Review: Working the Plate
A number of years ago I was the food and drink writer for a lifestyle magazine called ‘Zalea. My editor had asked to do a profile on executive chef Charles Mereday of the Trellis Room at the Battle House Hotel. Mereday was a heavy hitter – a former culinary instructor who taught at Birmingham’s famed Culinard School. When he was an incoming freshman he received a welcome letter from then-Commander’s Palace chef Emeril Legasse. The school was Legasse’s alma mater Johnson and Wales in Charleston, South Carolina; also in Mereday’s class was Tyler Florence. See what I mean? A heavy hitter.
As part of the story we photographed one of the Trellis Room’s signature dishes. After the dish was brought out the photog took a handful of pictures before rearranging a few elements on the plate to make for a more esthetic effect. Chef Mereday walked over, picked up the plate and dumped its contents into a trash can. He then firmly but kindly asked the photographer to only take pictures that represent how the dish would look to the customer.
I had to explain to my editor that to a chef their food is their career, their reputation. A chef battles all day long against apathetic or hurried employees who simply don’t get that every single dish is a reflection of the vision of their chef. Our photog had tampered with that vision. Chances are no one would have noticed but it only takes one person (with a food column or a blog) to make something an issue.
For a food blogger capturing the essence of a dish in all its megapixel glory is just as paramount. It is for my fellow food bloggers that I sought out a review copy of Christopher Styler’s Working the Plate – the Art of Food Presentation. In order to give them a tour through the creative nexus of a highly respected chef.
Styler breaks down plate presentation into categories that represent various approaches. To do so he enlists the help of some of the nation’s most respected chefs like Marcus Samuelsson, Suzanne Goin and Wayne Harley Brachman. There are ten chefs in all that allowed Styles and photographer David Lazarus to pick apart their plate presentations, chefs who are known as much for the look of their food as the taste.
Though Styler enlists some big names for Working the Plate, it doesn’t seem to quite capture the thought process of them. It does contain some beautiful food porn and there are glimpses to the mindset of each chef but if fails to bridge the gap between conception and presentation. It is a good guide to what great food photography should look like.
If you are a chef hoping to learn the latest trends in presentation you’ll be disappointed. That is not the author’s fault however, with the notoriously slow pace of the publishing industry there is no way a book on trending plate presentations can ever be released in a timely manner. Still, if you are just learning presentation or food photography it is a fine jumping off point.
I’m giving away a copy of Working the Plate. Last day to sign-up is 1-31-12. To enter click HERE.