Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Rooibos Cookbook - The Making of PART 1: EMILY's

So, here we go, August 1, 2008. The first day of shooting on this big project for Rooibos, that has in the present already culminated into:

A touch of Rooibos:


14 Local chefs contributing to this phenomenal project, funded by Rooibos Ltd. In total, I spent about 21 days shooting for the book, spread out over six months, but at times, about 3 days per week.

TEAM: Gerda de Wet - Rooibos Ltd

EDITOR: Daleen van der Merwe

ART: Karen Hermans, Catapult Advertising

PHOTOGRAPHY: Danie Nel assisted by Jeremy Puren

STYLING: Kanya Hunt


DAY 1: Emily's

The shoot was scheduled for about 10am, since the restaurant had a function that carried on till about 3 in the morning. Arriving alone (Jeremy had to shoot some stuff at the studio), Johan Odendaal greeted me with his customary: "Jy't groot geword!".It's taken me some time to pick up on the innuendo in that.  Ignorance is indeed bliss. Well, it has been like 6 years since we last met. He was obviously in the mood for chatting and was on his who-knows-how-many'th coffee. I was also nursing a killer headache, and it turned out, so did Kanya, who rocked up shortly after. So I went to source some pills from the pharmacy while they started coffee.

The kitchen was still being prepped so one after the other latte followed to the point where my pupils was so small I could look straight into the sun without blinking. Finally the kitchen was ready and we could get going. Johan has his own ideas about food, and one can spend hours just mesmerized as he surmised, waxes lyrically, criticises, elaborates and talks non-stop about food, food experiences, who he cooked for, etc etc. What's clear is that this boytjie knows food.

We had a very open brief going into the book, and having to shoot in operational working kitchens, it became very clear, early on, that this book will happen on a trot. I created 2 set-ups. A Speedlight set-up in the kitchen for prep-shots - not step by step, but rather emotive shots of things blurring, falling, burning, exploding and all sorts of kitchen details. The other set-up was big mono-heads in the front of house area (and idea I abandoned by the second shoot and exclusively worked with Speedlights to keep me mobile). I seldom used a tripod.

Now, for those who have visited Emily's recently, you would note the rather pink assault on all things visual. The ceilings are pink, the walls are pink, the fans might've been pink. Now, if you're bargaining on some ambient light, that means all things white will turn pinkish. Luckily, the brief did suggest that the feel of each establishment needed to be captured, and I was comfortable with my observation that the feel is pink. (Also, they have a electronic toilet that does the wiping, cleaning etc for you!!! I didn't know how to bring that into a cookbook, so decided against it. Go there, even if it is only to remote control your toilet experience for once in your life.)

We soon found a rhythm of shooting in the kitchen, running to front-of-house and then shooting finals.This would become the METHOD. The cool thing about this book is that every recipe got a full page image plus supporting imagery. This meant I had to shoot like a mad-man. Top of head calculations suggest I shot 9000 images in the production thereof.

The problem with shooting with chefs is that the presentation of food on a plate differs vastly from the presentation to a picture. Kanya was there to help facilitate this bridge, but at the same time, at the schedule we held, she could only really work with location and give input. Chefs do what they want to do. So often we ended up with huuuuuuuge white plates and small artsy food arrangements in the middle. This to me is the same as plating onto a white background,because trying to facilitate that food and the background, becomes hard. However, I wasn't there to complain, but to create. So, I decided to use hard shadows to fill white areas in plates and thus enable me to shoot slightly wider.

Emily's is known for highly creative styling, and we certainly weren't disappointed. Being a muso, the piano was obviously the first thing I noticed, and I suggested we shoot something at the piano. A minty/chilly/chocolatey thing followed (yummy) and the porcupine needle, another Emily's fav, as placed as a nice juxtaposition to the keys.

Several other dishes followed, and at about 8pm I was able to get back in my car, caffeine-poisoned, tired, well amused (you laugh around Johan), well entertained, creatively stimulated and simultaneously drained, and looking forward to shoot nr. 2.

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