Thursday, June 23, 2011

Food Fight

One of the greatest thing about the Japanese, strange as it may sound, is their love affair with food. And it ain't the same kind of love affair we North Americans have with our food. I picture Guy Fiori from the Food Network and how he plunges into the biggest plate of fried something and think that THIS epitomizes the North American love affair with food. It's big, it's enthusiastic, it's messy, gooey, and typically involves cheese.

The Japanese, on the other hand, will travel to an entirely different prefecture (that's province to us Canadians, state to the 'Mericans) for a bowl of noodles that is purportedly different from another prefecture's bowl of noodles. Or a mushroom. Or a kind of tofu. Or fish. Or flavour of ice cream (cherry blossom ice cream!) It is an elegant, subtle, and quiet love affair with food. And don't this love affair always get caught on camera! The Japanese are always photographing their food. When my friends and students come back from vacation abroad, one of the first things they show me is their pictures of what they ate. It's brilliant.

I didn't photograph my food nearly enough while I was in Japan, and now I'm kicking myself for it. If you've ever been to an izakaya, which is a kind of Japanese restaurant, you'll know the kind of spread they put out, and how each little dish is a work of art in itself, right down to the fried chicken and giant tater tots called croquet, which is not a Japanese word, no, but they have borrowed from the French to make the giant fried ball of potato sound delicate. How I wish I had shot the food more-- and I certainly will, in November, on our trip  back. Check in with me after my trip to Japan. I'm hoping to have more photography than I know what to do with.

But this nostalgia (and a trip to Subway) ignited another little photography project that hasn't been quite as successful as others... Let me explain. Have you dined in one of Canada's fine Subway establishments as of late? Our favourite Subway (yes, we have one) is downtown ~shire and has the look of an industrial loft. Exposed brick, hardwood, beams, steel, concrete, it's swank. And it's a Subway. I wish it were my living room, only without the sandwich bar... Or would I have the sandwich bar? Convenient, no? In any event, they have these framed pictures of FOOD hanging on the concrete and original exposed brick walls, square images matted in white and framed in black. A loaf of bread. Grains. A cut apple. Cucumber. Lettuce. Red onion. Cheddar cheese. So gorgeous, and SO simple.

Now, these images are decidedly different than the ones you might take in Japan. This is raw food, just chopped, unprepared, at its finest. The Japanese have a knack for the beauty of the finished product, but I was rather drawn to these images of nude food. I thought, hey, I can do this.

Wrong. Ish.

While I was busy basking in the confidence of my supposed photography skills, it failed to occur to me that I lacked any manner of food skills-- cutting, to be precise, and arranging. I could not, for the life of me, cut the onion and get the rings to layer or stack or bounce the way they did in the Subway images. My husband informed me that while I was pondering the failure of the onion, my cucumber had transformed into some new kind of antibiotic. I tried to get a slice of lemon to stick to the kitchen window so I could get the light coming through it, but it just slid off. (My husband has not asked why the window is smeary and smelling citrus fresh...)

 I need a pro. Not even a chef, or a cook, but one of those people who just chop all the food in the kitchen. A fruiter. A peeler. A chopper.  Someone who can arrange my naked food in style (hah! no, I didn't write someone naked who can arrange my food in style, or someone who can arrange my food in naked style, which would be somewhat provocatively ambiguous...) And that just ain't me (I mean, I am not a pro chopper, not not provocatively ambiguous). I hope our local Safeway doesn't get its knickers in a twist the next time I show up, because I won't just be shopping. I'll be photographing the bins of red bell peppers and heaps of apples and forests of asparagus and the mounds of jellybeans. Cheating? Perhaps, but hey, I never pretended to be handy with a knife.

But the thing is, you can do this, too. Seriously. Break out the cupcakes, the muffins, the rounds of cheese and the bowls of lemons. Run your knife through a couple of loaves of rough, homemade bread. Fill a jar with jellybeans and jujubes. Make your favourite salad. Pour a bowl of olive oil. What could possibly look better in your kitchen than the inspiration for dinner? If you're not so handy with a knife, like me, then shoot your dinners when you go out. The Japanese do it. Why can't you? Hit one of those fancy-schmancy bakeries that do the princessy cupcakes or the French pastries. Go to the deli with the hanging sausages and giant cheese wheels, the fishmonger to get the salmons and the mussels and the clams. Get the herbs and the spices at the farmer's markets. Hit the bulk section and get the candy. There's nothing saying you can't shoot someone else's culinary work of art and have it on your kitchen wall. And they don't have to be big, either. Grab a collection of 4x6 white frames from the dollar store and create a gallery on your wall. Imagine the variety of textures and colours you can have... not to mention, it might be inspiration for dinner. Or to break your diet. Choose accordingly.

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