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Stepping Into the Ring, Round 1: Substance vs. Food Fashion

Posted Jan 01 2010 12:00am



I belong to this website called Tastespotting.com that features absolutely gorgeous, mouth-watering pictures that people have taken of their recipes or things that they're about to eat. Now of course, it's wonderful fun to look at these pictures, & I once even submitted a picture of my own. It was an unceremonious snapshot of a new soup creation, captured while still boiling madly on a gas-lit stove, in all its bubbling, frothy glory, with its steam rising like a volcano about ready to blow.


Of course, it was promptly rejected. (LOL. So what. That's the breaks.) The reason given was that it was deemed an "unappealing photo." In fact, I kind of knew it was going to be rejected even before I posted it, namely because it had been taken in the throes of "cooking passion" & honestly wasn't really caring about the photo quality & composition when I took the photo. Yes, I should've known, but frankly I was more interested in posting the recipe itself versus taking a pretty picture. It seems that I misread the focus of their website; I thought it was a site that featured people's recipe blog links, and was hoping to share my recipe with others there. Apparently, it is a site that cares nothing about actual recipes; they just want gorgeous photos. :) A person could've snapped one of those fake plastic pies sitting in a bakery storefront & they'd probably have been perfectly OK with it. ;)

Yes, food presentation does matter -- I do realize that. However, the funny thing is, had I put a little more effort into perfecting the photo for "public consumption" -- i.e., in order to meet today's picture-perfect, media-savvy standards of photography, I doubt I would have been focusing as much on the recipe creation process itself, which in my book, is more important.

When in the midst of culinary inspiration, I'm usually so consumed with the creation process itself & the final outcome -- i.e., the flavor of the new dish itself, and how tasty & appealing it looks to those who gather 'round the table :) -- that I often forget to take pictures altogether. Or if I do remember, my camera is no where to be found when culinary inspiration strikes. Or I hastily snap photos as an afterthought.

Don't ask me why, but I just don't really think about taking pictures while I'm cooking. Frankly, it's about the last thing I think about doing. And that's even despite the fact that I've got this recipe blog, & do realize on some level that it would be better to have snazzy photos to match the sometimes overly descriptive verbiage. :)

There's also another factor: I'm more interested in the serving & eating of a dish than in hesitating a moment to snap a picture of it. Uh well, yeah. No kidding. :)

At times, it amazes me that I even have the wherewithal to remember to scribble down the recipe. :) The truth is that when creativity strikes, I don't always have a pen or pencil or laptop in the vicinity, let alone a camera. ;)

If it weren't for the fact that I blogged about food & recipes, those original recipes might not ever be recorded for posterity's sake.

Are there any other food bloggers making up original recipes who also go through this? I'm just curious.....

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Just a few last thoughts on the above matter:

Since I'm not a professional food photographer, & lack the time & inclination to pursue it as a hobby, I couldn't give a fig about snapping photos. I know I probably should care. Or pretend like I care. But then that wouldn't be the truth. Frankly, I don't aspire to have my recipe pictures appear in Bon Appetit or Food & Wine magazine. (However, I do hope that people will enjoy making & eating the recipes, & realize that an encouragingly attractive photo would probably greatly assist towards that end. :-D )

And, while I've been known to snap a good photo every now & then, this is clearly NOT why I cook. I'm in it for the food. End of story. Sure, good-looking food is part of the appeal & appreciation of food -- but so is the smell & taste of it too. (In fact, in the biological sense, smell is intertwined with our perception of taste. But alas, I digress....)

If I must, I would rather use stock footage (which I often, not-so-secretly do!) or have a helpful onlooker (cough, Erik) take a photo of the dishes during their various phases of creation. This would certainly be very helpful & would make it much easier to remember to do, because then I wouldn't be the kitchen equivalent of a cooking-&-camera-snapping octopus. :)

Or maybe if I hit the bigtime and become a famous chef, then I'd seriously bother with that stuff or hire a professional. However, seeing as how I'm not seeking fame -- although I have enjoyed being a featured chef-blogger on cooking sites for other reasons, it's highly unlikely that any of those scenarios will actually happen. Hehe.

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While I acknowledge the media's image obsession -- or should I say the obsession with the perfection of those images, (which to a large extent has also become the public's obsession as well), I just don't want to get too wrapped up in this element. It's dangerous to skit along the surface & forget what's resting just below.

Also, it's imperative to realize that when people -- no matter if they are celebrity chefs or everyday people -- aren't being bathed in the media spotlight (TV, movies, satellite radio, written periodicals, internet, etc.) that they lead real & highly normal lives. Lives which cannot possibly measure up to some unrealistic standard of superficial beauty dictated by some TV show, film, or glossy magazine. Lives which often don't always have the time to snap perfect photos at exactly the right moment.

And that's OK by me. I revel in the beauty of the imperfection of real everyday life. In the kitchen, in the world, in myself, & in others. There is beauty to be found in the living beings of this earth as they are. OK, so sometimes a little "dressage" is helpful, but what I'm getting at is that loving ourselves as we are deep down makes everything around us seem a whole lot nicer too. :) [Personally speaking, in addition to possessing an ample dose of self-esteem, I feel lucky enough to be loved by someone who doesn't care if I were to frighten him in the morning with a sea-green face mask. :) ]

So yes, sometimes, there's going to be some unsightly kitchen chaos. Flying tomato sauce that just so happens to stick to my ceiling & walls. Or messy spatulas with unexpected trajectories. :) And those messy spatulas will undoubtedly be resting on napkins & plates instead of the beautiful ceramic spoon holders safely tucked away in my kitchen drawers, because let's face it -- very much like a camera -- that spoon holder is really sometimes just an imperfect afterthought. But I've accepted it all; it's all part of the creative process. I consider it all a sacrificial offering to the Muse of Recipe Creation. :)

Happy New Year,
-C

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