The story behind the bite: An interview with food and lifestyle photographer Huge Galdones

Part of what I love about the food world are the stories the exist behind each bite. It’s something I’m not alone in loving either. While I try to express those stories via the written word, Huge Galdones (hitherto referred to as “THE Man”) expresses those stories via photography. To put it plainly, he produces some of the best food porn you’ll ever see.

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Part of what I love about the food world are the stories the exist behind each bite. It’s something I’m not alone in loving either. While I try to express those stories via the written word, Huge Galdones (hitherto referred to as “THE Man”) expresses those stories via photography. To put it plainly, he produces some of the best food porn you’ll ever see.

I had the chance to check in with THE Man and learn more about his love of food and photography, how he got involved in the food community (going to need to talk to him more about working the line at Joe Beef!), and his favorite food memories, both personal and work related.

Huge Galdones
Huge Galdones – Photo by Eric Kleinberg

Foodie Journal: Making a conscious decision to do a lot of photography of food, and the culinary world in general, would imply that you love food. Have you always been in to food?

Huge Galdones: I’ve always had a crush on food as I’ve never a picky eater, though If I was, I’d definitely be skinnier! I blame my obsession on three things: (1) PBS (Julia Child, Martin Yan, Jacques Pepin); (2) friends in the industry and (3) friends equally obsessed with eating out and cooking for others.

FJ: How did you come about choosing photography as a profession? When did food enter the picture? It’s an awful pun, I know… but it just fits too well to not use it.

HG: I basically turned my passion into my profession, letting everything fall into place. All through undergrad and grad school (and no, I wasn’t a major in Fine Arts, Journalism or Photography), I was finding any excuse to shoot— from the school newspaper, fashion shows, street festivals to eventually interning with the Montreal Canadiens, I learnt the craft shooting sports and events.

That being said, it was when I worked the line at Joe Beef (Montreal) and their sister restaurants that I connected my two passions. I don’t know how I got away with it but I would be peeling asparagus one minute then taking pictures of my mise en place the next. Working with that crew made me not only fall in love with photographing sexy food but capturing the untold stories of the back-of-house.

When I started noticing several opportunities made my business more sustainable like shooting for Cochon555 for instance, I decided to leave my day job and focus on building my portfolio and brand. As a Canadian operating out of Chicago, and all over the US, really, many have said that I’m living the ‘American Dream.’

FJ: How has the work you’ve done changed your perspective on food and cooking in general?

HG: My perspective really changed when I started working the line rather than shooting the line. Showcasing what goes into a finished dish— from the farmers, the purveyors and the cooks— is what motivates me to do what I do. It’s the story behind the bite that I find most compelling and I hope that my work highlights that just as much as the final product.

FJ: So everyone and their brother tries to take pictures of their food, more often than not in dimly lit restaurants while using the flash of their smartphones. Can you talk just a little bit, maybe from a high level, what goes in to making food photography seem so effortless?

HG: ‘Seem’ being the operative word. A lot of elements contribute to a successful photo shoot and effortless is the last thing that comes to mind. It likely sounds cliched but tons of practice and trusting your eye and gut has to take the cake.

FJ: Could you offer up a tip for people wanting to taking better pictures of their food, be it at home or in restaurants?

HG: When I shoot with my iPhone, I focus on two things: sharpness (no one likes a blurry picture) and composition (something as simple as the Rule of Thirds helps immensely!).

FJ: Having the opportunity to be so involved in the food world, and having as much exposure as you’ve had, I’m sure you’ve had some really cool experiences, and by extension, memories. So rather than just ask you for an individual food memory that is a favorite of yours, I’m going to ask you for two! Do you have a personal food memory that really stands out for you? How about a professional food memory? One related specifically to the work you’ve done.

HG: I have so many food memories that still resonate to this day. It’s really hard to pick just one but the first one that comes to mind was my bachelor party in NYC. Ten of us set ourselves up at Momofuku Ssam Bar (well before it was as bigtime as it is now) and proceeded to get killed, course after course after course, by the kitchen staff. Everything was on point and, given the special context, is still one of the most memorable meals that I’ve ever experienced.

Professionally, I still pinch myself every time I attend (or shoot, rather) the FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. There’s nothing like surrounding yourself with people that you admire and look up to. Like a cook in the heat of service, being in the the thick of it all reminds me how much I love my job!

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Huge Galdones is the awesomeness behind Galdones Photography. Check out his website for more information.

Instagramitazation… Yes. I am one of THOSE people.

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

While the phrase itself appears to have been coined in the late 1800’s, the idea behind it is a much older one. Put in to simple terms, beauty is subjective. What I find beautiful isn’t necessarily what you will find beautiful. That’s just how it is, and I’m fine with it. The only thing I’d really have a problem with is if you didn’t have an opinion at all. What would be the point in sharing, then?

As you’re all well aware, I’m a lover of food. Because of that love, I am one of those people who enjoys photographing food. My hope is that the vast majority of people that read the words that I put to paper (or in reality, to screen) also happen to be those people who enjoy viewing photographs of food. So to that end, I wanted to share my Instragram stream with you.

The Foodie Journal on Instagram
The Foodie Journal on Instagram

If you’re on Instagram, feel free to give me a follow! I’m glad to follow back anyone that is in to creating a little food porn of their own.

My Last Supper – A conversation with photographer Melanie Dunea

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.

Melanie Dunea © My Last Supper and The Next Course by Melanie Dunea/CPi. For additional information visit www.mylastsupper.com

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.

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All photos © My Last Supper and The Next Course by Melanie Dunea / CPi. For additional information visit www.mylastsupper.com

Food photography at it’s finest – Chatting with Heath Robbins

No one would argue that the first of our senses that we think of when it comes to food is taste. That’s a given. But, our other senses play a huge part, including sight. If that weren’t the case, you wouldn’t see such interest in the variety of food and cooking content on television or in print. Before we ever bring fork to mouth, we eat with our eyes. Now, in my opinion, there is no harder medium to make food look appetizing than still photography (I’m certain ANY food blogger will agree!). To make food look appetizing in a photo… It is truly an art.

I had the pleasure to interview one of the nation’s most sought after artists, food and lifestyle photographer Heath Robbins, of Heath Robbins Photography. Heath’s been shooting for nearly 20 years, and his images have been featured in national campaigns for clients including Arby’s, McCain Foods, Dunkin’ Donuts, McDonald’s, French’s, Welch’s, New Balance and Choice Hotels. Images have also graced the pages of numerous cookbooks and magazines. I wanted to find out about the inside workings of his craft, and to get a glimpse in to this photographic foodie’s own food experiences.

Foodie Journal: In a world with so many subjects to photograph, how did you come about the decision to make food and lifestyle photography your specialty?
Heath Robbins:
It was a natural progression of my career development, commercial opportunities and my passions in life. As I started shooting people in lifestyle situations the food just kind of followed and since I’ve always been a “foodie” myself it felt like a great fit.

FJ: What are you looking for when photographing food? What really excites you about it?
HR: I am always looking for that one angle, the direction of light or the focus that will bring out the “flavor.” The key is to highlight that spot in the dish that makes you want to bite into it. Every time I create an image that makes me hungry I know I’ve done my job.

FJ: Many of the shots I’ve seen from your studio seem almost effortless, like someone cooked a meal for friends and snapped a photo before everyone sat down to eat. How much effort and prep are necessary to make food appetizing in photographs?
HR: That’s exactly the point and I’m happy to hear you say that! But, there’s often a studio full of art directors, producers, assistants as well as a food stylist and prop stylist working to help me capture those beautiful and mouth-watering images. The “pre-production” work usually begins weeks in advance as we work with the ad agency in developing the concepts and then working with the prop stylist to source the most appropriate props. Food stylists source the ingredients needed to enhance the food product or those needed to create a dish. Sometimes she will fly fresh grapes in from a grower in California and other times pull fresh fiddleheads right out of her garden.

FJ: Say you’re out for dinner with friends and you’re served a beautiful dish that deserves to be photographed. You have limited gear, maybe just a point-and-shoot or your cell phone. What’s the main thing you would do to get the best possible shot?
HR: The best advice I can give to anyone shooting with limited gear is to always back light, don’t mix different light sources and try to use natural light when you can. If I’m out to dinner with friends and find myself unable to get the right light or composition I just enjoy the food and make it a great memory or inspiration for a future shoot. I find that bad pictures of food don’t tell much of a story and can ruin the memory of a good meal.

FJ: Cutting specifically to the food: Most of us have food experiences or memories that we cherish. Maybe a specific dish mom used to make, or a night out with a loved one that was just unforgettable. What food experience or memory really locked you in to loving food?
HR: Tough question; I’ve had so many! I cherish the memories  of making Chinese food with my family as a kid and then experimenting in my own kitchen as a bachelor in New York City. It would be hard to pinpoint just one since my life revolves around good food with friends and family.

Heath shoots on location and in his 9500 sq ft studio just outside of Boston. The studio boasts 18 floor to ceiling windows, gorgeous daylight, a high-end working kitchen, client conference room and 2 prop rooms among other amenities. Below is just a sampling of a few of the amazing shots he has produced. Seriously? Can you look at the shot of the french fries and NOT want to eat them, like, right now?

How much do you enjoy food photography? Post your comments below. Also, be sure to follow me on Twitter and on Facebook!