I’ll let you in on a little secret. Sometimes – not often – when we photograph dishes at a restaurant for a magazine story, we have yet to experience the food. Given the nature of our jobs, the continual travel, the long days, and tight schedules, it’s often the case that we’ve thoroughly researched a restaurant – including asking trusted contacts, friends, chefs, and friends who are chefs, what they think about the restaurant – and then contacted the restaurant to organise an interview and photograph the food, chef and space, before we’ve actually eaten there.
Then, generally that same night, we’ll return to dine and experience the restaurant. While we prefer to do it the other way around, packed schedules and short time-frames for stories doesn’t always allow us to do so, and our network of contacts usually steers us right. We’re also happy that we’ve already done the shoot because not having to shoot dishes while you eat allows you to enjoy the flow of the place and meal and focus on the service and atmosphere, which is a much better way to experience a restaurant!
Occasionally – but very rarely – when the food doesn’t meet our expectations (or isn’t right for the audience we’re writing for), we do wish we had tried the cuisine before doing the shoot and interview, so we could have found somewhere that better fits the story. In those cases, we might not include the restaurant or we might save our content for a different and more appropriate piece.
Thankfully, we had tried Chef Dan Hunter’s food before heading to his restaurant at the Royal Mail Hotel at Dunkeld, in rural Victoria. We had been invited to Hamilton Island for the Great Barrier Feast event, where a prominent Australian chef is invited to qualia resort to showcase his cuisine and conduct masterclasses over a couple of days of often outrageous indulgence.
When we met Dan at Great Barrier Feast he told us that the food he had cooked there was a simplified version of what he was doing back at his Dunkeld base. Still, we were blown away by his cuisine, his precision, the intensity in the kitchen, and his well-articulated philosophy on food. We knew we had to get to Dunkeld before we left Australia this visit. As luck would have it, a dream commission came in that would let us do just that, but that’s another post.
Sitting with Dan in his Dunkeld restaurant discussing his favourite dish of the moment was eye-opening. Eel and bone marrow, eggplant, and pickled vegetables. While the description on the menu was brief, the story behind the dish was expansive, but we’ll save that for the magazine story we’re working on.
Despite Dan’s explanation in the interview, I still didn’t get what the dish would look like. When it arrived on the table later that night, near the savoury end of our dégustation menu, we were struck by how beautiful the dish looked. However, it was the taste of the dish that literally blew our minds.
The next day I photographed nearly every dish on Dan’s menu – and some that weren’t on the menu yet. When the eel and bone marrow dish arrived, I had to resist all temptations to eat the dish and actually photograph it.
Now, whenever I look at the photos from that shoot, including the one above, I can literally taste each dish.
Details: Nikon D700, 55mm f/2.8 Micro Nikkor @ F5.6 @ 1/5th second @ ISO200. Camera was on a tripod and shutter was cable released. Natural window light, with a reflector.
Also see our guide to the Royal Mail Hotel, Dunkeld and The Grampians and our behind-the-scenes time-lapse we made in the kitchen with Chef Dan Hunter at qualia on Hamilton Island for Great Barrier Feast. The regular Great Barrier Feast weekends feature masterclasses and gala dinners with great Australian chefs such as Guillaume Brahimi and Martin Boetz. Details for future events here.
* UPDATE September 2013
Chef Dan Hunter has left the Royal Mail Hotel and is opening his own restaurant Brae at the end of 2013 in the beautiful Otways on the southwest coast of Victoria. See www.braerestaurant.com for more details and follow @BraeRestaurant and @ChefDanHunter on Twitter. We hope to share our experience of Dan’s new restaurant here in the near future.