Here’s a surprise — not every chef likes to have his food photographed
A few days ago, celebrity chef Graham Elliot (Masterchef US) Tweeted: Have a guest sporting #googleglass in the restaurant for the first time. Not sure what to think: embrace them? Ban them?
Elliot is not the first chef to be disturbed by his food being photographed or videotaped. A whole brigade of chefs, mainly French, and including some Michelin-star luminaries, actively frown on their food being photographed by folk they call ‘food porn’ enthusiasts.
Like celebrated chef David Chang of Momofuku Ko, who famously evicted a diner who was photographing his food on her phone. Alexandre Gauthier, of the Grenouillere restaurant in France, has even printed an X-ed out picture of a camera on his menu. Daniel Bouloud and Heston Blumenthal aren’t thrilled at the idea but are resigned to it, and high-end restaurants like Per Se and Le Bernardin actively discourage flash photography. Michelin 2-star chef Michel Roux Jr admits that patrons whipping out their phones to photograph their dinners is flattering, but it annoys him because it’s disruptive to other diners. “Personally, I think it’s incredibly poor manners.”
I admit to being so overwhelmed by a memorable dish on occasion that I’ve brought out my trusty iPhone to record it for posterity; it’s the perfect way for me to remember a special treat. In fact, I have instant recall of a stunning salad with foie gras and smoked duck on a terrasse restaurant in the tiny Rhône village of Séguret, because it’s still on my camera. I can all but taste it when I look at it. Other ‘foodstagrammers’ might agree.
But can photographing food you’re eating be a tremendously irritating habit in today’s snap-happy times? It’s fun to take a casual shot, but at exclusive sit-down dinners, it is certainly regarded as gauche to whip out your camera, though people still do it.
I asked chef Abhijit Saha, whose food at Caperberry is among the most photographed in Bangalore, combining nuanced flavours with delicate plating. He believes there’s merit in both sides of the argument but would not ban photography at his restaurants.
“People take photos of the food to create memories, so it is usually all positive,” he says, adding,
“There will be good and bad photos. I have no issues as long as there is some restraint during photography.” I think very few people would argue with the fact that good food, well photographed, can be a visual delight. It’s only the excess of enthusiasm that pains: like using flash, being noisy, or letting the food go cold in your excitement. Which is why many chefs prefer putting out their own professionally taken food pics, as does Bouloud. Or post delicious food photos on social media: David Lebovitz, Tom Colicchio, Jamie Oliver and Andrew Zimmern. And Nigella Lawson, a serial ‘foodstagrammer’ herself on Twitter, who clicks every dish she eats, to the delight of her 6,26,000 followers. Many shrug and say a chef who bans photos is either nuts or insecure. As Saha tells me, “You must have confidence in your own food. You cannot control the world.”
That’s something that clicks.
Ruma Singh presents a column on observations, insights and what’s buzzing in the city.
—Ruma Singh (firstname.lastname@example.org)