Photo Essay: Thai Kitchen

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, one of the great things about being part of the food industry is getting to see what goes on behind scenes at restaurants – the controlled chaos (or sometimes uncontrolled chaos) that results in the food that is brought to your table. Some kitchens are quiet and orderly, some are just insane hubs of activity with steam and flames and smoke everywhere. Most fall somewhere in-between, and while there are often a lot of similarities, each kitchen has it’s own unique culture and feel.

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Maddie Earnest, Local Harvest

St. Louis Taste Makers

I have a fascination with the food culture, which is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to photograph some of the influential people in the St. Louis food scene for a feature in Feast Magazine. As I mentioned in a previous post, one of the people that I photographed for this project was mayor of St. Louis, Francis G. Slay. I also photographed chefs, business owners, architects and sommeliers. I love doing studio portraiture, and this project ties right into my focus on the people who live, breathe, and eat the food industry.

Here are a few of the local food crew I photographed back in December.

You can read interviews of these and the other Tastemakers over at Feast Magazine’s website. Very interesting and well worth the read.

Catherine Neville

Catherine Neville, Publisher of Feast Magazine

If you’ve been following my blog for the last few months, you will have noticed that I’ve been doing a lot of work for Feast magazine here in St. Louis. Feast is one of two excellent food publications that I work with. As a photographer interested in food and food culture, I am lucky to live in a town that has a large enough food community to support all of the great writers, photographers and food lovers that contribute to these publications.

Another of the notable assignments I was given over the last few months was a portrait of Catherine Neville, publisher of Feast. Cat pens a “From the Publisher” column for each issue which is accompanied by a different photograph each month. Many publications use the same image for the editor or publisher each issue. New art each month adds a nice, fresh touch to the magazine. When the photographer who usually shoots the feature was had some scheduling conflicts, I was pleased and flattered when Feast hired me to fill in for a couple of Cat’s portraits.

Cat is a great subject to photograph. Despite her concerns about looking uncomfortable in front of the camera, I’ll be honest: it would be pretty difficult to make a bad photograph of her. Each month she either stands or sits in an interesting chair against a white seamless. The real challenge for this portrait was finding an appropriate chair for the sitting versions. As I’ve mentioned in the past, we don’t have a lot of furniture in the studio yet, and after trying a number of different chairs (including one I borrowed from the lobby of my building), Cat suggested that we try my psuedo-modern-wobbily-Ikea coffee table. It turned out to be a great idea. Beautiful!

I have been doing a lot of studio portraits lately (including an exciting project that I’m wrapping up this week) and have really been joying working with people again for a change. I love shooting food, but do you have any idea how hard it is to make a bowl of soup smile?

Korean Bibimbap

Strip Mall Cuisine: Korea House in Creve Coeur

I always seem to start my blog posts these days with some sort of comparison of my old life in New York City versus my current life in St. Louis. The reason this happens, I suppose, is that things really are different in a my two cities and I’m constantly amazed as I discover new things here in St. Louis that I had no idea could exist. For example, independent restaurants that happen to be located in strip malls.

I’m not talking about Olive Pit, Deep Fried Lobster and TGIFUs. I’m talking about independent restaurants that I would never know existed if it wasn’t for the magazine assignments that have been taking me far and wide all over St. Louis City and County.

One great example of unexpectedly good strip mall cuisine is Korea House (otherwise known as Hangook Kwan) in Creve Coeur. In a strip mall? Check. Zero ambiance? Check. Amazingly delicious and relatively inexpensive Korean food? Check.

Korea House has some amazing beef bulgolgi, which is a personal favorite of mine. After I photographed the assignment for the magazine, I dragged Dr. Fiance and some of our friends out there for dinner. Each meal begins with a wide selection of banchan (appetizers) like fish cakes and kimchi (which I love).

For our main course we tried several of the Korean barbecue options (although we decided not to barbecue our meat ourselves at the table-side barbecue pits). The barbecue is served sizzling hot in cast iron dishes shaped like the animal you’re about to consume. And just to be clear? This isn’t some sort of jazzy fajita nightmare that you’d find at a chain strip mall restaurant; this is thinly sliced, intensely favored and incredibly tender barbecue.

Korean Banchan at Korea House in Creve Coeur, MO. Photography by Jonathan Gayman.

Korean Beef Bulgogi at Korea House in Creve Coeur, MO. Photography Jonathan Gayman

If you like Korean food, Korea House should definitely be on your list. As a final note: I had a client over at the studio for a photo session yesterday, and while we were reviewing some of the images in my office, her boyfriend noticed a print of the bibimbap photograph (above) hanging on my review board. He recognized the photo from the series in the Sauce review and told me that my photographs were the main reason he and his girlfriend decided to drive out to give Korea House a try. Always nice to hear good feedback, no?

On Assignment: Mayor Francis G. Slay

When people ask me what I like about St. Louis, almost always the first thing that I mention is the awesome loft that Dr. Fiance and I were able to buy here. In New York, we had approximately 450 square feet in the East Village (which was the largest apartment that we’d ever had in NYC). Now we have a space considerably larger than that, and a significant part of that extra space is dedicated to my studio. I don’t operate a commercial studio at home, but the space is large enough that I can do a full seamless backdrop setup. This came in very handy last month when Feast magazine asked me to make a portrait of the mayor of St. Louis, Francis G. Slay.

I’m not going to lie, I was a bit nervous about this assignment, although not because it was to photograph the mayor. I am not a stranger to photographing influential public figures. I have photographed some heavy hitters over the years, including the mayor of another major city: in 2008 I made a portrait of Rudy Giuliani while a staff photographer in New York City. He was running for president at the time and it was quite an experience to be sure. But that was in a hotel conference room, not in my home studio!

In the end, when the Mayor Slay arrived my professional experience kicked in and I managed not to make a fool of myself (I think). In truth it was just like any other shoot, and once I got started I was able to concentrate on getting the shots that I needed for the assignment. Like most public figures, the mayor was used to having his photograph taken, and was a confident and cooperative subject.

Mayor Francis G. Slay of St. Louis

This was a great project to work on. I’m a big fan of the mayor, particularly his influence in the ongoing revitalization of downtown St. Louis. And interestingly, this project also tied in with my current focus on food and food culture because my photographs of Mayor Slay were used in Feast magazine as part of a feature called Tastemakers: Entrepreneurs Who Shape the Way You Eat. Great stuff!