Chef Photographer Speaks on Grant Achatz, Michael Symon (Slideshow)


Michael Symon

"We shot in his apartment in New York; that seemed to be the most convenient. We just cleared out the living room and shot in there. I had built a few things because he’s so meat-centric, and pork-centric, so I traced a butcher’s pig onto two pieces of plywood, so we would have the graininess of the plywood as a backdrop with the butcher’s illustration.

We needed a straight portrait as a secondary thing, so he showed us these custom leather knife bags he had gotten made for himself and a few of his friends. He had met a leather worker and he had them commissioned, so the bag was special to him. [What ended up running] was a variation on a super straight shot."

Barbara Lynch

"The whole idea for the book was what these famous chefs do on their off time, and Lynch talked about reading and going to the movie theater. So we started with Lynch in the morning at one of her restaurants and she had a meeting, so we went to the movie house to set up and she showed up there for 15 to 20 minutes.

I think at some point in the conversation with our editors the idea of 3-D glasses had come up, and I found some on eBay. Someone sent them to me from China for $0.50. The popcorn and glasses was just to have something extra.

That whole thing probably took 20 minutes between two locations. The shoot in the restaurant was five minutes total, and we were in the movie theater for 15 minutes."

Nobu Matsuhisa

"We wanted to try something super simple with a really beautiful quality of light, and I was thinking maybe we could take in the elements of sushi. Rice would be difficult, so I bought two $5 sushi mats and put that in the picture. [Matsuhisa] was shot behind a piece of Plexiglas, and the sushi mats were hot glued onto the front of the Plexi.

We did at least two other setups. One was with a single large salmon roll on the tip of his finger, and for the other, [my editor] had seen a specific spot in the restaurant he wanted Nobu shot in. We literally only had 15 minutes with him, and I had four or five minutes per shot, so we would just take down the Plexiglas and keep shooting."

Wylie Dufresne

"[Dufresne] obviously has a funny haircut and is a little bit more eccentric, and we wanted to play off of that. I have been trying to make pictures as simple and geometric as possible, and have the photo be about the shape of people and things.

[One concept] was I brought a few spoons and the one I liked the best was there was one large serving spoon raised under his chin, hitting the table. [My editor] liked pictures of people smoking, and I think between us, I thought, 'Oh, well pipes come in funny shapes.' And because Dufresne, I don’t think he smokes, I thought it would be funnier to have a quail egg in there."

Grant Achatz

"Grant was cool. Grant was really, really cool. My impression of Grant is that I think he allows other people who do something different than what he does that same respect and honor, and he’s willing to try things because he’s willing to take a risk. He’s OK with something not expected, so trying something with a blowtorch, or sticking him in a dark room and shooting him with light through a saucepan.

I had another idea which was shooting through Plexiglas and it failed, it was a terrible picture. I was trying to throw focus off by putting grease, and shooting through that to have bits of the image, like his eyes, be extremely sharp, and other parts out of focus. It didn’t work at all.

We shot something else with a blowtorch, because my editor wanted that, and this shot was sort of on the fly. I had wanted a pan that we could mount behind him, like a really huge pan, but I couldn’t figure out how to mount it properly without it looking weird and just floating in the air, so this ended up being the compromise. The pan was extremely heavy so his arms kept moving, and I had to have an assistant following Grant’s hand with the light, just trying to keep the light inside the pan. I could tell that the blood would stop flowing through his arms, so I told [Achatz] he could just put them down whenever he wanted to."