Fabrice Poussin teaches French and English at Shorter University. Author of novels and poetry, his work has appeared in Kestrel, Symposium, The Chimes, and dozens of other magazines. His photography has been published in The Front Porch Review, the San Pedro River Review and more than 170 other publications.
Every few months I’ll see a new forecast of some emerging food trend. I don’t pay too much attention to these predictions — they’re often based on hunches and used to sell the trend. But stock-photo marketplace Shutterstock recently released a report that doesn’t attempt to look forward; instead, it released data reporting what type of food images people have been buying.
The trends speak to a yearning for simpler times: Purchases of food pictures tagged with the word “rustic” increased 101 percent. “Homemade” increased 56 percent. “Mason jars” increased 446 percent.
Not long ago at a restaurant that regularly tweets photos of dishes as lush as one of Monet’s lily ponds, I found myself poking cautiously at perfect circles of glossy black sauce, discs of potato purée that looked like white roses and cylinders of gnocchi so tiny they seemed to have been pushed out of a drinking straw. Tiny, delicate flowers and tender sprigs of leaves gently rested here and there as if a woodland nymph had casually tossed them from a basket before running off to play hide-and-seek with a den of baby field mice. The dish was definitely ready for its close-up. It was also, by and large, very cold — no surprise given how long it must have taken to squeeze and tweeze everything into position.
Not for the first time, I wondered: Am I supposed to eat this or take its picture? I did neither. Instead, I stored the memory away in my growing files on something I’ve come to think of as camera cuisine. A side effect of the digital age in food photography, camera cuisine is any dish that was inspired by a picture or aspires to be one. Like any genre of cooking, camera cuisine varies widely in quality, but in its purest form it is both exquisitely photogenic and peculiarly bland and lifeless.
While some restaurants have banned ‘food pornographers’ from taking photos of their dishes, a South African restaurant has swung the other way, providing diners with a small, portable lighting studio so they can take the optimal shot.
At last year’s Super Bowl, Dodge Ram ran an ad that praised the farmer. The ad featured powerful images of farmers fading in and out over Paul Harvey’s 1978 speech “So God Made A Farmer.” But there was one problem with the ad. Only a single woman was pictured. The rest of the farmers, image after image after image, were men. Never mind the fact that, as Modern Farmer points out, women are the fastest growing population of farmers. Or that women enter farming at a far higher rate than men. Or that the number of women-operated farms had over doubled from 1982 to 2007. Dodge seemed not to notice.
Amidst the bustle that defines the city, Tavormina can often be found at one of the city’s many farmers markets searching for the perfectly imperfect flora that characterize her photographs. Her arrangements often recall the sumptuous detail of seventeenth century Old Master still life painters, highlighting the food as much as the lavish table settings.
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It’s one of those things that seems to come out of nowhere. One moment the rhubarb patch is barren, nothing but dead stalks and dirt. The next you are looking through the back porch window, out over the flag stone wall and the hill that rises beyond to the garden and, low and behold, that spiritless mass of wintery debris is transformed. At first there are just the red nobly buds, poking above the dark earth. Without much ado wide paddle like, almost triangular leaves, in deep emerald green, balloon out from the deep red nubs, which have now become cinnamon candy colored stalks. It occurs in such a jiff, like growing babies, weeds in the garden, and the weekend, that it appears to have happened when your head was turned. From dirt heap to vibrant edible, and one of the first true signs that the growing season in upstate NY has begun.
Much of the yard is still in hibernation; the rest of springs flora and fauna appears to creep along more slowly. The trees are budding but only the first flowers- crocuses, snowdrops, maybe a daffodil or two- have begun to show signs of life. But this rhubarb is one of the great gifts of early spring. While we must wait months longer for the next edible harvest, grandma’s rhubarb patch will be prime for picking in a few short weeks. And the thing is prolific, so long as you keep harvesting it. As per GK’s (Grandma Kate) instruction you must regularly prune the patch to keep up the production. Only then you end up with so much of the stuff that you need to come up with more ways to use it, beyond the requisite pies, crumbles and fools. A couple of years back we were wallowing in this rhubarb surplus and wondered if rhubarb could be used as savory ingredient as well…. and so the experiments began.
There were compotes and gastriques to accompany pork loin and pot roast, a haphazard attempt at a savory rhubarb chowder, and finally rhubarb salsa. This was the winner. Deciding that the flavors of rhubarb were similar to that of tomatillo- tart, sour, tangy- I created a salsa with all of the other elements of traditional green salsa. By blending together roasted rhubarb with lots of cilantro, onion, garlic and jalapeños, and touch of sugar and salt we ended up with a semi-seasonal spring salsa. The discovery was exciting for an Upstate New Yorker who wants desperately to use local ingredients, but faces many months (most winters) of dreary weather with not an edible thing in sight. It might not be totally local, in light of the fact that until much later in the summer we will have to depend on cilantro from elsewhere, but it’s an improvement. Plus it’s a use for this giant patch of rhubarb.
Mandy Beem-Miller is currently a senior at The New School. Before obtaining her Bachelors, she spent a year at Apicius, a culinary arts school in Florence Italy, completing the program in Food Communications. She has worked as a food photographer and in many professional kitchens. Just last year she opened her own taco truck that serves locavore style mexican inspired street food. She lives in the rural Finger Lakes region of Upstate NY, on land that has been in her family for over 100 years.
Republished with permission from Mandy Beem-Miller.
I am attracted and intrigued by food from many points of view. The esthetic side of it, though, is the one that has always interested me the most. In my pictures food can be both alone or in a context, but it will never be just food.
Valeria Necchio graduated from the Unviersity of Gastronomic Sciences with a master’s degree and immediately took off on a path connecting her passions of good food and photography. A true Italian, she likes to spend time at the weekly market, in the kitchen and behind the camera.
Nearly 7 million tons of food are thrown away in the United Kingdom every year. This set of pictures is of a humble little slice of beet root forgotten during our Christmas feast. It serves as a personal reminder to respect and honor every ingredient.
(Click on the photographs for a larger gallery.)
Kunal Chandra is a student at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Italy. He labels himself a recovering spice addict, mid-20 pro-utopian escape artist, and food and photo mega-geek. You can learn more about him at www.kunalchandra.com