In the age of the smartphone, few meals go undocumented. Pictures of elaborate plates of food are a basic element of every Instagram, Twitter and Facebook feed.
Chef Ryan Marquis, corporate chef at Tabasco Inc. who this week prepared a special Mardi Gras dinner menu at the Humber Room, said the new trend of “food art” has put many professional chefs under added pressure to deliver the best possible food they can put out.
“Back in the day, we used to say that if you had a good meal, you’d tell a friend. If you had a bad meal, you’d tell 10 friends,” said Marquis. “Nowadays, if you have a good meal, you tell 1,000 friends, and if you have a bad one, you tell 10,000.”
Although anyone with a smartphone can take a photo and share it across the globe instantly, professional food photography is still vital.
“Food is a combination of sight, smell and taste,” said Michael Rosen, program co-ordinator of Creative Advertising at Humber.
“If you went into a restaurant and ordered something that didn’t look good, you’d have an adverse reaction to it,” he said. “Looks are the first introduction to food, then smell, and then taste is the last thing.”
Rosen said staged photography is a vital element of culinary appeal, since the consumer can only base their decision on the look available in magazines or advertising.
“Even (shooting) something as simple as a cup of coffee would require a stylist correcting the color, or adjusting bubbles with an eyedropper to make them as aesthetically pleasing as possible. And that’s before photo manipulation in Photoshop,” he said.
Chef Francisco A. Rivera of the Humber Room emphasizes the importance of presentation in any plate that leaves his kitchen
“The deciding factors (in how a plate will look) are how the food looks naturally and how it’s going to be eaten ergonomically. When you’re presenting a lamb chop, for example, you don’t want a bone in the way when you’re cutting,” he said.
Rivera said it is important for food to match the images that draw patrons into the restaurant because everyone should have a dining experience consistent with their expectations.
In a generation where everyone has the power to take an artistic culinary photograph, creative photography student Elise Lemieux argues there is still a need for professional food photographers.
“Yes, someone can easily photograph the same subject with their smartphone, but there is much more thought that goes into a single image,” she said.
Lemieux said it is still important because you need to spend the time making it perfect so that it can make an impact on the viewer.
“There are a lot of technical elements that go into a photograph that makes “the eye happy,” said Lemieux. The most important aspect of taking professional photographs of food is patience.
“You have to be willing to spend a lot of time with the food that you’re photographing. Just like a person, you need to get to know the subject and understand when it looks best,” she said.