September 22, 2006
Earlier this year, I was offered to contribute to Régal, the most recent addition to the French landscape of cooking magazines (it first came out two summers ago). My mission was to come up with three recipes, each one responding to a different theme: I was to create the recipes, test them, write them up, and take care of the food styling. To say that I was thrilled would be an understatement, given how much I enjoy the magazine. To say that I was nervous would be an understatement, given how much I enjoy the magazine.
The three recipes will be published in three subsequent issues, and the first of them appears in the Octobre/Novembre issue, which came out in France yesterday. The theme for this one was Ma recette de grand-mère ("my grandmotherly recipe") -- not necessarily a family recipe, but something comforting and warm to ease the transition from summer to fall -- and I shared my recipe for carbonades flamandes, a Flemish stew of beef and beer that is sweetened with vergeoise brune (brown beet sugar) and pain d'épice (the French honey spice cake).
The photo shoot took place in my own appartment, and this was fun (you can see my living-room wall on some of the pictures, as well as the table I borrowed from my neighbors), reassuring (I got to use the kitchen equipment I know and trust), and convenient (no need to schlep my gear and supplies all across the city).
A couple of weeks before the shoot, I had a conversation with the art director to determine the mood we wanted to create for each dish, and consequently the kind of props I should be looking for. As you may or may not know, many shops and department stores in Paris will let food stylists borrow items for their shoots, in exchange for credit if the items appear on the pictures. Interestingly enough though, most of the props we ended up using came from my own (admittedly overcrowded) kitchen cabinets.
The day before the shoot was spent shopping and cooking: the idea was to prepare as many elements as possible in advance, leaving the assembly and finishing touches for the next day so everything would look nice and fresh. I did my best not to forget, scorch, or other ruin anything, and was mostly successful.
The day of the shoot went by in a whirlwind, as we styled and photographed the three recipes in turn: for each of them we needed a picture of the finished dish, and three smaller "detail" shots to show particular steps, ingredients, or tips. I was hoping to take a few behind-the-scenes shots myself, but ended up being so absorbed in the task at hand that I took just one. I hesitate to show it to you, so profoundly uninteresting it is, but here it is anyway -- perhaps you will be pleased to meet my radiator.
Everything was shot under natural light, with none of the odd tricks that food stylists sometimes resort to: as is the case for most magazines these days, the pictures in Régal aim for a natural look so things need to look fresh and appetizing, but not overly polished. So while I have no woodglue/hairspray experience to share, I did learn a couple of simple yet handy tips: 1- a pair of flat tweezers is a very convenient tool to have in your food stylist's kit (how else will you rearrange the snipped herbs to catch the light just so?) and 2- white vinegar on a paper towel or a coton swab works wonders to clean the side of a plate when you accidently smudge sauce on it...
[A word of thanks to Laurent from epicurien.be, who was kind enough to advise me on the best beer to use in the stew.]
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