This week, I thought I would focus on cookbooks with great food photography, since photography is becoming a bigger part of the food experience these days. There are a few new books out this season which I believe raise the bar in cookbooks. Why? They do not just deliver recipes. They deliver an entire food experience, from the location in which the food is enjoyed, to the environ in which the food is gathered, prepared, and served. [image above from Gordon Ramsey’s ‘Cooking with Friends’, after the jump]
What sets the photography apart in these books? I can tell you what I like, starting first and foremost with the subject, which fills the frame– not a narrow depth of field (where one particular element closest to the camera is in sharp focus and the rest of the image is quite out of focus). I also like images which go beyond the ordinary or the expected. If the idea is to portray the ‘wholesome’ aspect of fresh eggs, instead of a basket of eggs with chicken feathers on them, an image that shows a picture of a grandfather and his grandchild rinsing off eggs before using them to make a birthday cake makes a greater impression on me. Finally, I like to feel like I am there in the scene– so images where the photographer has gotten into the action and shoots from a ‘participatory’ point of view makes a much greater impact.
CLICK HERE for the full cookbook reviews (and a list of great food photographers to check out!) after the jump!
The Songs of Sapa by Luke Nguyen of the Red Lantern restaurant (Murdoch Books), photography by Suzanna Boyd and Alan Benson. This book is Sydney-based Luke Nguyen’s second book about Vietnam, his home country. It is a beautiful culinary and personal adventure from the north of Vietnam, in Sapa, to the south of Vietnam. Nguyen collected regional and family recipes during his journey, and has presented over 100 of them in this book. Suzanna Boyd, Nguyen’s partner, and Alan Benson have produced such powerful images of the food and the people that I decided right away already at the opening of the first chapter that I will take a trip to Vietnam in the next couple of years. I have not had a chance to cook from the book yet, but am seriously contemplating just eating the pages of the book, they look that good. When you add the engaging narrative to the aesthetic qualities of the book, this is seriously one of the best books I’ve seen all year. If you notice other books for which Alan Benson is the photographer, stop and take note. He’s great.
Fish by Mitch Tonks, photography by Chris Terry. I admit that I have become a big fan of Chris Terry‘s photography since seeing some of his work in Jamie Magazine earlier this year, so “Photography by Chris Terry” drew me to this book. The scope of Fish is not as rich as the Songs of Sapa in terms of geographic and cultural exploration. But Tonks covers fish as thoroughly as Nguyen covers Vietnam, and the accompanying photography and illustrations never let you forget that the ‘Fish is the protagonist’. Images of the catch on the pier, whole fish, and the fishing village are all perfect to give the sense of the life that Tonks leads in Dartmouth, and his familiarity with fish from the catch to the plate. The prepared food is presented through crisp images which are styled without any distracting accessories. This is a comprehensive book about fish from A-Z: each entry contains a photo, tips for selecting the best specimen at the fishmonger, tips for preparing, and the name of the fish in different languages. (Very useful for me as I am kind of split between Italian and English in my fish nomenclature and this helped fill the gaps!!) It’s one of the most useful books I own, and it really does stand out from the crowd of books on this subject, and in general as a well written and well produced reference book that doubles as a cookbook. (or vice versa?)
Cooking with Friends by Gordon Ramsay, photography by Ditte Isager. We’ve seen Ditte’s work on the In the Kitchen With column, and I have made reference to this book before. I will write about it again. It’s amazing. Ditte has her own style, her own unique photographic signature. It’s hard to point to a single image in this book that stands out because they are all amazing. I’ve had this book for a year and haven’t cooked from it because I always look at the pictures and don’t want to get it dirty!
I’ve limited my main list to three books not because there aren’t others, but because I’d like to mention a few photographers whose work is really amazing, and whose portfolios are worth looking at if you like seeing nice food images. These names are in no particular order, except for the first photographer, Romulo Yanes. If you have an image from Gourmet Magazine burned in your brain, chances are, Romulo took it. That cover with the hamburgers topped with slaw? Romulo. That overhead shot of the pizza with the slice missing? Romulo. If you felt hungry just looking at Gourmet, it was probably thanks to Romulo. This isn’t a tribute to Gourmet, it’s a tribute to one of the best food photographers out there! Romulo!
Another fantastic photographer is David Loftus, who seems to have cornered the market on Jamie Oliver’s books, most of his magazine photography, everything Jamie Oliver. David Loftus’ photography is the reason I subscribed to Jamie Magazine, the reason I regularly flip through Jamie at Home, and the reason I loved Jamie’s America.
Penny de Los Santos. Penny takes a wider view of food– the people view, the cultural view. Penny is the photography who draws you into the scene and makes you feel as though you’ve actually sat at the table with the people she photographs.
Matt Armendariz. Matt has the color and light thing going on like few others out there, and he doesn’t miss a beat. It should be no surprise to those of you who follow the ITKW column that the recipes that Matt has shot have been your favorite!
There are many many many many other photographers who are also fantastic, so please do not consider this my definitive list. They are just the ones whose work I look for when I need a visual pick me up or some ideas on photography. It wouldn’t be telling the whole story though if I didn’t mention briefly that without a great stylist, photographers would have a LOT harder time making all of these fantastic food shots. We can look at books with great food styling another Friday…
Which photographers do you like? Which cookbooks have you bought just for the images? -Kristina