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Archive for the ‘Food Events’ Category

It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words but when it comes to food I’d much rather describe the experience in words. Food photography is an incredibly difficult field. I’ve tried and I’ve always failed to convey the flavour and appetite I’ve felt when presented with a plate of something delicious. I mean, how do you photograph taste?

I’ve worked with some professionals who manage to do just that: photographers who make me want to eat the images they create. I’ve always wondered how they do it, so when food photographer Murray Lloyd and food writer Ruth Pretty offered a food photography workshop as part of Wellington on a Plate, I was one of the first to sign up.

Food photography workshop with Murray Lloyd (right).

Ruth and Murray have collaborated on five cookbooks over the past few years and created hundreds of photographs. Each one takes several hours to produce, beginning with a brainstorming session to define the sort of look they want to achieve. The workshop took us through the process from concept to shoot. We learnt how each dish is styled, what props are used, how it’s lit and how it’s composed in the frame. Murray prefers to work with natural light and the only trickery Ruth uses is a paintbrush and a little oil to make the food glow.

Chicken and Cranberry Pies

Our first assignment was pastry. We had half an hour to style and photograph a group of small pies using a choice of plates, fabrics, cutlery and coloured card backdrops. We had to consider light, composition, texture, colour etc. It was quite a lot to think about. We were also advised that an uneven number of pies would look best on the plate, which meant I had to eat one of mine. It was really nice: chicken and cranberry. Anyway, after much rearranging of props I managed to get everything in frame. This is my picture of Ruth’s chicken pies.

Notice how I have used an S shaped composition and also repeated the circular forms of the pies in my choice of material. I was rather pleased with my effort but the pies still look flat  and lifeless – I blame the natural light, which naturally hid behind a cloud just as I was ready to shoot.

Next up was poached salmon with pesto and micro greens. The dishes were plated by Ruth’s sous chef Kirk and they were supposed to be photographed as if in a restaurant, which was good practice for me because this is the sort of situation where I do sometimes have to get a shot that’s fit for publication.

 

I’m not sure that my salmon photo cuts it but I did like the artful positioning of the fork in my salad closeup (below).

The main course was slow braised pork shoulder with apricots, prunes, lima beans and cavalo nero. It tasted fabulous but it was really tricky to photograph on account of the cavalo nero which looked limp, wet and much too black.

Braised Pork Shoulder

Interestingly, Murray picked this shot out, kindly illustrating the clever way in which I had positioned the orange chair in the background to echo the orange of the carrot on the plate. I could see how this did make the colours “sing” but I hadn’t planned it that way. And therein lies the difference: a real food photographer would have left nothing to chance; my success was entirely accidental.

And unlike a professional shoot, where you really don’t want to eat the food that’s been fiddled with for hours, we polished off the lot. In fact, it all looked so good that by lunchtime my creativity lost the battle with my appetite; after a cursory effort I swapped my camera for knife, fork and napkin.

So what did I learn? If in doubt, zoom in close; and if the food looks lifeless, toss in a few flowers. But seriously, I have a new appreciation of  just how much work goes into making food look so good on the page. A slide show of some of the photographs from Ruth’s new book – one or two of which were the same dishes we’d struggled to compose earlier in the day – served to illustrate the point: we really do eat with our eyes. Here’s a sneak preview of the front cover. Ruth Pretty Cooks at Home is due out in October, RRP $65, published by Penguin. Photos by Murray Lloyd.

 

 

 

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I’m a sucker for lemons. Lemon sorbet, lemons with gin, lemon juice on fresh snapper, lemon roasted chicken, lemon mayonnaise, lemon syrup cake. You get my drift. Lemons go with just about everything; they are an essentlal ingredient. I once got stranded on a North Island beach with no money and no transport. My friend and I had a tent and a bag of lemons. For two days we ate tuatuas: mostly raw. The lemons made all the difference.

My friend Mary Biggs is of the same mind. She’s a great cook (Cordon Bleu trained) and she loves lemons so much she’s created an entire range of products around that one essential ingredient. Her brand Lavender’s Green includes lemon cordials, lemon jelly, preserves pickles, mustard, chutneys and curds. My favourite is the roasted lemon chutney. I’ve recently written it into a recipe for Moroccan lamb sliders – my little burgers would be nothing without it.

I’ve just eaten that same chutney with Mark Limacher’s potted rabbit. It was part of a five-course Wellington on a Plate lunch in which Mary’s products added depth or zing to every dish on the menu at the Ortega Fish Shack.

Roast Duck and Smoked Warehou Salad

A beetroot and feta combination was spiked with a lively lemon pickle and the lemon mustard was a great addition to the salsa that accompanied the beef. My favourite course combined duck and softly smoked warehou on a crunchy juliened salad with tamarind and preserved lemon dressing.

We finished with lemon tarts that were good because they were simple – just fresh lemon curd spooned into individual pastry cases. Unfortunately they were accompanied by the only thing I really don’t like – liquorice. It looked great – whipped into ice cream and served with mini allsorts – but taste is such a personal thing. I’ve tried but I can’t do it. I know I’ll never learn to like liquorice, not even when it’s partnered with lemons.

 

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I’m a sucker for a new gadget. My kitchen is stuffed full of ‘must-have’ equipment that’s used with great enthusiasm until the next thing comes along. It’s been years since I used my coconut scraper-outer and it took me a while to figure out what the metal thingy was that I found in the back of a drawer recently. It was a croissant cutter. I never used it. It was given to me by a friend who shares my weakness. She’s also given me an asparagus cooker, which was much more useful; and a pair of pink onion goggles, which just made me look silly.

Chef Chris Martinez at La Boca Loca

Yesterday, I fell for a new one. The nice people at La Boca Loca invited me to a cooking demo to celebrate the first birthday of their Wellington restaurant. La Boca is the best little Mexican in the coolest little capital in the world. The food is great, the atmosphere is fun and it serves the best range of top-flight tequila I’ve ever come across. The tequila may have had something to do with my latest ‘must-have’ enthusiasm, but I also blame chefs Chris Martinez and Will Mitchell for inviting me into their kitchen and showing me how they make up to 300 tortillas a night with a gorgeous cast iron tortilla press. It’s an amazing device. You roll out a golf-sized ball of masa dough, pop it on the bottom plate, pull the top plate over and press down. Voila! A perfect 3mm thin tortilla ready for the pan. It’s a rugged looking machine; the sort of gadget that must have been in use for generations. I imagine every Mexican kitchen has one. As I watched Chris make tortilla after tortilla, I started fantasising about making my own. I could take a press down to our boat shed in the Marlborough Sounds, buy a sack of masa flour and get in a load of tequilla. By the time Chris had finished pressing his tortillas, I was having a party to which everyone in our bay was invited. I had passed the point of no return. I had to have one.

Tortilla Press

But where in Wellington would you find a tortilla press? Ontrays, of course. Steven Shekter’s shop has everything. Last time I was there, I nearly bought a strange looking vessel that you use for brewing mate tea. Steven kindly talked me out of it and suggested I try the tea first. Anyway, Steven and I have been tweeting and he’s put aside a tortilla press with my name on it. I’m planning to pick it up tomorrow and introduce it into my kitchen where I can confidently predict it will replace the pasta machine on my bench top. Until the next thing comes along.

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I watched France take on New Zealand the other day – not on a muddy field but in the elegant surroundings of the French ambassador’s residence in Wellington. Still smarting from the Eden Park loss a few days before, the French pulled out all the stops in the kitchen, pitching Le Cordon Bleu chef Philippe Clergue against our own Martin Bosley.

With a team of helpers in the kitchen the two chefs each prepared five amuse-bouche sized tastes based on New Zealand ingredients. In a nice twist, each one was matched with a wine from the rival country, chosen by Chris Archer of Archer McRae and Alastair Morris of Regional Wines and Spirits.

Le Cordon Bleu event at the French Residency, Thorndon.

The match started with a Dumangin champagne and a Palliser Estate methode traditionelle, the bubbles replacing the rugby match anthems. Similarly, there was no intimidating haka but chef Clergue did manage to gain an early psychological advantage with the impressive height of his hat. Bosley admitted to being completely outclassed on that score.

Chef Martin Bosley

Chef Philippe Clergue

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As to the food. The French kicked off by showing us exactly what to do with our greenshell mussels. Clergue presented a crunchy croquette, or ‘cromesquis’, with a velvety sauce that hinted of crustacean. It was matched with a Cambridge Road Arohanui Rose 2009. Bosley retaliated with snapper on cauliflower puree with asparagus and almond caramel, his try was trickier but not as succesful. The wine was a new one on me, a 2009 Picpoul de Pinet from the Languedoc, a lovely match with the fish.

The second round was salmon. Bosley’s was a mini version of his famous cedar planked salmon, served with a chive citrus emulsion and a sprinkling of wasabi flying fish caviar. Texturally brilliant and quite different to Clergue’s rendition. The Frenchman served his salmon raw. It was thinly sliced, silky textured, and it was wrapped around a delicious oyster tartare. Both were superb.

Clergue's Salmon

Bosley's Salmon

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lamb was next. Clergue partered his saddle of lamb with sweetbreads and fondant potatoes. Chef Bosley presented confit lamb loin, topped with fennel pollen and a Jerusalem artichoke crisp. It won my vote for dish of the match. And I’d love to know how he got hold of the pollen – did he shake it off the flowers himself or has he trained a few bees to do the job for him? Either way, you have to admire his commitment.

The beef fillet was too close to call. Bosley’s was a riff on steak béarnaise, topped with a gaufrette potato crisp.  Clergue  partnered his with chestnuts and a hint of juniper in a spiced wine sauce.

Bosley's beef fillet

Clergue's beef fillet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Dry River Gewurtztraminer was possibly my wine of the night (I gave it 2 ticks so it must have been good) It matched Clergue’s orange crème brulée, which for classic simplicity beat Bosley’s more intriguing dessert – a combination of orange and pickled radish dressed with honey and yoghurt.

Overall winner? Our hosts were too diplomatic to hold a formal vote but I reckon France won by a whisker. Let’s hope they don’t do the same on the field.

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