Food’s eas­ier to eat than shoot

Sunday Star-Times - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Bring a plate, said the in­vi­ta­tion, so I packed six into my satchel: a sil­ver serv­ing tray, three op shop finds and two chipped Eng­lish china plates from my late grand­mother’s crock­ery col­lec­tion. I also took along a clutch of tar­nished vin­tage cut­lery, an old school friend and my cell­phone charger.

It was a din­ner party with a dif­fer­ence. Last week­end I joined 40 other pay­ing guests at the in­au­gu­ral #foodog­ra­phynz din­ner at the New Zealand School of Food & Wine in Auck­land. A work­shop for wannabe food blog­gers, we were there to eat, drink and mer­rily hash­tag our way through five pho­to­genic cour­ses, from roast lamb on a bed of peeled broad beans to pan­na­cotta with kaf­fir lime syrup, for our so­cial me­dia feeds.

How quaint it is to think that, only a few years ago, it was con­sid­ered rude to pho­to­graph your food in pub­lic. Top New York chefs threw hissy fits and banned cam­era-clutch­ing cus­tomers from their res­tau­rants, while food writ­ers foamed at the mouth about bad man­ners and a lack of din­ing eti­quette.

But a gen­er­a­tion of food blog­gers takes no no­tice as they set up tiny tripods or stand on their chairs to pap their plates. These days, no one bats an eye­lid or an iPhone at the prac­tice.

Eti­quette aside, tak­ing ap­petis­ing pho­tos of food is harder than it looks. As some­one who has never worked in hos­pi­tal­ity and whose gen­eral idea of plat­ing up is to seg­re­gate the pro­tein and home­grown veg­eta­bles with a moun­tain of carbs, it is also, I can at­test, quite stress­ful.

My spare bed­room dou­bles as a some­time pho­to­graphic stu­dio. While recipe test­ing dam­son plum pre­serves re­cently, I styled up a bot­tle of home­made dam­son plum and pep­per­corn sauce com­plete with retro table­cloth, spice jars and a de­lib­er­ately dirty la­dle.

It wasn’t un­til I looked at the pho­to­graphs later that I re­alised a blowfly had com­mit­ted sui­cide in the bot­tle; if you zoom in, you can see its wings stick­ing out of the sauce.

If food styling is an art form, com­pet­i­tive food styling is a blood sport. The #foodog­ra­phynz din­ner was as high stakes as MasterChef, ex­cept we didn’t have to ac­tu­ally cook any­thing, just as­sem­ble the in­gre­di­ents in a suit­ably arty fash­ion.

We had just 40 min­utes to plate up, post a pho­to­graph on­line, pol­ish it off and move on to the next dish.

No sooner had I started on the Asian chicken salad and my time man­age­ment skills proved lack­ing. When the 10-minute bell sounded, I was still dither­ing over how best to scat­ter the mung bean sprouts over my un­tidy nest of soba noo­dles.

Ten­sions ran high. There were mut­ter­ings about some com­peti­tors tak­ing more than their share of the snow­peas, while others hogged the sauce bot­tle.

There were paralysing philo­soph­i­cal de­bates about whether any dish really needs three types of puffed quinoa as a gar­nish, or whether it was symp­to­matic of what Slove­nian so­ci­ol­o­gist Re­nata Salecl la­belled The Tyranny of Choice in a con­sumerist so­ci­ety.

This is what I learned: ❚ It’s eas­ier to pimp food that some­one else has cooked. It’s quite lib­er­at­ing to non­cha­lantly fling in­gre­di­ents at the plate, like Jack­son Pol­lock flick­ing paint at a can­vas, when a be­hind-thescenes team of min­ions has pre­pared ev­ery­thing in ad­vance. ❚ You can never have too much green. Not just be­cause it’s Pan­tone’s 2017 Colour of the Year but be­cause ev­ery­thing from raw fish to roast pump­kin looks tastier with a ca­sual scat­ter­ing of sprouted co­rian­der or mus­tard mi­cro­greens. ❚ Toasted black sesame is crack. (Also, if you eat enough of it, ap­par­ently it stops your hair turn­ing grey.) ❚ Wait un­til af­ter you’ve taken the photo to drown your din­ner in de­li­cious gravy, jus or dress­ing. ❚ Smash it. From crushed meringues and pureed peas to choco­late cake reimag­ined as top­soil, de­mo­li­tion rather than de­con­struc­tion is the or­der of the day. ❚ Only eat out be­fore dusk. Ev­ery­thing looks juicier in nat­u­ral day­light.

Pri­vate chef-for-hire Gemma Miles was judged over­all #foodog­ra­phynz cham­pion with her sassy com­po­si­tion of salmon and trevally sashimi with caviar pearls, sliced daikon, cu­cum­ber rib­bons and wasabi creme fraiche on a slate plate.

Seated across from me was Pam, a 73-year-old flo­ral artist. ‘‘Good­ness,’’ she chuck­led. ‘‘This is a first: a din­ner party where it’s ac­tu­ally po­lite to keep your phone on the ta­ble.’’

Eti­quette aside, tak­ing ap­petis­ing pho­tos of food is harder than it looks.

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