Nigella Lawson

This is the second time I have worked with Nigella Lawson.  She’s known as a domestic goddess, she’s the queen of home cooking, and she’s the empress of deserts - (the latter is a title I have made up).  She’s known, respected and appeals to the young and the old and the rich and the poor alike.  She is the image of Britain that is adored in the UK and loved abroad.  So, when Nigella turns up at a shoot she knows what to do, and she know’s she’s in charge.  The rest of us fall in line.  If she were to be Prime Minister, then no-one in the UK or abroad would dare to question.  Her titles as ‘queen’ and ‘goddess’ are not titles that are just thrown out there without reason.  They are titles that she’s earned but through hard work, determination and total control.  If a cake was a currency, then it would have a picture of Nigella on it!

Shot for Waitrose Food 

 
 

Adeline Grattard

I arrived in Paris on a hot summers day to photograph Adeline Grattard at her restaurant Yam’Tcha. Adeline is a Michelin Star chef known for her fusion between French and Chinese cuisines. Her restaurant is a fine dining restaurant that has used Chinese ways of cooking and combined them with fresh French ingredients and influences. Her recipes are unique and together with her husband Chi Wah, they also run a tea and dim sum takeaway, just around the corner from Yam’Tcha. One of her signature dishes is “The Story of Our Lives” which is a bao stuffed with stilton cheese.

The fine dining restaurant had the definite air of exclusiveness when you entered the door. But besides the Maitre De, the intense concentration by chefs and waiters, the restaurant also had a section dedicated to tea. On day two of our shoot we had the taster menu at Yam’Tcha. We had a different tea to accompany each course. A great way to appreciate the food and drink, without relying on the different flavours of wine, beer and champagne.

Apart from the amazing fresh ingredients Adeline sources, her cooking uses steaming techniques and fiery woks to bring out that Chinese taste. The restaurant decor combined the exclusive gold tones with dreamy, misty wall decorations.

On this shoot I collaborated with the great people at Cook magazine that accompanies the Italian national newspaper Corriere della Sera.

Shot for Cook - Corriere della Sera

Norbert Niederkofler

A while ago I was contacted by Angela Frenda and Tommaso Galli from Corriere della Sera in Italy. The newspaper was about to start a monthly food magazine, “Cook”. The magazine wanted to give the Italian food magazine market a new and fresh look. Tommaso and Angela’s passion for the food industry left me in no doubt that they were serious about including the best of the best and the magazine would serve as an inspiration for Italian food enthusiasts. And, as far as food enthusiasts are concerned, the Italians have a particular passion for food that you don’t see often in other cultures.

For the first issue of Cook we went to photograph Norbert Niederkofler in the Dolomites. I have worked with many chefs in my time as a photographer. Some have inspired me with their passion and ideas and others have inspired me with impressive locations and settings. If you want to be truly impressed in all areas of the visual and palatable sensory organs then head up to the three Micheline star chef Niederkofler. His restaurant, a part of the Hotel Rosa Alpina in the Dolomites, has views you can kill for as well as food which looks great, tastes delicious, is sustainably sourced and focuses on no waste. What more can you ask for?

When we arrived at the hotel, just over 3 hours drive from Verona we had already lost our breath by the sheer beauty of the curvy roads leading up the mountains. Norbert then ushered us into his car and we continued up to the top of the nearby mountain. Just above the tree line we found ourselves between white/grey rocks and a white/grey sky. Not a bad start after having woken up to a London night sky earlier that morning.

Norbert was generous with his time and knowledge. He spoke of his passion for food but also for the place we found ourselves. A place with so much history as it finds itself on the boarder of three nations and is one of the most connected ski resorts in the whole world, with a ski slope network that is so extensive it reads like a spider’s web on acid.

However, this was not a season for skiing. Mid July was more a month of motorised mountain bicycles (which were everywhere you looked,) and pristine green fields with wildflowers. In every valley you should see Julia Andrews’ lookalikes running down with arms stretched out. My lungs were filled with air so pure it reverted the ageing process and my lungs retreated into infancy stage.

We had the true pleasure of eating at Norbert’s kitchen table. A table looking over the kitchen and the focus, art and craft that it takes to be a 3 Michelin star kitchen. The food was served to us and the inspiration and thought behind every dish was carefully explained to us. The ingredients were all locally sourced and in season. An impressive task considering the inhospitable climates you face in the alps. Even more impressive considering that they have the same ethos all year around. For example, ingredients and flavours created by ingredients such as Olive oil and lemon juices had been replaced with ingredients that could be locally sourced. Nothing was wasted, but many dishes came in two parts. One dish would consist of the more luxurious part of an animal for example, whilst the next dish would be a great tasting dish made of the parts that were not used in the first dish. And so it went on, every dish a joy to the pallet.

The day after we woke up and headed up to a near by mountain top where the hotel owned a cabin. The kitchen staff and Norbert were serving up a mountain picnic. I’m not talking a baguette on a rock with a nice view, but a carefully thought through 5 course meal cooked to perfection, with a view that could make a grown man cry. After the meal we headed down to one of Norbert’s local suppliers who showed us around his organic farm perched on the mountain side.

Admittedly, seeing this in the summer light makes it all seem very idyllic. The snow covered mountains in the winter would also seem like an idyl to the eye. But I have a feeling that the existence that Norbert has chosen, to locally source and be true to the place where he works and lives, demands great discipline and hard work. Many of the dishes served during the summer months cannot be planned far ahead as it all depends on what the local suppliers can provide. And the winter menus need to be considered and prepared in the summer unless they only want to serve wild Groundhogs with snow and icicles on the side.

Shot for Cook - Corriere della Sera

Sat Bains

A two and a bit hours drive up to Nottingham, 5am on a Friday morning, took me back about 20 years to my early days of London where I used to travel up to Nottingham to hang out with my friends at weekends. Back then I had no car and hitchhiked. From sunny evenings where I was picked up instantly and was told all the stories that the driver had obviously never told anyone - knowing full well that they’d never see me again, to people trying to sell me their God and sign me up to their view of the afterlife, to getting stuck in a traffic jam on the M1 with someone high on speed and even having a man in suit in his brand new Mercedes, promising to take me out of his way, provided he could change into some shorts first…. No thank you!

Now, 20 years or so later, I find myself driving up in my own sensible car, heading for a Michelin star restaurant in Nottingham (how times have changed) Sat Bains is the only Michelin star restaurant in Nottingham I am aware of. It lies in the most unlikely place you can imagine; Just off a main road, under some power cables, it is impossible to join the network of cars again after a meal due to blind corners with fast cars wizzing by, next to a tobacco factory that used to smell of apple pies (if you take my assistant Pat’s word for it - also an ex-Nottingham student).

The restaurant itself is a real gem. With its own vegetable garden and chefs opening oysters under the blue skies, it also has a resident rabbit. The idea behind this shoot was not only to photograph Sat Bains in action, his big presence working with his chefs in the kitchen, but we also wanted to show the softer side of Sat. The hard side was the man who goes to the gym every day, goes hunting and looks and acts very much like the alpha male. The softer Sat was the man who loves his soft, fluffy bunny, Junior. (In fact, the only thing you are not allowed to joke about is the bunny, and what it would taste like on a silver platter.)

The telephone conversations prior to the shoot were something to be transcribed in itself. The picture editor from OFM and I discussed how we could photograph Sat with the bunny, with a nod to the kitchen and food, without it looking like Sat was about to cook it.

Sat looking like a bigger, stronger, sleeker version of Jason Statham made it hard to think of a solution to this problem. If he wore chef’s whites then there would be an instant indication to him eating the bunny. Without a chefs jacket we had nothing that said food, and it may as well have been a cover for Pets Are Us. As sometimes happens with these ideas being bounced back and forth is that an idea appears out of the blue. Sometimes it seems like a throw away idea, as it is something you could imagine in a cartoon, but in real life it would be impossible. I mentioned to Michael that if the bunny could wear a chefs outfit too, then it would look like they worked together. (Last time I checked, the chefs outfits for bunnies were all sold out due to high demand from Buggs Bunny’s kitchen), so Michael continued the joke with suggesting ‘chefs hat with ear holes’. ‘Chefs Hat’ - I thought…. It stuck to my brain like a throw away plaster in the swimming hall changing room sticks to your feet.

That evening, just before going to bed, I asked my wife as a joke, (but also as I knew that if it could be made, she could do it); ‘Can you make a chefs hat for a rabbit?’ Without hesitation she asked me to pass her paper, staples and tape. 5 minutes later, there it was. My eyes light up and I knew the shoot was saved.

The rest of the shoot was to show Sat as the hunter, the sportsman, the iron fisted head chef, the alpha male. Well, that was easy. A tractor wheel, shotgun and a kitchen filled with liquid ice smoke should cover that feel.…

Massimo Bottura

There is nothing more inspiring than an enthusiastic Italian. It’s been proved to me time and time again. A true enthusiastic Italian has the ability to project his/her excitement, to involve you, and in the end you will feel as passionate about the subject as they do. Furthermore they have the ability to seem genuinely interested in you and your wellbeing, you walk away feeling that you have made a new true friend.  This is very much the case with Massimo Bottura. A warm and welcoming man with an enormous passion for food, art and life. The passion was reflected in a kind of boisterous behaviour, the kind of behaviour that us in Northern Europe have learned to control as it is of course not cool to show too much emotion and enthusiasm. 

I had the pleasure of spending 3 days around the Modena area with Massimo and the editor of OFM, Allan Jenkins. A little road trip to soak up where his inspirations come from and to get a feel of his childhood district.  

The greatest experience was of course to be able to dine at Massimo’s 3 star Micheline restaurant Osteria Francescana. His legendary dishes ‘5 ages of Parmesan’ and of course the world’s best Tortellini (undisputed) were like having ballerinas dancing on my tongue. But second to that experience was meeting a lady who has been working closely with Massimo since the beginning. An old lady who taught Massimo everything there is to know about traditional Italian cooking and helped keep him on the straight and narrow in those early days.  We had listened to Massimo tell us of her importance in his life for hours before we were eventually brought to her house, a stones throw away from Massimo’s first restaurant. To witness the closeness, playfulness and the warmth between them was enough to give all of us goosebumps, and dare I say a tear in our eyes. A feeling of envy for the Mediterranean way of being where emotions are being worn on the sleeves and a warm hearted tickle is a friendly gesture that’s made between people of any age as a gesture of affection, on display for everyone to see.

The Seven Ages of a Chef

I love it when I get a commission to shoot a set of images that have a specific feel, a portfolio of portraits. So when Kit from the Observer called me about this specific story, to photograph a chef from each decade in the style of the Dutch Masters, then I jumped at the idea. We had it all nailed down, a date and time for each of the 7 chefs, Georgina in her 20’s, James in his 30’s, Anna 40’s, Giorgio 50’sRick 60’s, Albert 70’s and Joyce 80’s. Location houses, props and backdrops all sourced. Some images directly inspired by specific paintings and others more loosely inspired and influenced by the work of the masters. So it was unfortunate that on the day of the shoot with Mr Albert Roux had to call in sick. Never the less, the set of images that I was able to do felt complete and I was happy with the portfolio.

The chefs who did take part are all extremely dedicated to the art of cooking and their presence did make this set of images what they are. Everyone from the young and eager Georgina to the older, experienced and relaxed Joyce were all a true pleasure to work with.