This post was written by editorial intern Perry, who has been moved to tears by beautiful cookbooks before.
In mid-December last year, I was given the incredible opportunity to act as the food stylist’s assistant on the photo shoot for The Vegetable Butcher, a cookbook Workman is publishing, all about veggies! I love food and I’ve always wondered what goes into the making of a cookbook, so I jumped at the chance! And I figured that you, our lovely readers, might be interested too, so I took bunch of pictures.
Day 1: The Fridges
The first day, I met with Nora Singly, the food stylist. For those of you who don’t know, a food stylist’s job is just what it sounds like – she is in charge of making sure the food looks pretty, which sounds easy, but I quickly learned was not. Part of Nora’s job was procuring all the vegetables that needed to be photographed. She had been searching far and wide for beautiful produce, in farmer’s markets and local farms and chef’s personal gardens, so when I walked into the studio that first day, there were boxes and crates of beets, kohlrabi, artichokes, etc. I had never seen so many different vegetables in one place!
My job for the day was to get everything into the two fridges. And since all of these veggies were going to be photographed in the next week, everything had to be stored in such a way that it would still be presentable after a few days. I spent the day wrapping greens in damp paper towels and arranging everything in the fridge, while Nora figured out our shopping list for the next day. This was the result of my labor:
Few things are more satisfying than a well organized fridge.
Day 2: China Town
The next day, we began shooting the pictures that will become the pretty title pages for the chapters. There were a few new people to meet, including our author…
… and our photographer, Matthew Benson.
I could never manage to get a picture of him away from the camera
Since we were going to be shooting Asian greens, I was sent to Chinatown to find different kinds of bok choy, among other things. I was mostly instructed to wander around the outdoor produce stalls and see what I could find, so off I went on my adventure!
Baby shanghai bok choy – I quite literally had to fight off an elderly woman to get the prettiest ones!
What I found most interesting on this assignment was the new lens through which I was viewing food. I became suddenly aware of how pretty the contrast between the stark white rib of the bok choy and the dark green leaf was. I was suddenly aware of what Nora called food’s personality.
Back at the studio, the camera set up looked like this:
Each image featured one particular vegetable, like carrots….
Carrots, getting ready for their close up!
…. which Nora would arrange in an artistically, visually appealing way on top of varies surfaces, leaving some negative space where the chapter tiles could be digitally added in later. She and Matt would take a couple test shots, adjust the lighting, and then make minor changes to the composition to create a truly beautiful image.
Nora’s prep station
Sometimes a little trickery was needed to make sure the shot was perfect – for example, we couldn’t always find a carrot that had beautiful greens and a beautiful root so sometimes we would pin pretty greens from one carrot onto the root of another.
Once we finished up the shots scheduled for that day, we made the shopping lists for the next day, and headed home.
I named this cabbage Big Mama
Day 3: The Chelsea Market
On the third day, I went straight to the Chelsea Market to pick up fresh produce.
My new favorite place in New York
If you’ve never been to the Chelsea Market, go now. Right now. Despite living in New York City, I had never set foot in the market before. Once I did, it was really hard to leave – there were too many cool food shops to look at! But duty called and once I had my groceries, I headed back to the studio.
When I got back, we were ready to do the mushroom shot, except for one thing – no one could find the black truffle! Kylie, our editor, and Cara, our author, had to dig through the trash to see if it was accidentally thrown out. After a while, we all gave up. There were photos to take and the light was already starting to go. This was of course when I happened to move a bag of kohlrabi out of the fridge and found the truffle hiding in the back under the radishes!
The hunt for the missing truffle!
The truffle made it into the shot just in time and afterward, I got to keep it! Dinner that night was particularly delicious;)
The mushroom beauty shot, pre-truffle
Nora, delicately arranging potatoes
The day ended as usual with Nora and I sitting down to discuss the grocery list for the next day.
Day 4: The Union Square Farmers Market
On the final day of beauty shots, I got to go to the Union Square Farmer’s Market. It was raining, but I had a mission, so I got myself some hot apple cider and set about finding all the veggies on my list. I ended up with a bag full of kale, rainbow chard, and spinach.
I finally had an excuse to use my favorite french market bag!
Day 5: Recipe Shots
After the beauty shots were finished, the next group of pictures was the process shots and the recipe shots – those are all the pictures of Cara cooking and the pictures of the finished recipes. I was there to wash dishes and assist Christine Malanga, who was our chef for the day.
Christine spent the day cooking up some of the amazing recipes that Cara had developed and then she and Nora tweaked and adjust bits and pieces until the shot was perfect.
The photo set-up was also a little different, with the dishes elevated on different surfaces and small additional elements added to the composition to give the shot a bit of a story (like the wooden spoon above).
The best part was that once the dishes were done being photographed, they were up for grabs! We ended up having a fabulous lunch that day.
Overall, I had an amazing experience on the photo shoot. It was great to see how much care and hard work goes into making a cookbook look beautiful. I met some incredible people and ate some really good food. I hope I get to do it again soon!