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cookbook reviews with kristina: great food photography

by Grace Bonney

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.

John Kernick. I mentioned him in my very first cookbook column here for his work on Bill Granger’s Feed Me Now!. John also did his fair share of hunger inducing photography at Gourmet.

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

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  • Oooh. The Songs of Sapa will be going on my Amazon wish list. I just finished watching Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations episode on Vietnam and have been trying to figure out how to get over there ever since. This may be my cheapest route. :-)

  • Is the photo of the Valhrona and espresso the cover of a book and if so, could you share the author’s name? Beautiful reviews! I’m putting Songs of Sapa on my Amazon list now.

  • I just LOVE that cook books are becoming these beautiful coffee table books to collect and cherish. So much of what us foodie-types love about these books is the beautiful photography, a glimpse into a lifestyle where all meals are luscious and works of art. These books make me so happy that even when I’m not cooking I love to just pore over the pages.

  • Hi Leigh! At the farm where we get our eggs each week they advise rinsing right before you use and not sooner (the eggs are much “dirtier” than supermarket ones). They say if you rinse sooner, the egg shell will not last very long. I don’t know if it’s true or not. But here (Italy), in the supermarket, they don’t refrigerate eggs either, but everyone refrigerates them when they get home. I don’t know what the right protocol is!

    Maybe another reader who knows for certain can help us out!

  • i love this post, kristina! these books look beautiful. i also always love the photography in nigel stater’s books (jonathan lovekin). also love the work of toby glanville in breakfast, lunch and tea.

  • Beautiful stuff, wish I had a photographer in my house to take photos of the foods I cook! (I’d have a whole album of “pop tart art” by now).

  • Oh, the first picture of chocolate with coffee soooo describes my diet of today…

    I flipped through “Jamie’s America” today in the wine shop and loved every page I saw! I’ll definitely put this book on my Christmas wishlist.

  • Really great post. I agree with a lot of people above me. The chocolate & coffee image strikes a chord w/me. If I could stay healthy, I would live on coffee and chocolate. Looks like I need to check out G. Ramsay’s CB. ~Thanks.

  • I love the books by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford. The first one I bought was Hot, Sour, Salty Sweet: A Culinary Journey Through South East Asia. It is a feast for the eyes (and stomach if you actually make the stuff). I also recently got their Chinese cookbook, Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China. Highly recommend both and I’m sure their other books are equally beautiful.

  • Oh my…chocolate and coffee cook book? A must have! I’ll be putting up a tutorial on a really pretty recipe card holder on my blog…sadly it’ll have to wait until after xmas as it is a gift. I’m a cooking fiend and just love finding new recipes!

  • Penny de Los Santos — I just found a new favorite photographer! Her photos mixing travel & food are so thoughtful.

  • Something else I thought was great about FISH is that that little picture on the front is in relief! How cool is that? You can’t tell by looking at it. It was a pleasant surprise to feel the cover of the book!

  • Where is any mention of sustainability when it comes to the Fish cookbook? You don’t address it at all? Does the author? How could something so important be overlooked? What fish does he advocate using? Does he speak to overfishing or fishing gear?

  • @FishFriend We focused on the food photography in the books this week, so I wouldn’t say that we overlooked sustainable fishing practices.

    I am sure if you google Mitch Tonks, you will see he is an ardent advocate of sustainability, starting with his own businesses.

    I bet you would enjoy the illustrations and information about the different species of fish in his book. It really is comprehensive and well written.

  • I am disappointed in your review of Gordon Ramsay’s cookbook featured here. I own the book, and though the recipes are good – I was particularly annoyed by all the photography of Gordon Ramsay himself. It’s supposed to be a cookbook – not a Gordon Ramsay picture album. I’m a UK reader, so maybe the cookbook released in the US had fewer photos of just him.

  • Hi April!

    I wish there were more cookbooks with such a high percentage of amazing food photographs in them!

    You are right– There are a lot of pictures of Gordon Ramsay in the book, 19 – including the inner and outer covers and those in which he is with other people – out of a total of 119 (so 15% of the images have Mr. Ramsay in them). I gladly accept those images given that *all* of the remaining 100 images (and even those of Ramsay himself) are impeccably shot by Ditte.

    In my humble opinion of course!

  • What a wonderful post. As a editorial art director who focuses on food, I love food porn as much (if not more) than the next girl.

    I adore the work of David Loftus and John Kernick, but Romulo Yanes has a special place in my heart, and it’s nice to see his talents appreciated.

    One thing though: the link above doesn’t seem to work. It’s not an exhaustive archive of his work, but to see more visit:

  • I stumbled upon this blog and absolutely loved this post! I love cookbooks, I am more of a flicker than a cook. But I must admit that the standard for cookbooks continues to grow everyday, like mentioned before they are becoming beautiful coffee table books. Thank you for sharing.