“It doesn’t all have to be Thomas Keller, Abi” Wilson said. I was arranging broccolini “just so” before snapping a quick shot. Maybe another. And THEN serving the hungry legion of family gathered ’round the table. Seeing me for exactly what I was… BEING LAME. Well, in all fairness…what I still AM. Which is an oft LAME, Food Nerd.
Here my loved ones are waiting for the vegetable side I had prepared at Mom’s house. To go with their entree that Wilson was holding aloft… “en platter” … if that is such a word. And here I was selfishly zeroing in the focus of my iPhone camera to catch something “just so.” Mouth agape like some bullfrog.
“It doesn’t all have to be Thomas Kellar, Abi.” J*sus, he was SO right. I hear those words in my head from time to time still.
Now, months later, today — we have just returned from camping in Bodega Bay. Smelling like campfires and sweat. On the cool-yet-golden sandy beaches most loved here in Northern California. Hints of dirt and S’mores still under my nails. And I am flipping through pictures taken on our happy overnight at Chanslor Ranch… I find about 15 shots of me lining up dinner-prep “just so.” The light had to be perfect. The steaks marinating happily. Corn steaming in their husks on the grill. Bumbelina in foggy sunlight. And then? The setting Sun broke through and caught my glass of Big Pink Rose “just so!!!!!!” SNAP. That 15th shot was “IT.” Food Nerd JOY!
I had caught that fleeting glimpse of visceral beauty that only we Food Dorks who take pictures of food understand. That snippet of OH MY GOD THIS WILL ALL TASTE SO DELICIOUS. But still comes through as “hey idiot, bring me the steaks and tongs? The grill is ready!” Or as “stop ARRANGING the Broccoli! We’re starving here!” #broccolini
You have to laugh at yourself. I mean, I do. With that sentence running itself through my brain. At the same time, I’m not really anybody global… It’s just me, cooking in my old Farmhouse. Here in the darkened vineyards that blanket Sonoma Valley by night and glow verdant green by day.
But people who use their photos and “food styling” as a source of income or self esteem feel very strongly the opposite. Food styling is the epitome of their gastronomical passions. How they voice their food art in color… Still, sometimes the dark recesses of my brain think these must be the same people who handmake foam on a weekly basis…. Or would that be whip? And I (perhaps naively) differentiate them from say, the earnest bloggers (and foodie photo-takers) such as Asha (Food Fashion Party) or Dennis (Eat Delicious) or Naomi (Farm to Table Feasts) — people I think I’d could comfortably share at least a bottle of great Annadel wine and talk of family and s’mores and oh, I don’t know, growing tomatoes maybe. People I’ve never met in person ever. But somehow, through film—digital versions thereof — find that shared joy in our daily plates and our sincere passions for shared pursuits. They, and others like them — professional photogs or not — are the people I love to follow and read about. Love to “cook with” by making their version of a dish. After all, there is no new story or new food-dish — aside from say, foam, which I loathe and refuse to make ever — in this great big world of ours.
Because somehow, their photos and words written capture FLAVOR. Earnest efforts at FLAVOR. A “Joie de Vivre” in their own meals. Nothing haughty or pretentious. Just happy. And Delicious. A pursuit well followed.
Not to be catty, but I am SO over the glossy shots of the perfect kumquat. Aren’t you? That superbly styled white bowl on charcoal table. It’s always a charcoal table. Filled impeccably with gleaming cherries or kale. I mean, really? Who’s kitchen looks like that? Not mine. Does yours? Maybe after I move six Leggos, a small pile of mail, and my husband’s cowboy hat, and suck in my two c-sections to seem slim-ish in my Apron. But Why? Aren’t you tired of the overly perfect pictures that go with those yummy recipes? We don’t shop for perfect fruits and vegetables… We shop for Organic foods. Healthy. With dimples, and wrinkles, bits of bruising. Prizing those divots! So why prize food photos showing only the “perfect Thomas Keller effect,” if you will, when really kitchen-cooking is about talking to your kid about homework and sharing a glass of wine with your spouse. About how dinner smells. How it will TASTE. On some nice Serving Ware. (Don’t judge, I went to Finishing School…Twice.)
Nothing against the French Laundry and the banner standards they set waaaayyyy up there, but “it doesn’t all have to be Thomas Keller.” And I, for one, am glad It’s not.
PS — thanks to my Mom for watching my kids while I write this…and start dinner.