Congratulations to Steven Brown on the successful opening of his new restaurant, Tilia, in Linden Hills. Andrew Zimmern posted a stellar review yesterday on one of his blogs, which I’m sure will be followed by more praise from the other critics in town.
Photographing the chefs and food that went in to The Culinary Mistress, we ended up setting up our roving photo studio in some. . . nontraditional spaces in order to accommodate the schedule of a chef: dining rooms during service, kitchens, back hallways crowded with ladders and spare 4-tops. My favorites were the chefs we photographed who were in the process of developing their next restaurant: Stewart Woodman prior to the opening of Heidi’s, Stephen Trojahn during the Gastro Truck off-season, and Steven Brown during the lead up to the newly-opened Tilia. Since these chefs didn’t have restaurants for us to invade, they opened their homes to us. And since there wasn’t the crush of responsibilities generally pressing down on an executive chef in the restaurant, we were able to have some great conversations.
Steven talked about the gastro-pub trend of the past several years, and about how the public’s growing embrace of craft beers has mirrored his own shift toward a cuisine that is much more approachable and affordable, but still well thought out and crafted. Based on Zimmern’s review, it sounds like Tilia is a perfect realization of Steven’s latest food thoughts, as well as exactly what tons of people (me included) are looking for these days in a restaurant.
I’ve had the good fortune to photograph Asher Miller several times over the past couple years, and I don’t just say that because he’s the only chef I’ve worked with who has, out of the blue, invited me to stick around after a shoot and cooked me lunch. Asher’s an artist and a professional who also happens to be a straight-up good guy. With me, he’s always been very giving of his time – and his food – as evidenced by his participation in my Rest Stop Gourmet project last summer, among other projects.
Earlier this week it was announced that 20.21′s run at the Walker will come to an end this Spring, which is too bad. 20.21 is a place that, under Asher’s guidance, crafted flavors beautifully, and created an atmosphere of hospitality and artistry that will be missed. But I can’t wait to see where Asher lands next; I hope that Puck doesn’t pull him out of town, because that would be the true loss to the Twin Cities food scene.
Chris Damskey is one stylish dude. Maybe it was because he was on vacation, in town for the weekend on his way to a friend’s wedding, but what impressed me photographing chef Damskey was his cool and ease. I guess another factor could’ve been that we got to roam outside for his portraits, since the weather had yet to turn over to winter, and being out in the world always helps a person feel more natural in front of the camera. In any case, Chris was great to hang out with for a few minutes, and a great portrait subject.
Chris’s recipes, prepared by Sea Change Executive Chef Erik Anderson, reflected his cool, and went perfectly with author Geri Wolf’s art direction: vivid reds and oranges in all three of his dishes, giving a very contemporary, saturated look to each plate. The carrot broth in particular, being poured from above in the book photograph, photographed beautifully.
Pastry chefs are magicians. They take raw ingredients, add some science, and come up with tastes and shapes and textures that are just. . . fun.
Diane Yang, of La Belle Vie fame, is one of the top, most talented pastry chefs in town. She’s also particularly nice and easy to work with. In fact, of all the chefs featured in “The Culinary Mistress,” Diane was one of the toughest to get to not smile. But just like any chef, she can kick ass when necessary, so we got through our shoot with some great images.
One of the moments I’m most proud of from the Culinary Mistress project happened during my shoot with Lenny Russo of Heartland Restaurant & Farm Direct Market: Lenny was intrigued by an appetizer recipe I was kicking around in my head.
As a portrait photographer, one of the main challenges I’m continually faced with is how to break the ice with my subjects and create some semblance of a relationship very quickly. Sometimes it’s easy, sometimes it doesn’t happen. But with Lenny I had a perfect in. The shoot was two days before Thanksgiving, and the next day I was co-hosting a pre-Thanksgiving party. I didn’t exactly know what I was going to make for an appetizer, but as I was checking out at the coop a few days prior, the cashier had seen my container of buttermilk and mentioned she was going to make a parsnip pie. Now I was mulling that idea over, trying to think of how I could make parsnip pie in to an app. And what better giver of advice of one of the true champions of local ingredients and deliciousness than chef Russo?
Lenny joined me in the dining room and as I took a few test shots, I told him about the recipe I was trying to come up with: phyllo cups filled with pureed parsnips and. . . what? To my surprise, Lenny gave it some real thought. Not that I didn’t think he would be courteous; I just have a lot of respect for him as a chef, and not a lot of respect for my own culinary talents. But he said, “Hmm. Interesting. Was this your idea?” I conveniently forgot my conversation with the coop checker and claimed it as my own. But after the initial interest, he proceeded to pretty much shoot me down. First, he wouldn’t use parsnips so early in a meal. Second, phyllo cups are clearly way too bush league. “What you really need to do is come back here and get some high quality lard from the Farm Direct Market and make yourself some proper crusts.” Points taken.
As it turned out, I didn’t get any pointers on my recipe, but our conversation definitely got Lenny in a good place for photos. And if you ever see a parsnip pie on the Heartland menu, think of me.
By the way, if you want to cook like Lenny Russo or any of the other chefs I’m highlighting here, you’ve got to get your hands on the Culinary Mistress. You’ll find the recipes for the dishes pictured, and more fun personal facts about the people behind the food.