If you love food, you know you’ve had this conversation before. What would you have for your last supper? What would the entire meal be like? Depending on our mood, and maybe even what we’ve eaten recently, the answer may be different from day to day or even from conversation to conversation. But, that doesn’t make the discussion any less stimulating.
Photographer Melanie Dunea took the discussion to the highest level of the culinary world, asking it of the very people that make the dishes that many of us would include at our very own last suppers. She asked the chefs. “My Last Supper” and “My Last Supper: The Next Course” is a veritable who’s who of the universe’s best chefs, all of them sharing what their fantasy of a final supper would involve. If you’re looking for a taste of what the books have to offer, check out Melanie’s website, www.mylastsupper.com. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed with what you find there.
Melanie was kind enough to give me some of her time a few weeks back for an interview. We discussed a bit about her genuine love of food, how the idea for “My Last Supper” came about, and what her very own last supper would be like.
Foodie Journal: So, where did your love for food come from?
Melanie Dunea: Well, certainly not from my mother who used to give me Hungry Man TV dinners and Tab for dinner. [LAUGHS] No, I developed a love for food in my travels, really. I’m really lucky to have a job that lets me travel around the world and taste different things. Being from Chicago and growing up in downtown Chicago, I kind of grew up never really realizing that there were seasons, you know? You could always get tomatoes if you wanted a tomato. You could always get apples whenever you wanted to get apples. But, a lot of my family lives in Australia, so I would go there in the summer, and the food there would just be incredible. The fruit tasted so amazing. Like, a mango actually tasted like a mango rather than just a mealy apple. So I think I really developed my love of food, and trying new things, during my travels.
FJ: How did you originally come up with the idea for “My Last Supper”?
MD: Well, I was photographing chefs for some magazines. Sometimes I’d get the chance to photograph the same chef multiple times. In doing that I started to notice that what they were eating was different from what they were cooking in their restaurants. So, I thought that was interesting and a bit unusual. I thought, “You mean Eric Ripert doesn’t eat fish every day? Oh my God! He eats steak at home? That’s crazy!” So, basically I started to think about giving them an ultimatum. Not really a “death sentence” ultimatum, but a fantasy ultimatum. What’s interesting about it is that it changes so much, you know? What you want for your last supper is constantly morphing as you try new things, or you hear others talk about their last suppers, or as you’re reminded of something from years ago. For a lot of people they base it on a memory, maybe their first meal, or something their mom or grandmother made. We all have the idea of what we’d want our last supper to be. so, I just thought it was interesting to delve in to the minds of these chefs.
FJ: Is there a particular response that maybe caught you by surprise, or that you didn’t expect?
MD: Well I was always a big fan of high-low, you know? So like Jacque Pepin wanted a hot dog. Susur Lee from Canada wanted a grape Fanta. I always found that hilarious, because you do sort of expect the foie gras, or you expect champagne. You expect these decadent things, really. Things we can’t afford every day, or that you wouldn’t want to have every day for health reasons.
I asked everyone the same six questions, and I also have the web series on mylastsupper.com, where I continue to do that. I just think it’s interesting to keep it simple and see how people choose to reveal themselves.
FJ: Do you have anything else planned as far as promoting food, maybe with other books or anything along those lines?
MD: Well, I don’t really look at it that way. I shoot for magazines and get paid for that, so that’s my real job. “My Last Supper” is really my passion, and my interest. It’s really kind of a personal project. So who knows where it will go!
FJ: Well, that makes me wonder as far as photography is concerned, does what you do for “My Last Supper” mean more to you because it is your passion? Or do you approach it the same way?
MD: You know, that’s actually a good question. I’m not really sure. I don’t really think about it like that. For me I just try to do the best I can regardless, and not make any of it about me, or how I feel about things. I really try to just let it be about people revealing themselves through me.
FJ: So how did you get your start in photography?
MD: My grandfather was the political reporter for the Des Moines Register. He would say that everyone should learn to be both a reporter and a photographer, because no one would ever pay a photographer to go out and cover stories. [LAUGHS] Depression era mentality! So I took photography classes in high school. I didn’t have, like, stuffed cameras in my crib or anything like that. [LAUGHS]
FJ: Of the interviews and photographs that you’ve been able to do with chefs, is there one that stands out more than others?
MD: Well, I try not to judge them. Like, one chef said to me, “Oh, I don’t want to eat anything at my last supper.” I wanted to say, “Are you [SALT] kidding me?!” But, you know, it’s not my place to judge them. It’s just my place to put them out there. Some of them, like Paul Bartolotta from Las Vegas, we had to cut something like three pages from his last supper because it was so long and elaborate and would just not fit. I really enjoyed his, though, because he was so in depth and detailed. I really found it moving how Liam Neeson spoke about Natasha Richardson preparing his last supper. I’m always adding everybody’s ideas to my own repertoire! I was just thinking today, it’s kind of sad because I’ll never know when my last supper will be.
FJ: So then I have to raise the question to you then – What would your last supper be? Or at least, what would it be at this very moment?
MD: Well, I just did an interview for a magazine, and at that moment I really thought I gave the perfect answer. It really hasn’t changed. I would be sitting somewhere, at a big long table, outside for sure, and people would just come and go. I would taste all the things I ever liked, and everyone that I ever liked would make an appearance. It would be just this moment of utter indulgence and joy that would go on and on. No hangovers. No consequences. No nothing. … There is one thing that will definitely not be there, though: Lychee.
FJ: So, my final question for you: Is there a particular food memory or experience that you’ve had that really stands out above others?
MD: Not really, because I’m such an enthusiast. There are so many its hard to really choose just one. One of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life, in every sense… Well, let me say first that I’m definitely not a food snob, and I don’t really like the phrase foodie. Not because I think it’s pretentious, but just because I’m just as happy eating a bowl of cereal or Greek yogurt as I am at a restaurant. But, I did have one of the most epic meals of my life at Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastián, Spain. As much as I loved that meal, the people there, and everything about it, I also loved going through the town without a plan and just stopping and having pinchos, wine and beers. Doing the local thing. There are just so many different things that it’s hard to choose just one. Like, you can just basically die after eating at Le Bernardin because everything there is just so amazing. There are just too many to choose from!
Melanie Dunea is the creator & photographer of “My Last Supper“. Check it out to see amazing videos and photographs where chefs & celebrities reveal their food fantasies.
All photos © My Last Supper and The Next Course by Melanie Dunea / CPi. For additional information visit www.mylastsupper.com