As a food blogger, I am often challenged by the technical parts of the job. Developing a recipe, cooking it until it is just right, testing it several times to make sure it works, writing the recipe so that anybody can use it... all that is easy for me. I can even present my food in a way that looks appetizing enough and take a half decent picture... but when I come across something very dark or something with refried beans, I struggle.
I blog my dinner. Every time. When the last photo has been taken, the pretty (and now cold) plate of food gets reheated and eaten rightaway. We don't use artificial lighting, all is taken in the pure, unadulterated and unforgiving, north-facing light that my Dublin kitchen provides. I use props to make my food beautiful and as a rule, the last photo must show the dish as I would eat it, as if I had cooked it just for a family dinner and not to be blogged. If it's not part of the finished dish, ie not going into my tummy, it's not going on the plate for the picture.
I work alone... well apart from the camera help I get from my nice Daili Perez, a bubbly young, aspiring photographer. I normally cook the food and decide what plate, which background, where and what props go on the table. Daili checks lighting issues. At the end, we both take pictures of the finished dish. We manage well together and although lighting is always an issue, particularly during the winter months, we soldier on.
Now a couple of weeks ago I sourced Cuitalcoche for the shop. Cuitlacoche is also known as Corn Truffle. Go on google it. It's bloody hidious looking! I absolutely adore it, but to be honest, when I opened the tin (and believe you me, I've seen it looking worse than this), I panicked! But what's to be panicked about - says you-
Ok, take one of the most unappetizing Mexican food ingredients, like the Cuitlacoche below, and turn it into something, never mind beautiful or even appetising, but that at least looks edible...
Not so easy after all, right? I tried several times to slyle it or present it in any way that would not resemble the inside of a very sick person's toilet bowl! Eventually I gave up and put a desperate call on twitter for all my food styling friends.
So last Friday, the very talented Ajda Mehmet, a brilliant up and coming food stylist, came to the rescue and man what an experience it was! For the first time I had someone I couldn't boss around in the kitchen, I was a little anxious to find out how the whole thing would work. It was such a great experience! I took a step back and watched Ajda work. She gave brilliant direction to Daili, she went through my props and found something lovely to show the food off. She had great ideas for someone who had never, ever seen or tasted Cuitlacoche, no wonder why I've heard so many lovely things about her!
When I tried this dish a few times before, I enlisted the tasting buds of my friend Kate Packwood, I was struggling with texture on the final dish, so she brilliantly took me out of my thinking box and suggested to serve the cuitlacoche on crunchy tortilla chips, rather than the traditional way of presenting it as a sauce on the plate (which I seemed obsessed about doing). We stuck to Kate's suggestion and Ajda and I discussed the merits of adding some colour to the finish dish...
Here, poor Ajda stumbled across my kitchen photo rule. She wanted to add sour cream, coriander & some chilies on top and I was reluctant because the original dish didn't have them. We struck a compromise and made a sample one to taste. We knew it would look beautiful, but I was concern about the taste... well, I was entirely wrong!
The whole thing worked! It tasted fresh and it toned down the flavour of the cuitlacoche very lighly and in a good way. She showed me how to enhance the food without having to throw it out after: we added shine to a salad with a little brush and some cold water, she show me how to position food on the plate, how to use the juices of the meat to add shine to it and make it look even more delicious. She even helped me decide on how to cook the stake, as I eat mine medium well and we needed this one only seared and pink.
The whole experience was great. I learned to be a bit unconventional when it comes to presenting food, I learned that only because 'we don't eat it like that in Mexico', doesn't mean it won't taste good, I found how incredibly important is to have someone who looks at food from the perspective of the camara and not from a 'I'm going to eat it as soon as I finish' place and above all, I found out that working with someone else in the kitchen is great fun!! Thank you to Daili for helping witht he photography, to Kate for pushing me to think outside the box and to Ajda for all her styling advise and her help in making this horrid looking Mexican ingredient look beautiful on a plate.
Check out Ajda's brand new blog and her tumblr page, but I warn you, prepare to drool over incredibly gorgeous photos! The recipe we shoot on the day will be published in the next day or two! In the meantime, I'll leave you with some of the behind the screen photos we took on the day.