Ratatouille with an update- the vegetables are all cooked individually so that they maintain their color and texture.
I’m turning the reins over to Scott for Part 2 of his post on Food Styling and Photography. He participated in a workshop last weekend at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and has some wonderful tips to share.
P.S. There is another Ratatouille recipe on this site. It was shared last summer by my sister, Annie – it’s deeeelicious and makes a delightful presentation, check it out!
- Start with a “dummy”! – While Chris is doing her magic in the kitchen, creating a new and wonderful recipe to share, I’m usually upstairs in our “elf” workshop (where we shoot, photo edit, write children’s musicals, record music, take naps, etc!) getting ready for the shoot. Chris usually has a pretty good idea about what background and props she wants, so we’ll set up the shot so I can experiment with camera angles, set the white balance for the day’s sun/shade mix and hook up the tether connection (camera to computer).
- Lighting – as I shared with you last week, this is probably the most important thing in the shoot (right up there with the recipe itself) Your hard work and creativity can go right down the tube if the lighting isn’t good. The perfect shoot turns into the perfect storm and a wonderful tasty recipe looks, to your viewers, like something (sorry!) the neighbor’s dog leaves behind on his walk. Chris and I prefer natural light whenever we can avail ourselves of it. It has amazing qualities that no invention man has created has yet to perfectly duplicate. (residents of northern climates and latitudes, we hear your cry – we’ll share some artificial lighting tips in another post). Our regular window happens to face west, but we’ve used our front door (east facing) at times too. Often in the winter we move everything upstairs to a third floor walkup attic with identical west facing windows. Direct, hard sunlight rarely works unless it’s morning or late afternoon light, or if we filter the light through diffusers. It’s surprising how well many DSLR (digital single lens reflex) cameras can shoot these days in lower light situations, so don’t be afraid to try what, to the eye, appears to be a dark shoot – (just remember – the higher your ISO setting on your camera is, the more noise or fuzziness shows up in your picture). The best thing you can do to control light is have a number of inexpensive tools in your light-taming arsenal.
|A simple light reflector – a children’s book wrapped in foil makes the food pop!|
- Manipulating the Light – the idea here is to have ways to block, bounce, reflect or filter light to do what you want it to do. I use simple things like small pieces of foam core board (any craft store has these – we use white to reflect or bounce the light back into the scene and black to block particularly harsh light – or to tone down an onion that is “blowing out” in the picture (thanks for the term Jim and Jamie). We wrap one or two in aluminum foil when we want to bounce the light to get a special glow to one part of the food. Sometimes just using your hand to cover the light shining on a part of the scene helps. A nifty idea for holding up the little boards that Jim gave us is to use a floral “frog”, from your craft store (like this). It sure beats trying to hold them up with your teeth, or having one fall over in the soup you just painstakingly prepared.
|See the little onion on the left that is just starting to “blow out”?|
|Final shot, onion shaded, ready for our readers – better?|
- Tether, tether, tether! – this is very simple, but very essential for good shooting. It’s hooking up your camera (not all low end cameras can do it) to your computer. I use the digital camera cable that came with my Canon camera. It connects from the camera (on my 60D and T1i cameras it’s behind the little rubber door on the left side of the camera) and runs into one of the USB ports on the side or back of your computer. When we shoot, our photos go directly into a digital camera software program made by Apple called Aperture. You can also use software programs that are provided with your camera, or standalone editing programs like Photoshop or Lightroom.
|Tethering to your computer gives you much more control|
|Now you can really see your creation|
- Water and Oil – making your food look fresh – no matter how hard you try, food will tend to dry out when you’re shooting – to get a natural shine and pep back into your foods have one spray bottle of oil and one of water on hand when things need a bit of freshening.
- Salads – many times when Chris and I do a food shoot, especially on hot Carolina summer days, the lettuce tends to wilt – a refreshing bath in cold water and a good spin in the salad spinner while the rest of the food is being prepared perks up the lettuce and gives us the “fresh from the garden” look we’re going for.
- Hero, Stunt Double and Backup – When Chris and I are shooting, sometimes the muffin or piece of food we think will look the best in the shoot turns out to be a dud – sometimes it’s an ugly blemish that we missed, an oddly shaped item, who knows! It’s always good to have a replacement or two in case something happens to the Hero.
- Build a styling tool kit – just a simple fishing tackle box filled with tweezers, wipes, Windex, toothpicks, tape, sticky-tam, rubber bands, sponges, Q-tips, small brushes and anything else you might think you need is an invaluable time saver.
|Notice the food stylist toolkit in the corner?|
- 1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium shallots finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 2 teaspoons Herbes de Provence
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
- ½ teaspoon sea salt
- ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ cup fresh basil
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil divided
- 3 medium zucchini cut into 1/4" dice
- 3 med bell peppers cut into 1/4" dice
- 1 medium eggplants aubergine, cut into 1/4" dice
- 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives
- 1 cup fresh cherry or grape tomatoes red or yellow, sliced in halves
- Heat oil in a medium-size pot over medium heat. Add shallots, stir and allow to soften for 3-4 minutes. Add Herbes de Provence and garlic and continue to cook for another minute.
- Add tomato puree, brown sugar, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer till thick and fragrant, about 45 minutes. Add fresh basil, taste and add more salt and pepper as needed
- Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to a large sauté pan and heat over medium high heat till hot but not smoking. Add chopped zucchini, stir and sauté until tender-crisp, about 3-5 minutes. Don't let it get soft and mushy. Remove from pan and set aside.
- Repeat step 1 with peppers and eggplant in separate batches. Use 2 tablespoons of oil for the eggplant. If it looks too dry while cooking add a bit more. Eggplant tends to soak up a lot of oil so sometimes I add a bit of chicken broth or white wine instead of extra oil to keep the fat level lower.
- Combine all of the veggies. Add olives and fresh tomatoes. At this point, you can either combine the sauce with the vegetables and serve as a ragout or keep the veggies and sauce separate. Serve over pasta rice or polenta. Another idea is to serve as a sauce over grilled chicken.
Note: I love to garnish this Ratatouille with fresh herbs or a few sprigs of arugula. Sometimes I sprinkle a little Feta cheese over the top for a bit of delicious saltiness.