I recently had the opportunity to work on an exciting & challenging work project: a culinary Photo shoot showcasing the signature dishes of the 12 restaurants of Heritage Resorts, one of the brands for which I am the Content Creator.
Sure, taking 3 dishes’ shot per restaurant might sound like a pretty straightforward task : the Chef is in charge of the aesthetics of the plate and you rely on the photographer’s skills to capture the dish at its best angle under the best light and bam! You shoot one dish after the other and you’re done.
Except that no. Firstly, my creative self had set as an objective that each restaurant’s personality, ambiance and location should be reflected in each dish’s photo.
Again, that could be a straightforward task but when the dishes come from 12 restaurants splattered across a 2500 hectares estate it is somewhat problematic.
Secondly, chefs catering for guests of two 5-star resorts, dozens of villas, a golf club and beach club do not exactly have a million time slots and space readily available for a culinary shoot.
Also, have I mentioned that I only had one working day to shoot all the dishes?
After selecting Tristan Chaillet as the photographer, I started working on a mood-board for each dish, picking colorful ingredients, statement utensils and other accompanying items to bring texture and Style to the backgrounds. Amongst other props, I chose lemon because its color and shape make it photogenic and bring out a nice contrast to black plates, wooden tables and other dark backgrounds, as are cherry tomatoes and feta cheese.
After browsing for days for food styling inspiration, I eventually got overwhelmed by the overload of gorgeous images I scrolled through on Instagram and pinned on Pinterest and decided I needed help (for this particular shoot, not my life in general, you get me).
I contacted a few food stylists recommended by friends and eventually decided to go With Josepha Desvaux de Marigny ,who despite not being an established food stylist as such, had excellent credentials working with one of the most respected Chefs on the island and whose creative eye and organizational skills were assets I knew I could personally vow for.
I organized the shooting day military style:
First the location: to meet my 24-dishes- in- a-day objective, I had decided to shoot all the 12 restaurants’ dishes in one location, which was at Heritage Awali as it was the entity with the highest number of restaurants on the resort. But there was a catch: every restaurant had to bring onsite its dining decor which were tables, table cloth, vase, cutlery, plates, glasses, lamp and whichever item that added to the feel of the place.
Evidently, this was not achieved without some gnarling, complaining and finally acceptance on the part of food and beverage managers, waiters and chefs.
I had set-up a time table which established at which time each chef had to have their dish ready, to minimize their waiting time spent on the shoot, which I am proud to say worked out admirably.
All 3 of us carpooled to Bel Ombre, which turned this usually long drive into a short, intensive creative brainstorming session, with Josepha and I pulling out colorful food styling photos from our iPads and creative diaries and Tristan providing his professional insights whilst driving carefully.
Despite all the prior-planning, most of good shots from this day were the result of trial-and-error and probably a good mix of creative minds :
I wanted the seafood platter coming the Infinity Blue restaurant with the ocean as a background to convey the feel of the restaurant, but after a million trials in the chosen spot and a few uncertain ones by the pool ‘because it had a nice green-turquoisy’ Colour, Josepha had a “eureka” moment when she saw the chef removing the platter after the shoot which turned out amazing.
We were shooting on the table the Indian restaurant and the three of us sensed that something was not quite fantastic about the background. The restaurant was on that undergoing some electrical works and the maintenance team had removed a wooden board to work on the wires behind it. We took this board, placed it on the ground with all the dishes and props and it matched perfectly.
And because no one knows his restaurant and dishes better than the Chef, Chef Ravi Kanhye the Executive Chef of Heritage Awali regularly came up to us with accessories and other ingredients when he saw us doubting saying gently “maybe give this a try” and of course, the Chef is always right.
Overall it was a creatively and physically strenuous day but it was definitely an invigorating experience shared with passionate and gifted souls and it’s definitely days like this which keep me going.
You can view a sample of the photoshoot here