I have been passionate about food for a long, long time now. The creative door was pushed wide open for me in the 1970’s – working as a young commis chef at the Carlton Tower Hotel in London. An inspirational chef, Bernard Gaume, at the forefront of UK Cuisine Nouvelle – in its correct context as taught by Fernand Point and further developed by Michel Gérard, Roger Vergé and the Troisgros brothers; not the misunderstood object of derision it later became. But oh, the ingredients! Live langoustine and crayfish every week, baskets of wild mushrooms in season, direct from France and the fish! So fresh and always whole and untouched until we got our hands on them. And the herbs, boxes of intensely fragrant basil and tarragon and my own favourite chervil whose subtlety belies a very happy marriage with eggs and cream. Ingredients that are sirens to the soul, how could one not fall in love with cooking? I should mention foie gras too – for which (and I make no apology) I have developed a life-long passion. I never thanked M. Gaume – and I should like to, I owe him a lot; he got me started.
A new chef joined us – Ian McAndrew – a brilliant chef of his generation, who was kind enough to introduce me to Anton Mosimann at the Dorchester Hotel and the journey began again, lifting me to new heights and experiences. This quietly charismatic chef had incredible vision and a passion for the best ingredients that was so infectious. Special moments were travelling with Hr Mosimann to the Dracula Club in St Moritz to cook a special dinner for 50 people, and competing in the Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt (and winning gold) as part of the Dorchester Hotel team. There is a picture of me (with others) in The Essential Mosimann; I didn’t know this when the book was first published and only saw it years later. It brought back many happy memories!
On my return from a season at the Hotel Kulm in St Moritz, I applied for, and got, a position at the Connaught Hotel in London. Michel Bourdin was only the 4th Head Chef there in 80 years and the kitchen was steeped in history, tradition, experience and…truffles! These have since been added to my list that includes foie gras – nothing, and I mean absolutely nothing, compares to the aroma of a wicker basket full of fresh truffles. Almost impossible to describe flavour or aroma – and I have been asked many times. Holder of two Michelin stars, the passion M. Bourdin held was so tangible and visible – Hr Mosimann and M. Gaume had this too, but it was quieter, controlled. With M. Bourdin it was always bubbling on the surface in a way that was exciting and very Gallic!
I worked at the Carlton Tower and Connaught twice, the Dorchester only once, but for a longer period. Although there were other good kitchens, it is these three brilliant and great chefs that nurtured my love of food.
And so on to photography. A passion developed later in life, and one I wished I’d started much earlier. So much thought goes into the way a chef wants to present a dish and yet it is eaten so quickly! A photograph preserves that moment in time, yet if the food is to be eaten as well, the opportunity to get the shot is as fleeting as a landscape photographer catching the dying rays of the setting sun. Food ingredients themselves also offer endless scope for photography, whether a macro shot of mushroom gills or a beautifully back-lit rhubarb leaf or colourful stems of rainbow chard. The photograph gives us the opportunity to show our appreciation and respect for fine ingredients in a way that presents them at their best and stimulates our senses.
Whether a finished dish, a beautiful ingredient or the people that inspire, food photography should seek to convey that passion and make us hungry for more!
You can see more of Rob’s work at Real Food Photography.