Food Porn Q&A with Amanda Simpson

Staff Writer
An interview with cookbook author and food pornographer Amanda Simpson.
Onion Rings
Amanda Simpson and Tyler Durrett

Onion Rings

“Click, Drool, Repeat”:  Amanda Simpson’s motto for her website, Food Porn Daily, her new cookbook and how she decides what to eat and cook. We spoke with this self-proclaimed ‘food pornographer’ about her new book and what makes her drool. 

 

How did you get into taking photos? Is this something that you’ve always been passionate about?

Back in 2005, my boyfriend -- also the web developer for Food Porn Daily -- got a digital SLR camera for graduation. So we really just got into photos on a whim because of his camera. But photography is really his passion, I actually consider myself more of a ‘food pornographer’ – I don’t really take pictures of table settings, placemats, candles or anything outside of plating really. 

 

There are a lot of definitions of food porn out there, but what does it mean to you?

It’s what makes me drool. If at the end of the day I look at a photo and I drool, then it’s food porn. When choosing photo submissions for the website (we really only end up using one or two per week), I’m looking, most importantly, for a photo to make me drool. Then I also make sure it’s focused and in high resolution, etc. But really, it has to make me drool.

 

Is there is an ingredient that you think always looks really “food porny”?

It depends on how quickly you can take the photo. Cheese always makes me drool, but it depends on how long it sits out because after a few minutes it stops looking good. Meat, when it’s glistening (I’m totally not a vegetarian by the way), before the juices have been absorbed, that always makes me drool. Sweets usually keep for a while and still look gorgeous, but I don’t have a sweet tooth, so I have to force myself sometimes to post photos of sweets on the site.

 

Are there any foods don’t lend themselves to good photographs?

Not really, but it is harder to make braised things look good. I’ve even read in some food forums, people saying “oh my god, that soup looks like vomit”. So I’m really picky when posting a picture of a braised dish or soup. And it’s hard because one of my favorite cuisines is Indian, and it uses a lot of spices and stew-like dishes, which makes it hard to photograph.

 

Any advice on how to make these types of food photos looks better?

I would say never use a flash; natural light is best or emulating natural light with certain lamps. 

 

What kind of camera do you use?

A Canon 5D Mark II, and for food, almost always a 100 mm macro lens. 

 

How do you feel about photographers using ‘fake ingredients’ to make their food photos look better? (Like using Elmer’s glue instead of milk for cereal photos)

I’m so anti doing that. I think it’s wrong because I always want to eat the food that I see, and I expect to be able to go out and eat what’s in the photo. And if it’s not real, how can I drool? I want to drool!!

 

Not that I’m saying this happens to you, but have you ever cooked a dish that turned out only ok, but the photo was gorgeous, and you had to decide whether or not to publish it?  Or what do you think about people publishing amazing photos of food that just tastes OK?

For the book, I would never do that. But over the past couple of years, there have been a couple of recipes that were good but not great. The photo was amazing but eating it wasn’t like the best thing ever. I do think that it’s also a matter of personal preference on what tastes good. I can serve something to someone and they’ll be like “oh wow that was so good” and I’ll just think it’s ok.

 

What are some of your favorite photos on your website?

Oh wow, there are so many! There are over 900 hundred photos. But I’d say that the one used for the cover of the cookbook, Fried Green Tomato Napoleons with Seared Shrimp is one of my favorites. I’m from the south, so I love fusion food, and this is one of my favorite things to eat too: I love the fried part, tomatoes, shrimp, and the crispiness of it all.

 

How is touring for your cookbook going?  

I just started and had a book signing in San Diego. But I’m heading off to LA to get started. I’m really excited to go back to LSU (my alma mater). The book signing is on game day, and it’s the only city where I’m doing a demo. It’s going to be so fun especially with LSU tail gating (things tend to get a little crazy…)

 

How many cities are you going to on the tour? And how are you getting there?

I’m going to 26 different cities, which will be tough because it’s basically a different city every day. But I’m really excited; there are so many parts of the country that I haven’t seen, so this will give me the chance. It’s just going to be me in the car by myself, me on the road. I just really hope people come and see me so I’m not lonely!

 

How is the cookbook organized?

It’s organized seasonally, with 5 openers, 5 desserts, 1 breakfast, 1 drink and 12 main courses per season. I cook seasonally, so it didn’t make sense for me to break this down any other way just to have a certain number of main courses, appetizers, etc. I cook what’s in season and shop at the farmers market and buy seafood by the seasons. My dad has a garden growing up and we ate everything out of there. We only ate fish that we caught ourselves; I don’t think I ever ate store-bought fish growing up. But that’s changed now because I’m no fisherman!

 

What was your favorite part about creating this cookbook?

My favorite part was really being able to dive in and to figure out what’s the ultimate food porn. I’d go to the beach (I live in San Diego), and sit there for hours thinking, ‘What is porny? What turns your palate on? What makes you drool?’ Then I’d go home and make it, then make it again and again and again until it was perfect.

 

What kind of eater are you?

Definitely adventurous. I like most things and I don’t hate anything, but I don’t really like cooked oatmeal. When I was a personal chef, I had to make it for my boss every morning, and of course you have to taste it. So each day I’d bring it to her, and she’d be like, ‘wow, this is the best oatmeal ever,’ and I’d be cringing inside. But maybe I need to try it savory, I don’t know.

 

What are some of your favorite ingredients to cook with? Like spices or herbs?

I love them all honestly, is that wrong to say? I have a huge spice pantry with lots of spices from around the world. So I really just play around with what inspires me. I really like spicy things and big, bold flavors, so I’d hate to choose just one thing. But pork fat is always a great thing, and however it comes, I’m always happy. But I try to keep my intake of pork fat down.

 

What’s your favorite go-to meal that you make for yourself?

Unless I’m testing, I actually try not to make the same thing repetitively because I want to be open and explore new dishes. But at least once a year, I’ll make a pot of gumbo. Being from Louisiana, I can’t help it, and whenever I feel a cold coming on, or someone’s getting sick, then it’s time for gumbo!

 

When you first started cooking, were there any cookbooks or cooks that inspired you?

I started cooking at a really young age. My dad cooked every meal every day. He went to culinary school in the military. So I grew up eating lots of awesome fresh food, and I’d say he was one of my biggest influences. Also, Bobby Williams, the chef that I worked for, was also really into shopping at farmers markets and seasonal foods, so I’d say that those two were really my biggest influences. 

 

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