern Ecelectic. And I’m always inspired by fabric. Often it’s a really good starting point. I look at it, pull colors from it and take it from there.”  You’ll see this in action when the book is out next year. The images are gorgeous.

Consider this a shameless plug. No, there are no kickbacks coming my way from Rowenta but I’d do very bad things for them if they asked. I am head over heels with the DG5030 and love it so much that we had to buy one for home. Iron once with it and your life is forever changed. Remind me to tell you about the time I ran through the house looking for things to press. It’s that good.

I can’t stress how important it is to enjoy the people you are working with on a cookbook shoot. When everyone gets along it flows smoothly and makes for better images. When attitudes show up on set (and trust me, they do) it ruins the vibe and makes things harder. And why would anyone want that? Producing cookbook shoots can be stressful enough without added drama. Here Adam and Emily discuss the next shot and don’t they just look adorable? Emily has pulled some set-ups and they discuss the plating and size of food. She’ll give Adam a few options and once they decide on propping it’s off to the kitchen to work on the food. Behind Adam you can see a bit of the cabinet that houses our Mud Australia ceramics. I’m surprised I don’t lug it home every night and keep it next to my bed. I love it so very much.

This is Adam and Jenny.  They really are the heart and soul of the entire operation. As food stylists they create every bit of food seen inside the book. They take the recipes and craft them for camera, balancing what the home cook will do with what will make the best photograph. I’m happy to report that the food in Good Bite’s Weeknight Meals: Delicious Made Easy is completely real. Adam believes that real food looks best and doesn’t need all the tricks you may have read about. He says “I like organic, natural, messy styling. I call it organized chaos.” Adam says the best part of his job is working with food as well as with his assistant Jenny Park. (what, I don’t get a shout-out? damn. –matt)

I have two words for you: Jenny Rocks. I asked Jenny why she enjoys food styling and she said “It’s something different every day. It stays exciting because it changes. And I love food, the different cultures behind the food and I love cooking.” And we love Jenny.

Some plates and bowls ready for their close up.

Beautiful patterns and colors.

Adam puts some finishing touches on skewers with a torch and makes a pizza.  Unfortunately I didn’t get to eat the pizza!

Here’s a set-up of a shot from the book. I must wait for the book’s release before I can share any of the beautiful food that Adam and Jenny created hence the pink square.  I shoot with natural light which means nice, soft diffused coverage but sometimes I need to create shape and shadow. By simply placing a black flag above the food I’m able to remove some light and create the shadow that I want. Scrims and flags are essential!

More to come later!

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This weekend I’ll be teaching a Food Styling and Photography Workshop at my studio in Long Beach where I’ll be showing you some tips and tricks like above.  To kick off all things styling I’ll also be posting food styling book reviews from Kristina this Friday so keep an eye out for them!

(and Sepi, don’t think you are quite off the hook just yet…)

Mark Bittman Interview: How To Cook Everything To Go!

I keep making the joke that I’m slowly becoming the Rona Barrett of food blogging and I think it’s actually becoming a reality much faster than I thought. And you know what? I’m cool with that. A huge reason why I began blogging was to share stories and the personalities behind the food. Interviewing both Alice Waters and Mark Bittman of the New York Times in one week was such a treat for me and I don’t even have a fancy couch or my own band. At any rate, I gave away a few copies of Mark’s new App called How To Cook Everything To Go earlier this morning and just got off the phone with him.  Want to know what he thinks of his app? There’s an interview for that.

Matt: Thanks so much for the phone chat and this quick interview. Congratulations on the iphone app, it’s a beauty!

Mark: You know, I can’t tell you how little I actually had to do with the app! They did an amazing job and they did it with complete respect for the book. They took the book and didn’t make it better but took what was in it to the level it deserves to be electronically. There’s no e-version of any cookbook anywhere that’s as good as this. It’s incredible. And I can say that because I had such little to do with this app!

Matt: Oh c’mon, Mark. You had everything to do with this book!

Mark: Well, you know I’m very proud of How To Cook Everything but I don’t go around bragging about it. But this, well, it’s not my creation in a way so I can really say how terrific I think it is!

Matt: It is terrific! I got it a few days ago and have already used it several times. When I was walking around the market with it I realized how powerful it really is. You can’t exactly lug your book around the market.

Mark: People have been talking about how to make a cookbook useful on a mobile device and this is probably not the end but it’s a start of an era that people have been looking for. There may be an app that’s as good as this cooking wise but I sure haven’t seen it yet.

Matt: I don’t think I have either.  So now that this seems to really work how do you see the future of what you do?

Mark: I’m not sure it changes. It don’t think it’s going to change the way I use the book, I don’t think it’s going to change the way I write books because we know the benefits of print and also the limitations of print. This is really starting to explore the benefits of non-print in a way that works. This app is as good as or better than any cooking website and it’s on a phone. That’s incredible!

Matt: I think the ability to search is what makes it so powerful. I’ve already kicked the tires and used it to shop and answer questions about a few things. The immediacy of having the information right there is powerful. Being able to access all your recipes from the book is pretty cool, too.

Mark: Right. The search thing works. The shopping list works. The timer works. All of it works. We kicked the tires too and really love the interface.  We kept saying we can do more, we can do more and the team did.

When we began we kept thinking that we’d stick the book in an app but the book had so many unique characteristics to it.  The sidenotes, the techniques, they all took the book to another level. We wanted to explore the boundaries of apps in the same way the book did.  And the proof is in the pudding – it’s selling like hotcakes already!

(How did Mark Bittman know I had pancakes for lunch?)

Matt: Do you own an iphone?

Mark: Yep. But I haven’t had the app any longer than you.  I didn’t have an iphone during a great deal of the development time. I was borrowing one and looking at mock-ups online but I finally broke down and “lost” my blackberry!

Matt: How long did it take to complete the app?

Mark: We were aiming for last Christmas but I’d say about a year. It’s been a long time. Just know that it was because there were so many people working really hard, it’s so dense with so much and it kept taking longer and longer. The result is that it’s quite amazing and gorgeous. People are happy. Even I’m happy and I’m a tough person to please!

Matt: Any plans to turn any of your other titles into apps?

Mark: Well, it’s not entirely up to me. Everything is up for discussion at this time. We wanted to go with the biggest and best possible thing first and this is it. And with this two dollar price (the app is currently $1.99-matt) it’s practically free. I think that’s only going to last a week or two, I’m not sure how long the promotion is on. We all wanted to make the How To Cook Everything To Go app the most powerful possible and also the most powerfully appealing. Whether it gets sliced and diced or if we do a How To Cook Everything Vegetarian app, just know there will be more.

Thanks Mark! And big thanks to Culinate!

A few minutes with Alice Waters

Alice Waters needs no introduction. And I’m not sure I could even put the words together to describe her even if I tried. She’s a force, a pioneer, a woman so essential to conscious eating and good food that anything I say will only fall short. When my friends at Random House asked if I’d like to spend a few minutes interviewing her about her new book In The Green Kitchen: Techniques To Learn By Heart I took about .00928988 seconds to reply. Especially because I am so in love with this book. In The Green Kitchen is a collection of Alice’s essential cooking techniques that I honestly believe should belong in every cook’s library.  It’s not earth-shattering but solid, not revolutionary but complete. And while a book of her techniques alone would make the book worthwhile in every sense, it’s the cast of friends and family members throughout the book that really brings home what she believes in: that good food is a right and not a privilege and that food unites us all.

Our phone conversation was meant to coincide with a web video chat. There were some issues, the video didn’t work, but we forged ahead.

Matt: Hello Alice, thank you so much for taking the time to do this, this is wonderful!

Alice: Well this is a bit disconcerting to me because I thought I would be seeing people as well as talking to them! It feels very strange to all of a sudden just have audio without video. I probably would have spoken differently if I knew I was just having audio.

Matt: Well I even ironed a shirt!

Alice laughs. I made Alice Waters laugh!

Alice: And I have a beautiful bowl of page mandarins right in front of me.

Matt: Oh! Well once again we’re foiled by technology! Hey, at least we’re speaking so that’s great! First, I just wanted to say congratulations on such a beautiful book.

Alice: Oh thank you!

Matt: The book, the techniques, the stories, it’s just something that I think everyone will want to keep close to them. And I’m a breadcrumb freak so I’m so happy to see that!

Alice: Oh you like that tray of breadcrumbs then!

Matt: Indeed I do. I love that tray of breadcrumbs. Those things have opened so many possibilities in my world, the ability to add them to simple things like tomatoes, pasta, I could go on and on, trust me.

I wanted to ask you about working on this book and your writing process. Do you write when you are in the kitchen? Or do you find that you need to shut out the world and sit down with a pen and paper?

Alice: No. We work in a very collaborative way. There are a lot of different voices in this book although the book itself has become my own voice. But I’m kind of looking for people’s techniques and their little ways of talking about things and I wanted to incorporate that when I could. And with this particular book of there are a lot of different people it in. It’s rich from that point of view because you associate certain people with a way of cooking and here they’re talking about the simplicity of a particular dish or a little thing that they use to make it special. I wanted to make that happen for people in this book.

Matt: Speaking of a lot of different people, you share so many personal insights of people throughout the book that we’ve all known and admired over the years. Drake, a chef from Santa Barbara, wanted me to ask you if there are any up and coming chefs or foodmakers that you really respect and admire these days?

Alice: I love these young cooks who are such purists about where they get their ingredients. They go to the farmers’ market rain or shine, they go out to the farm, they’re ready to forage with their friends on the weekend, they are dedicated in a way that my generation certainly wasn’t. And it’s very inspiring. And it’s very political. Like Bryant Terry and Anna Lappé. But we have a whole group at Chez Panisse that is sort of inventing and working on the way of small rather than big, family run restaurants rather than a corporate one and finding that food is part of a wonderful way to love.

Matt: Well, I think we have you to thank for a lot of that, so thank you!

Alice: Thank you.

Matt: Your green kitchen manifesto includes “cooking and shopping for food brings rhythm and meaning to our lives.”  I think that’s one of the most profound things I’ve read in a long time. Could you elaborate on that?

Alice: Well I can only think about my own life, and what it meant to me to go to France when I was 19 and find a way that people lived their lives.  It just seemed so naturally woven into the culture of that place. And everybody seemed to have access to the rituals of the table, the farmers’ market, the seasonality of food, it wasn’t anything rarified. It was something that they were grateful for and took care with and appreciated. So it was a very real awaking for me and I wanted to live like that. I learned that food is a way to build a community in a real everyday way.

Matt: Amen to that.  As a blogger and food photographer I’m just captivated by the creative process and so in love with Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton’s work. What was it like working with them as a team on this book?

Alice: Oh, it was just kind of my dream. To be in my own kitchen, a beautiful day in September and to be able to go over to Chez Panisse, to find the ingredients that we wanted to have photographed, bring them back, put them in the natural light, use the bowls and dishes from my kitchen, and then eat the food! It’s the way that I wish I could really do every book–to be a part of the whole process, not just the conceptual part, the writing part, but really sort of engaged in it all. And the beautiful picture of the beans in the book and the ones of fruit? They were in no way contrived, they were just what was happening here in Northern California at that moment in time. It was a harvest moment and we had something that was just exquisite from my point of view. And I hope it feels that way, that it entices people so that they investigate the fruits and vegetables that we mention in the book and plant them in their own gardens.

Matt: Well it definitely comes through the printed page. It’s just incredibly beautiful. Thank you for your time, Alice!

Alice: And thank you.

In The Green Kitchen: Techniques To Learn By Heart by Alice Waters is available now from Clarkson Potter.  Don’t miss the online video component to the book here, it’s fantastic. A very special thanks to Allison at Clarkson Potter.

Update! There will be a webinar with Alice Waters next Wednesday, April 21st. Chat with her live, ask questions, hear her tips, and interact with this amazing culinary treasure. Click on over to Webex for more information.


Matt & Cheese!

Hey folks!  I’m super excited about this quick little teaser for a new video series project I’m working on with a really incredible production team. In the upcoming video I’ll take you behind the scenes in my studio as I work on some cheese related stuff, check back soon for the complete video. In the meantime enjoy my big fat giant head, won’t you?

My interview with Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Nora Ephron

julie_and_julia_ver2

What happens when a certain angel at Columbia Pictures tells you that she’s secured 25 minutes for you with Meryl Streep, Amy Adams and Nora Ephron in Beverly Hills before the grand opening of Julie & Julia? Well, you do a small happy dance, check for batteries in your interview recorder, iron a shirt and join the select few who are lucky enough to meet these beautiful and insanely talented women. And then you begin to think about the questions you want to ask and hope that you’re not distracted by Meryl’s big laugh or Amy’s giant dreamy eyeballs.  That’s exactly what you do.

The rules were simple: ask anything and everything and take no pictures. Ok, I can do that! I must admit that it’s hard not to think you might be a bit starstruck by meeting all three but once Meryl Streep walks into a room you cannot help but relax and smile. It’s a side I’ve never seen of her and she completely puts everyone at ease. And if you thought Amy Adams was beautiful on the big screen then you ain’t seen nothing. They are really quite special. And the icing on the cake was meeting writer and director Nora Ephron. So let’s get to the questions.

Q: So what drew each of you to the story and the film?

Meryl: I read Nora’s script which was extremely beautiful and interesting and I thought it was probably not commercial whatsoever and I was very worried about her sanity and with financing! They were willing to give us the money and I think it’s turned out really well!

I just really love the story of these two women looking for their calling. I just thought it was extremely touching and also delicately written, not hammered on the head. That’s so hard to find. It’s hard to find beautiful subtly written stories. It’s a hopeful story.

Amy: It was gentle.

Q: What was the last thing that each of you cooked at home?

Meryl: Nora just gave me an Ina Garten Cookbook and Saturday I made Tuscan Lemon Chicken which is highly recommended, it was a big hit. And I have a shortcut for zesting 4 lemons that I might share with you!

Q: Amy, when we met with Susan Spungen, food stylist on Julie & Julia, she told us about the food styling side of the movie and working with you.  She said she spent a couple of sessions with you at ICE. How comfortable were you in the kitchen before and after your training?

Amy: I’m not really intimidated by the kitchen. I think I’m a little bit tidier now that I’ve learned the correct way of doing stuff so it doesn’t look as messy. My chopped salad is more consistent now. She gave me a lot of great tips and a lot of shortcuts that I never would have thought of so I don’t mind preparation as much. That’s opened up a world of cooking to me because I have much more enjoyment of prep work.

Meryl interjects: I just wonder if Julia Child had four children if she would have cooked the way she did!

But I learned patience. I realized that in my life so often I get home and I had planned something and then there’d be some disaster with somebody that would keep me from one element of the meal and then someone would scream “WHEN IS THAT GOING TO BE READY?!”

Q: Prior to the movie did any of you read food blogs?

Amy: No.
Meryl: No
Nora: I do, I read Chowhound and I use it for new restaurants. I read Ed Levine’s blog Serious Eats and then my sister Amy has a food blog, One For The Table, so I do, I love them!  You could ruin a day reading them, there are so many good food blogs, it’s amazing. But I hadn’t read Julie Powell’s blog until I read about it in the New York Times.

Meryl: That was the first time I heard about it. There was something about that article that jumped up. It was an unusual challenge that she had set for herself.

Q: Julie Powell told us that you printed out a lot of her entries and went through them with her. Why was that important for you to do?

Nora: If I had found a section that I wanted to amplify beyond what was in the blog then I interviewed her. There were a couple of chronological things that I was confused by and I wanted to figure all of that out. And basically I just wanted to hear her talk a little bit more about some of the events I chose to do in the movie because it was about 2000 pages printed out of the blog with all the comments. I had 8 huge binders of material and I had winnowed it down and then I had figured out what I was going to do of it, what scenes had to be done. I had to do the meltdown scene, I had to do the lobster scene and I became really interested in her mother. Her mother really got into her blog and wrote slightly inappropriate things and I was so amused that she had sort of become a character in the blog. That was really mostly what it was, just to amplify.

Q: When we screened the movie a few weeks ago we got to speak with Chris Messina (Julie Powell’s on-screen husband) afterwards and he talked about the food discipline when you’re shooting a scene all day and how you might have to eat 35 bruschetta. Do you have any experiences like that?

Meryl: I didn’t! Surprisingly I didn’t have a problem with it! No, we didn’t have to eat as much and with such gusto.  You have to realize how many times he did it: in the master, in the midshot, in the closeup, the over shoulder, he ate a lot of bruschetta! And he did it everytime! He did a great job.

Amy: I did mostly this (she pretends to eat while talking). I was like “I’m talking so I can take a bite here”.  It was important to know that we really enjoyed the food. But I hadn’t figured out and I still haven’t figured out how Chris Messina did it. How he was able to eat and talk and nothing falls out! It must be a structural thing! With me I would talk and it’d be a full show! No way. I had a different relationship with the food on set but we all really enjoyed it. Like the chocolate cake moment, that was so much fun. But we also negotiated what we ate the night before by asking “what are we shooting tomorrow?” Ok, then I’ll have a small dinner and a small breakfast and then I’ll be hungry. It definitely helped.

Meryl: I never ate off set. Never never never. There was no need.

Q: So were your meals off camera the foods you were preparing during the scenes?

Meryl: That was the reward at the end of the day, after we had the shots. Like the sole, oh the sole! You could smell it. You could smell it!

Q: Where you familiar with Julia Child beforehand?

Amy: I was familiar with her but more as a characterization. But not the real intimate details of her life.

Q: Nora, you’ve written about Julia Child previously. Was there a sense of fate in this film?

Nora: Totally and completely. I don’t mean to be ridiculous but I really did think “I should write this!” When they first told me about this movie as a director they already put a writer on it and I was not happy about it. I was hoping something would happen so that I would get to write it and she would not (we all laugh!) and my prayers were answered because she got a big television series on the air and that was the end of her! Then I got to step in and I got to do it! I was thrilled.

Q: Nora, did you see any parts of yourself in the characters?

Nora: Yes, I see parts of myself in both women. I see many of my worst qualities in the occasional moments of Julie Powell. There’s no question that I don’t have Julia Child’s fantastic sunny disposition. And there are definite pieces of my marriage in the Julia Child story because I am married to an extremely nice guy, so was Julia Child. I didn’t make up Paul Child, he was exactly like that.  The moment in the movie when Julia is rejected by Houghton Mifflin and he cheers her up is a scene that we played into our house on many occasions, right down to the last two words of it (I will leave this out, go see the movie!)

Q: A friend wanted me to ask if working on this film made you more appreciative of the men in your life, but it sounds like you already are! I mean you guys were working with characters that loved you so thoroughly and that was so special to see.

Meryl: What’s unusual is that you never see that. All the sustaining things, all the supporting things, just the fact that someone loves you even when you’re a brat. Even when you’re completely boring!

It’s such a valuable part of many women’s lives, and men’s lives, too. It’s kind of like a bath of pleasure to have that! I would look at Stanley Tucci (as Julia’s husband Paul) and just the way he looked at me made me feel beautiful! Then I’d go back to my dressing room, look in the mirror and think “Wow, I really believed him”.  It was really wonderful.

Q: How did you prepare for the role as Julia?

Meryl: I didn’t really prepare too well. I kept preparing as we went on. I cooked out of the book which I had never done and I actually had my arguments with her about how she would do certain things! But I looked at the video tapes and the American Masters series that they did on Julia Child and for me the most valuable parts were the early tapes, before she got hyperbolic about what she was doing, the curly cues of Julia Child, the flourishes. But the earliest stuff mostly.

Q:  How has this role changed your perspective on food?

Amy: It hasn’t necessarily changed my perspective on food but how I’m cooking and the reasons I’m cooking. I take my time now, I enjoy it. I’m starting to cook with my friends a lot more in tandem and I’m realizing how wonderful it is.

Q: Do you cook from Julia’s book as well?

Amy: Yes, that was one of the assignments Nora gave me. We had to cook a dish  from the book and blog about it and my dish was Brussels Sprouts with Cheese and I can’t even say it in French because I’ll sound really foolish. But they were beautiful and I wrote about it, much to my chagrin. I have so much respect for writers. If I was envious of anything, aside from height, it’s writing!

Q: in some capacity you’ve all worked together in some form. Any plans on working together again?

Nora: Well I’ve never worked with Amy before.
Meryl: But I’ve worked with you Amy before, separately.
Amy: Yes, it’s like 6 degrees of separation.

Nora: Oh god I hope so!

Amy: We’re going to play Siamese twins in our next film.

Matt says: I know I’d like that!

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Julie & Julia opens August 7th. Thanks to Columbia Pictures for setting this all up and a huge thanks to Nora Ephron, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams and my fellow blog pals!