Inside the Book Shoot

It’s easy to have visions of how a book shoot is going to go. They usually involve delicious food being calmly prepared, quickly shot in natural light on artisan platters- and then it closes when everybody sits down in a spirit of camaraderie and eats a banquet lunch together.

There was so much that was sterling about the eight days which helped capture 60-something images for the new book. I was blessed to be working with Chris Chen. I’d been told she was fantastic- and that was more than true. In her cool and calm studio there’s a commercial kitchen attached and there’s plenty of room  (necessary when you have things like this in tow).

The core group was Chris, stylist Kirsty Cassidy and heading up the kitchen was Nick Banbury.  I was there to work in the kitchen, weigh in on shots- and on one slightly awkward morning, I had to turn up wearing a silk dress instead of wipe on/wipe off cotton and have some portraits taken.  And lastly I needed to wrangle and feed a  12 week old baby Will- who quickly became our mascot.

It was an amazing window in time. Those weeks were physically the hardest work I’ve done in a very long time. Preparing food (sometimes multiple times- to make sure you keep the duck appropriately pink etc) for up to nine shots a day in time with when the stylist and photographer are ready is a delicate dance.

We may not have sat down to a banquet lunch (instead eating reheated food, often while standing)- but we did celebrate. My birthday was marked with flowers and an Elizabeth David chocolate and almond cake (how Nick had the time to whip that into the oven as well as the other dishes on that day, I have no idea).

And at the very end, we may have cracked a bottle of this.

Here are some things I learned:

1) The mood board is king. Devised by the art director, it was posted on the wall to remind us of the tones, style and atmosphere that the book was aiming for.  Will found it particularly meditative to stare up at.

2) There is such an art and eye required for sourcing props- particularly those that haven’t been rented from a central warehouse and find their way into every second food shot in every third magazine or book. Kirsty has a rare talent for this- we were flanked by tables of ceramics to swoon over, carefully loaned and hired out to the shoot (we may have done some window-Christmas shopping while we were there).  Nb,  because they’re so beautiful (and often have price tags to match)- it makes for some very cautious washing up.

3) Never underestimate the amount of cleaning and drying involved. You’re juggling multiple dishes- often with multiple components. There are going to be some pots and pans that need to be scrubbed. Best way to make nice on a food shoot is offer to pitch in.

4) Ginger makes a lame toy for hot and bothered baby hanging in the kitchen.

5) When your big sister turns up to take cuddle and entertain your son for a while so you can make a Salzburger Nockerl- it’s terrific.

6) When sourcing ingredients- it pays to over cater. You may, perhaps forget to set the timer and let the first batch of white bean gnocchi dry out in the oven. When that happens, you want to have the basics on hand to quickly whip up another batch so the schedule doesn’t fall too far behind.

7) Organisation in a packed kitchen is key.  Asian herbs go in one bag in the fridge and European herbs go in another. Soft fruits in one section and hard somewhere else. Spices in ziplock bags and dry goods for baking all in one box. It also doesn’t take long to realise the  importance of having a ready supply of plastic take away boxes on hand. There will be food- lots of it produced throughout the day. You’re going to need it out of the roasting tray and safely packed somewhere. Take away boxes it is. And at the end of the day they get placed on the bench; and you negotiate who gets what for dinner.

8) From a serious side, as much recipe testing as you’ve done before- each day on the shoot  still feels like an exam- you cross fingers and hope that it’s all going to work out at crunch time . Something that’s made more complicated by cooking dishes in vastly different vessels to what you’ve tested them in – and in our case, it’s something that’s particularly challenging when faced with a floundering oven for a day and a half.

And like exams, there’s really no feeling like when it’s all over. I’m just hoping that everyone else loves the shots as much as I do.

{ 1 Comment }
  1. Hi Tori, thank you for allowing Kirsty to grant me the opportunity to gain (although brief )some work experience in food styling. I love what you do and am very excited about your book. I will certainly be purchasing the book once it becomes available in Australia . All the best , Take care

    Kind Regards
    Julie Faber

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