Workshops at Gulf Photo Plus 2014 in Dubai!

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My feeble attempts at putting words together will not convey the excitement bursting from inside me regarding this announcement. I am joining several world-class photographers and instructors this year at one of the most preeminent photography festivals ever offered. And folks, this makes me giddy!

Next month I’ll be leading a few food photography related workshops and talks at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai, and my activities also happen to coincide with the Dubai Food Festival. I’m doubly excited about this!

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On March 7th, I’ll be speaking about creating delicious images with your smartphone. This is going to be so much fun for me as I’m never without my iphone, and working within the limitations of this technology can actually extremely liberating.

On March 7th, I’ll be takin’ it back to my roots and discussing writing, food photography, and blogging in this talk titled “All About You: Great Writing and Food Photography For Bloggers”.

On March 9th and 10th, I’ll be leading an in-depth, 2 day food photography workshop that is limited to 12 participants only. This is going to be intense, packed with hands-on activity and information and we are gonna work. I mean that! The level of festival attendees blows my mind and I know I’ll get as much out of it as I put in.

Also — and I’m not gonna lie — I’m a bit starstruck when I check out the list of photographers teaching workshops at GPP 2014. Zack Arias, Gregory Heisler, David Hobby, Joe McNally, Steve Simon, just to name a few. I’m thrilled to meet everyone!

Visit Gulf Photo Plus’ Festival 2014 page for all the details and if you are planning on attending any of my workshops please do let me know! I can’t wait to meet you!

And check out Dubai Food Festival, too!

GPP2014 Dubai | A Week To Remember! from gulf photo plus on Vimeo.

About That Pizza Oven…

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If we are friends in real life, then you most likely know that I’m a rather easy-going guy (on most days, I mean). I prefer to roll with those punches, to let bygones be bygones, and accept what the universe presents to me most of the time. I’m fine with just about anything, really.

EXCEPT PIZZA.

No, really, except when it comes to pizza.

Far from being a snob, I feel as if I’ve put in my time when it comes to doughy, salty, greasy disks of fast food or chain pizza pies. After all, the typical oil-laden pepperoni pizza of my youth were certainly all I ever knew. That changed in early adulthood as I moved around the country, then years later upon traveling to Italy and making pizza there. I learned that it doesn’t take much to make me happy, and that a real Neapolitan-style pizza is my personal benchmark for how these things should be enjoyed.

Quality ingredients, simple methods, and a great oven. Done.

(And Sorry Deep Dishers, but I just can’t get down with that. I lived in Chicago for several years, I get it).

For the past decade or so,  I have welcomed the pizza renaissance in the US with open arms. There’s amazing pizza to be had from the East Coast to the West Coast, and even if LA was just a little bit behind the curve, the horizon sure looks good from here. And yet, no matter how I tried, I just couldn’t replicate my favorite pizzas at home. Sure they were good, and sure I’ve experimented with 20+ dough recipes, but nothing ever came close.

As we began to discuss remodeling our backyard, there was no way I wasn’t going to set aside the space and funds for a dream I’ve had for twenty years: to have my own pizza oven. As I  cooked and traveled, I realized that the only way to make the kind of pizza I wanted would involve a wood burning oven. Case closed, no discussion. But a lifetime of apartment renting doesn’t really allow for that, so when I saw my opportunity I jumped at it.

You might even say I bought a house just to have my own pizza oven. You wouldn’t be far off.

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After lots of research, I realized it was meant to be when I found Los Angeles Ovenworks, a company that specializes in outdoor wood-fired ovens. We discussed sizes, footprint, where it’d live, and a style we wanted before deciding on the oven of our dreams. The oven, handcrafted in Italy, arrived in pieces and sat for what seemed like an eternity, just waiting to be set up and installed.

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I can’t tell you how anxious and antsy I was as I waited for construction issues to pass.

But once they did and permits were pulled, it went up within a day. Consisting of a few pieces, the housing took a bit longer as it had to match the rest of the backyard design. Oh, and once it’s completed, I’ll be sure to share the entire backyard project with you, too. Promise!

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Once it was done, it took about a week of daily small fires to cure it and remove all residual moisture inside. It was fun to start fires, but frustrating knowing I wouldn’t be able to cook just yet. Patience, I told myself.

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AND THEN THAT FIRST TIME?

That absolute first time?

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I can’t even tell you the satisfaction and happiness I experienced that day. From arranging the wood to letting it burn out and moving embers, I realized a dream come true in that moment. The smell of smoke, the sensation of extreme heat, the pizzas that would be made in a matter of minutes, it is all that and more. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done, hands down. And when I find myself with an evening or afternoon free, it’s pizza time. It’s restorative, meditative, relaxing and centering. Heck, it might as well be yoga for me. Except I finish with pizza. You can’t beat that.

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While I’m far from a pizzaiolo, I’ve learned that the secret to a great pizza is heat. Lots of it. And done the correct way. In fact, even my least favorite doughs seem to come out just fine when cooked in a wood-fired oven. It’s that heat, I’m tellin’ ya. It’s amazing.

 

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It takes about 90 minutes to get the oven where it needs to be for pizza, but waiting is a pure pleasure. It’s the only time I slow down and focus. One must always pay attention with fire.

 

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Brcocolini and mozzarella and sauce

 

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Caramelized onions, sage leaves, blue cheese and walnuts

 

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Shaved Brussels sprouts, bacon, egg, about to go back into the oven

 

Of course, it’s a real oven and I’ve had a wonderful time learning to cook other things in it. Not everything has been successful, but I’m making delicious mistakes.

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Shrimp, chorizo, lots of garlic, olive oil, and pimenton in small skillets then fired. OH MY GOD.

 

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Wood fires and smoke were made for roasting whole fish. It’s simple and perfect.

 

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These things were meant to go together.

 

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The new pizza oven even played a staring role in a photoshoot I did at home.

 

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Next to pizza, roasting a chicken is possibly the most amazing thing to do in a wood fired oven. This chicken will become part of the Zuni Chicken & Bread Salad recipe, something we make all the time now that we can. Heaven.

 

Once the rest of the outdoor kitchen is completed I’ll make sure to post more, including recipes for my favorite sauce and dough. In the meantime, if you’re ever in the mood for a pizza party, come over. You don’t have to ask me twice.

The First Pizza of 2014

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Maybe some day soon I’ll write an ode to my backyard pizza oven. It’s a very intense love affair, you know. But in the meantime, here’s the first pizza of 2014: bacon, brussels sprouts, and an egg cracked on top. I can’t think of a better way to start this year off.

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Ringing It In

The images below don’t really apply to anything specifically, they’re just a still life series I did this week and I wanted to share them. Sending you love and well wishes for a fantastically wonderful 2014!

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A Quick NYC Trip

1475995_10152113122139510_946893226_nHappy holidays! We just returned from a week in chilly NYC, and let me just tell you what a fantastic time we had. Packed with food, friends, some work, more food, and even more friends, it was the best way to end the year and see all the pretty Christmas lights all over town.

We were in town for some work, a few meetings, a presentation, a radio show, and to check out the various prop houses and meet a few ceramacists along the way. I think I came back a few pounds heavier, and shopping damage was done. But put a beautiful handmade bowl in front of me and I cannot say no. But more on that later.

Armed with instagram, I took tons of photos. Let’s jump in, shall we?

 

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We arrived just in time to see the sun going down across the skyline from our view at the NoMad Hotel. And yes, you should stay there if visiting New York. It’s absolutely lovely.

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Monday we arrived to Good Light Studios bright and early. I can’t talk about the project we were working on and all the things involved, but I can show you this space. Soft, bright, gorgeous light that was diffused by snow flakes. Mother Nature was looking out for us!

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I ran with prop stylist Nidia Cueva to a few prop houses along the way and snapped some photos. As you might know, we have quite few props ourselves and it’s always great to see other prop houses and their magnificent selections. Our first stop was Good Light Props, and it was as amazing as I imagined.

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Back at the studio, sometimes a floor is a beautiful surface.

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Monday night we headed to Brooklyn to meet up with the delightful Grace Bonney of Design Sponge and her new wife Julia Turshen. That’s right, Grace and Julia are newlyweds and while I’ve know for a bit it has only been recently announced to the world! So much love, so much happiness and meeting Julia was a dream come true for me! We were there to record a radio show with Grace and Julia and my friend Kristina Gill, also in town from Rome. Grace’s show is called After The Jump and you can listen to it here. We talk about food, instagram, and pinterest, it was a blast! Afterwards I inhaled SOME OF THE BEST PIZZA IN MY ENTIRE LIFE at Roberta’s. Oh holy smokes it was delicious.

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Tuesday we woke up to light snow as we headed back to the studio.

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And then there was that view.

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I made a quick Okra Tree.

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On Wednesday I toured a prop house that exists deep down in a New York city basement. And that’s all I can say about it right now. It’s top secret. Sorta. Maybe later. However, I can show you one surface I found that made me weep with joy.

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Some various props on THAT SURFACE.  Yes oh yes.

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We also stopped by Prop Workshop, located on West 25th street. Can I just tell you how I wanted to stay there forever? Between beautiful props and the surface library, you really had to pull me away. Plus we were able to purchase new ceramic pieces from the owner Loren Simons who has started a new line with her daughter Aliza called Henry Street Studio. Beautiful stuff, can’t wait to get it home and start using it in photos!

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Then it was off to Mud Australia in Soho to visit with Shelley Simpson, Mud’s creator. She was in from Sydney and we were so lucky to be able to spend some time with her.  PLEASE don’t even get me started about my Mud collection.

But what did we eat?

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Sometimes there’s nothing better than a lobster roll and a glass of bubbles. Oh, and some Ipswich clams and some oysters and another glass of bubbles.

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Momofuku’s Bo Ssam lived up to its hype in EVERY.SINGLE.WAY.  It was the best way to celebrate the end of a great week and also Adam’s birthday. What a magical evening! Oh, and there were corn cookies (my fave!)

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Our last day was spent walking through the park and heading to ABC Carpet and Home with a quick trip to Shake Shack for a burger. And whatever you do, please don’t ask me to engage in the East Vs West debate of Shake Shack and In-N-Out. I must remain diplomatic about the whole thing. Perhaps one day you can shake the answer out of me.

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This spice display at ABC Carpet and Home was exquisite.

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This coffee and tea set is everythang and all that. So shiny.

 

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We also picked up some beautiful ceramics from our new friend, Marité Acosta. A chef, food stylist and potter, everything she does is lovely. And she’s so wonderful. A new lifelong friend, this Marité. We love you.

Dear NYC: Thank you for such a wonderful week. DP, thank you for being you. You make the world a better place.

Links and info for everything above!

Good Light Studio
ABC Carpet and Home
The NoMad Hotel
Henry Street Studio
Ed’s Lobster Bar
Prop Workshop
Mud Australia
Marité Acosta
Nidia Cueva



Have you entered the Chocolate Adventure Contest yet? Hurry!

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Surely you’ve entered, right? I mean, it’s $25,000 Grand Prize for the wining recipe! And you can read all about how to enter the Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker contest as well as this year’s adventure ingredients here. And this year it’s all about bars, which I’m pretty excited about. I’ll be judging the contest again this year and absolutely cannot wait! But remember,  the contest ends January 2, 2014, which is right around the corner. Since we’re all in our kitchens baking and making sweet things this is a perfect time to enter!

Visit chocolateadventurecontest.com for official rules and entry form.  See more about the contest here, too. Hurry! Enter!

 

Williams Sonoma and Gifts With Taste

It’s that time of year, isn’t it? I had a blast selecting some of my favorite gifts from Williams Sonoma, click on over to check them out! And make sure to check out the offerings of others, there are some fantastic things to give and get.

P.S. Are you following their blog, Taste? You really should if you aren’t. It is packed with so many delicious recipes and ideas and it’s so robust. Truly a fantastic place to spend some time!

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Santa Barbara Wine Tasting at Foley Food & Wine Society at Bacara

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A few weeks ago I jumped in the car with my wonderful other half and our best friends Gaby and Thomas and headed to Santa Barbara for a very quick weekend getaway. Or maybe it was a day-and-a-half getaway, which at any rate is easy to do when you live in Los Angeles. We were heading to Bacara Resort & Spa to sip wine, check out the resort, and experience their new Foley Food and Wine Society Tasting Room, located on the property. I’m pretty sure heaven is this: a gorgeous resort, sunshine, a spa, and a world-class tasting room all on property. And did I mention the fantastic food, too? Yep. That’s there, too.

After arriving and toasting with a bottle of sparkling rosé, we walked around Bacara’s 77 acres, taking in classic California coastal views and snapping photos before heading to the newly opened Foley Food and Wine Society Tasting Room. A new concept in wine tasting, the space features wines from Bill Foley’s portfolio which includes Kuleto Estate, Chalk Hill Estate, Sebastiani and Lancaster Estate. It was a fantastic afternoon of great wines with great friends.

We ended our day with a fantastic dinner at Bacara’s Miro restaurant, headed by Chef Johan Denizot. I’m going to be completely honest with you here: sometimes hotel restaurants are, well, hotel restaurants. This is not one of those places. It was one of the most enjoyable meals I’ve had lately, and I’ll go so far as to say the sweetbreads on the menu were the best I’ve had. It was a stellar meal from beginning to end, and I’d hop back in a second to dine there again. Everything was fantastic. This is a destination.

Now it’s photo time!

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These two: my life.  Even with Gaby’s Fashion Blogger What-I-Wore-Today pose.

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A special thanks to Bacara Resort & Spa for hosting us, and to the staff at The Foley Food & Wine Society for such superb service. Please read more about them here. Also, to Jenna Galloway at The Barn Group for being so Jennaful. We adore you.

Secret Message to Jenna: new zealand new zealand new zealand new zealand

Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts and Anchovies

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Historically, there are a few things you will never see me turn down:

1) A glass of champagne.

2) A ripe juicy heirloom tomato during summer.

3) Anchovies or Sardines, In Any Format, Any Time Of The Year, No Matter Where

About number three, yep, it’s true. My lifelong love affair with those salty, powerfully fishy flavors of the sea no doubt originated with my dad, who was happy to keep tins of sardines in the house, and when I think back we kids must’ve been a sight to see, eagerly inhaling sardines in mustard or sardines in olive oil with crackers, toast, or just by themselves. As an adult I was happy to learn that there’s actually a whole world of variety when it comes to anchovies and sardines (two completely separate fish), but it’s a group I’m quick to lump together just because, well, they belong in THAT category. To me, at least.

If they’re on a menu — FRESH — forgettuaboutit. If I’m in Spain, they will be consumed daily. If they’re layered on a pizza (we’re talking anchovies here), I’m in. And my eyes eagerly seek the fine print of menus for the “Our Caesar Is Made With Anchovies, Please Inform Your Server If”, which, of course, I never seem to finish that last sentence.  I am so down.

Then there’s the matter of a few weeks ago when the lovely Melissa Clark professed her fishlove in the NYTimes. And it was her recipe of Anchovy Toast that has been a regular dinner for me lately. Thank you, Melissa!

Anyway, stay with me here. I promise I’ll make a point.

Book-CoverWhen my friends at Food & Wine sent me a copy of Best New Chefs All-Star Cookbook I knew I’d hit the jackpot with amazing recipes. The only problem was, well, where do I start? A random flipping through the pages took me to Nancy Silverton’s Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts and Anchovies and my mind was instantly made up for me. I’ve given kale a slight ribbing lately (see my quick story about it over at Food & Wine), but this time around I was earnest, eager and ready. Why? Because of those fantastic alici,  the vinegary pickly white anchovies that rock my world a few times over. Slightly milder and fresher in flavor than the salt-packed variety, they always lend a sweet, tangy taste to dishes and salads. And this is a full-flavored salad that boldly satisfies. And because it’s Nancy. Who doesn’t love her?

Oh, and about the book? It’s a treasure. It’s filled with 25 years’ worth of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs, highlighting recipes from each year. I went for 1990, and I’m pretty sure you’ll love this and the book, too.

Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts and Anchovies

1/4 cup pine nuts

1 small shallot, minced

Finely grated zest from 1 lemon

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon Champagne or white wine vinegar

1 garlic clove, grated

Pinch of crushed red pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 ounces ricotta salata cheese, coarsely grated (3/4 cup)

Kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 bunch kale, preferably Tuscan (6 ounces)—stemmed, leaves torn into bite-size pieces (8 cups)

8 marinated alici (white anchovies), drained

 

1. In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderately low heat, stirring them frequently, until lightly golden, about 10 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl.

2. In a medium bowl, combine the shallot, lemon zest, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic and crushed red pepper. Whisk in the olive oil until combined. Stir in 1/2 cup of the ricotta salata and season with salt and pepper.

3. In a large bowl, toss the kale with half of the vinaigrette; add more vinaigrette if desired. Transfer half of the kale to a serving platter and scatter with 2 tablespoons of the remaining ricotta salata. Top with 4 anchovies and half of the toasted pine nuts. Repeat with the remaining kale, ricotta salata, anchovies and pine nuts and serve.

Recipe kindly reprinted from the Food & Wine Best New Chefs All-Star Cookbook. Photo by Matt Armendariz for the blog.

Behind The Scenes Of A Shoot (a/k/a It Takes A Village)

If there’s one topic on this blog that generates the most interest and comments (all of which I am thankful for!) it’s behind the scenes of photo shoots and my day job. Quite often I can’t really instafacetweetpin a darn thing from photoshoots for my clients because, well, it’s their shoot and we all do our best to wait for whatever it is we are shooting to hit the streets first. I actually have several cookbooks in the queue that won’t come out until 2014, and they are some titles I am super duper thrilled about, too! But this shoot? It’s all mine.

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In an effort to add some variety to my portfolio, I self-assigned a party scene at home. The story? Some friends get together for pizza, some wine, some treats, with lots of laughing and maybe some more wine, keeping it all very So-Cal in spirit. Assigning a story for yourself, producing it and paying for it isn’t easy, but as a photographer I find it imperative to keep working and trying new things. So let me take you through the process of a photoshoot!

The Producer

On some of my larger shoots I’ve learned to appreciate the role of a producer. They are the glue that holds the entire shoot together, acting as the keeper of the job. They bring art buyers, art directors, clients, prop stylists, make-up and wardrobe stylists, set designers, caterers, models and talent, photographers, photo assistants, studio folks, digital techs and vendors together, all the while managing the shoot’s location and shot list. An important position, don’t ya think? For this job I turned to my friend and wonderful producer Ellen Herbert of Neat Productions who helped me pull it off. She is a dream, an angel. Literally.

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After an initial casting notice, we narrowed our list down to around 30 to 40 models we’d see at my studio (a huge advantage of living in LA is that there’s SO! MUCH! TALENT!) Casting is a blast, as you get to see the models in person and see how you vibe with each other. Since I was shooting this at my house, it was important that we got along. And get along we did! Such great smiles and talent.
The Stylists

Now that I had my selection of models I wanted to work this, they also needed to be styled. Since I had a very specific idea of how I wanted people to look, Ellen put me in touch with stylist Elwira Miezal. There were emails, phone calls, pre-production sessions and lots of images sent over with ideas of how I wanted the models to look. Of course, when you work with professionals you give them space to do their jobs and perform their magic, and Elwira had everyone looking amazing from head to toe. Plus she’s gorgeous and stylish, which always helps :)  My driveway became the wardrobe closet as tons of beautiful fall items appeared. Oh how I wanted to go shopping so badly!

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And how to keep the models looking gorgeous and fresh as I MADE them eat pizza and drink wine? With make-up artist Aunny De La Rosa, of course! Can I just tell you how much I love this woman? LOVE.  LOVE.

As the models arrived and got dressed, we started with food beauty shots that would eventually become food props for the models. Of course when it came time for them to eat and drink we gave everyone fresh pizzas, and I managed to sneak in a few bites as well. But it was a race against time, as I only had 2 solid good hours of sunlight to get it all done.

So how about some photos?

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Our kitchen became the prep space for the food stylists. There’s really nothing happening in this photo, but I’m running it because a) Alexis looks gorgeous and b) I know it will irritate her to include it. SCORE!

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Adam, Food Stylist Extraordinaire, became the impromptu pizzaiolo.  But I must say that ever since we installed a wood-burning pizza oven in the backyard we really are practicing our pizza chops, ya know. And you already know how crazy I am about making pizzas, right? Also, Alexis you better not be Grindring in those photos.

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We kept the styling to a minimum. After all, backyard pizza party shouldn’t be overly fussy, right? Here I am contemplating the shot while trying not to fall over.

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My assistant Crystal checks out some shots while I try to peak over. Also, when I stand on apple boxes I’m almost as tall as a normal man.

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Speaking of tall, here I am on a ladder trying to get an overhead-ish table shot. I’m also apparently really confused about something. I have no idea what it was.

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Part of the story I created involved the hosts getting things ready for the partay. Bring on the beautiful people!

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I could have photographed her smile for another 8479273898 hours if I had the time.

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I just let them do their thang while I moved around photographing them.

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Adam made more pizzas…

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…while we review the images on the computer in the midst of very dramatic smoke

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The lovely stylist between scenes

 

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Oh Lord Jesus It’s A Fire!

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Time for another set-up, you can see some of the crew behind the models. For realism I wanted everyone to stay put, after all this was a party! Except for the big computer cart, which has no place at a party.

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Even while working 10 feet in the air I still have time to Instagram. I have priorities, damnit.

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Quick touch-ups before moving to the next shot.

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Speaking of Aunny, what a smile! ALSO:  Stretch-Tite has a way of sneaking itself into photos and you cannot blur it enough! UGH THAT YELLOW!

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More models in different areas, and please, avert your eyes from that bit of sneaky flesh I’m showing if you know what’s good for you and your ocular health.

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Another shot of food for a close up.

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Because I had the models, I also wanted to get quick portraits. I love working with professionals! And there’s that magic smile again!

 

Many thanks to the crew, and big giant hugs and kisses to Ellen! Please visit their links!

Ellen Herbert of Neat Production

Elwira Meizal, Stylist

Aunny De La Rosa, Make Up Stylist

Adam C. Pearson, Food Stylist

Leslie Armendariz of Pixies Petals for the gorgeous flowers

A special thanks to Niko Misafiris for the behind-the-scenes photography!