Friday, December 28, 2012

Restaurant Critic: Craig LaBan

Was food always your calling?

No. Although I always enjoyed eating. My mom cooked but it was not a communal activity.  I really didn’t connect with food until my college years. I was a French major in college and lived in France for three years. During my time there I was more involved with the music industry. I did land a job as a translator at La Varenne, a culinary school in France. It started in Paris then I moved with it to Northern Burgundy. I eventually returned to the States and lived in Boston freelance writing about food. I went to journalism school to learn more about the craft of being a good reporter, worked my way up through small papers covering communities, and eventually came back to food writing and restaurant criticism at The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

Where are you originally from?

I’m from the suburbs of Detroit. I attended University of Michigan. I’m proud of my Michigan roots. In my experiences you move around a lot for journalism.

Since returning to the Inquirer as restaurant critic in ’98 what has been your biggest “surprise” in food breakthrough in Philadelphia? What stuck with you even up to today?

There was no one big surprise. The city and its dining scene happened organically. It’s really stunning and exciting to watch and to be immersed in the scene. In 1998 Stephen Starr opened Buddakan. Then there was the arrival of Marc Vetri, the BYOB’s, Jose Garces, and the gastropub craft beer movement took place. Philadelphia has blossomed into a desirable place for young chefs. They have infused it with a new sophistication. The last couple years we have continued to move forward and it’s growing even faster.

Are you allergic to any food?

Any food critics you looked up to? Read about?

Food critics tend to be very reclusive – so I don’t get many opportunities to gather with colleagues. Among those I admire from afar, though, is Jonathan Gold from the Los Angeles Times. He won a Pulitzer Prize in 2007. He’s a fantastic and witty writer who embodies the spirit of adventure and discovery that is the best part of food writing. He has the ability to dig through the ethnic neighborhoods and find the hidden insider gems. Pete Wells for The New York Times is a real pro. Alan Richmond is a funny writer. Calvin Trillin, the legendary writer for The New Yorker, also the author of “Alice Let’s Eat,” was very influential.

A wish list city you could review?

Tokyo, Japan. I love traveling. Also on my list is Shanghai.

What is your opinion on the Layover episode with Anthony Bourdain in Philadelphia? Was it accurate?

I was actually pleasantly surprised. I don’t watch much food TV because it’s very “fluffy". I thought the Layover episode was smart and accurate. However any 43min show will miss things. The episode showed the diversity of Philadelphia. There was a complete omission of Jose Garces, which was a shame because he has had so much to do with the food scene in Philadelphia. Jose needed to be mentioned and he wasn’t. Overall, though, it was a fun show and captured the pulse and attitude of the city. No cliches.

Any style of restaurant or food you would like to see in Philadelphia? See more of?

Better Thai food. Middle Eastern food is also very lame around here with the exception of Zahav. We can have regional variations on that. Same with Japanese. What would be great to have, but will be very hard to re-create, is to explore more of our own history, to take the old traditions and make new restaurant versions of that.

Favorite night to go out?

There are multiple nights I go out and all for different reasons. But never on a Saturday.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Food Stylist: Carolyn Schirmacher

B.T.S. Video Link to Carolyn 

1. How did you get into styling? 

I think it was my destiny which evolved out of being raised in a foodie family.  My mother was a food tech and taught me the chemistry of cooking as I was growing up. She was in PR/ Marketing for a state wide grocery chain in Wisconsin. She had a local cooking show in the early seventies and was a talented homemaker. Since my degree was in Art and Clothing/Textile design, I learned how to manipulate materials and fell in love with the creative process and the art of making. I  I was offered a job in Chicago with a national food/ home magazine, "Cuisine Magazine" in the mid seventies. At the time it was a cutting edge mag being distributed internationally.
    I was listed on the mast head as "Photography Stylist" but wore many production and editorial hats including assisting the contracted Food Stylists. I had the privilege to work with some really top photographers and Food Stylists.
    When Cuisine folded, I moved to Portland Oregon for the lifestyle. The photo industry was in its infancy at that time here. I had to explain to many Photographers what a stylist was and what I could do for them. Expectations were low, so when asked if I could style food, I just said yes and met the challenges as they presented themselves.

2. How did you get into photography?

I think that was also a destiny card, but was raised in a time when it was a man's profession, so I just kept discarding it as a professional option. As an artist, my drawing skills were limited and photography became a medium to express myself. The phone was always ringing booking me to style, shooting just kept getting side tracked. Eventually after so many photographers told me I should be shooting, it started to sink in that I felt underemployed at times as a Stylist. Also, for years I saw a huge need for more of a feminine perspective. I lacked confidence in my technical ability as a photographer nor had the financial means to buy the equipment. Martha Stewart eventually jumped on it. The economic times have played a factor in my expanding my services to include photography too. Just too many projects didn't come through because the budget couldn't cover the costs of a Food Stylist so the photographer did their own styling.
I have cut my teeth on shooting my husbands custom ceramic lamps which are represented to the Interior Design trade. They are the perfect object to learn to sculpt light as they are round and shiny. I am still very much trying to find my voice and feel fluid as a professional photographer, but feel confident now that I can deliver the quality of work I want to put out there.

3. Which has had you travel the farthest from Oregon? 

Styling product. When I was on staff with Cuisine Mag, they sent me from Chicago to British Columbia, most of the travel stories though I was packing a bag of props for the Art Director to take with her then staying at home to produce and style other stories. In the nineties I had an agency with a window account that sent me all over the US and Canada, destination spots like Aspen and Santa Fe, to art direct and style luxury homes.

4. Where did you go for inspirations on styling? 

Over the years there has always been published works from some great talent that has been inspirational or affirming. Currently there seems to be a lot of new young talent emerging. The lists is long and considering it's a collaborative profession, I doubt if one could attribute the end results to just one person. For photography:

5. For the food you are styling how close to the recipe do you stay?  

For editorial, if the recipe is not very photogenic I will make recommendations to the client in how it can be presented to read better to camera. Then either the recipe is revised or a serving suggestion is given. Some clients will pull me into the development stage when introducing a new product. This is ideal. If it is a product, usually it is a matter of breaking down the prep to meet the demands of the production so that all aspects of the products characteristics will read better to camera. I believe anything can be photogenic if technically well styled and the lighting is gorgeous. The only real change I will suggest to a client is when a main ingredient is hidden, then we will manipulate the build to make it visible. This can happen on pizzas. Garnishes are another solution for visually communicating key ingredients.

6. For the motion work did you find it more difficult or easier to style than your still work? 

Yes, they both have their challenges. It get's down to expectations,  priorities, budget and how big it will be as a final image or how fast it will be moving on the screen. I just did a TV commercial where the agent wanted the product to look as perfect as if it were a still shot. Of course the budget was tight and my assistant was a PA. Though a conundrum, there is always a solution to how to make it happen. For still, now we have photoshop which is almost cheating compared to the food shoots before we went digital. Then there was retouching, but the Food Stylist  had to confirm if the detailing was to be perfected on set or was there some budget for retouching. In still, if an image is going to be a large poster or billboard then even the simplest element can demand a lot of time to get the details perfect. If motion there is that issue of quantity vs. time vs. expectations.

7. When did you know you were able to take off and work for yourself? 

I built my confidence up working on staff with Cuisine Magazine. When I left there I had a full portfolio and a client base of photographers ready to hire me as a freelancer. It was an ideal situation. Again, I got into the business as a Food Stylist when the industry expectations were lower. The benchmarks were still being established as they continue to be.  As a photographer though, I am still trying to feel out my comfort zone of whom I should approach for work. I have had some rather large projects and know enough to cover myself with a strong technical assistant. One thing I have learned is that it takes a team.
8. Are there any dream clients you want to work with? 

As a Food & Photo Stylist  I feel very fortunate to have lived my dream. I left a major market to live in a second city realizing that my career would be limited but I wanted the quality of life Portland had to offer. I still managed to work on national projects. Now I just wish for a stronger economy so there are more good clients  and enough work to go around. I get a lot of calls from young people who want to be a Food Stylist. From what I can see the profession is changing and there is less demand for technical food styling. Regionally, editorial rarely has the budget to use a food stylist and depends on the photographer with a chef. This is another reason why I decided I needed to start shooting.

9. Tool you can’t live without? 

My bonsai tweezers; hand wrought steel, great action, nice weight and have a flat head making it easy to maneuver and less damaging to fragile items. Commercial clothes steamer with customized interchangeable nozzles for selective steaming, and hand held broilers for cooking on set. My yellow rectangular cleaning lady buckets to pack around my kits.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Grace Bonney : Design Sponge

Photo Credit: Peter Yang

1. Has writing always been your passion?

My favorite toy as a child was a typewriter. As an only child, it always felt like the best way to entertain myself and find an outlet for my imagination.

2. Working for so many notable publications what was your sign to know you could start a online blog on your own?

 I started the blog well before I started writing for publications. When I started D*S magazines like Domino and Blueprint didn't exist yet, so I really only thought of my blog as a fun hobby. When the home/lifestyle niche blew up big time it became clear that their might be a job in there if I worked at it hard enough.

3. How did you find contributors? Did you use resources from your prior publications?

I found my contributors by hiring people I was fans of or already knew as friends. I wanted to find people I trusted and could let go to do their own thing without needing much guidance.

4. The blog is almost 9 years old, did you expect this to grow so much? What were your biggest surprises?

Absolutely not- I thought it would be a fun hobby until I got the guts to apply for a job at a magazine and even though that came to pass, I kept the blog the whole time and, knock on wood, it's lasted longer than a lot of my favorite magazines.

5. Do you see yourself starting something else beyond the blog? Anything in the works?

I'd always love to open a charity wing of Design*Sponge. Animal rights, world hunger and helping military families are a big passion of ours, so I'd love to find a way to give back more on a regular basis.

6. When did you start the D S Biz Lady Series? What made you decide that?

That was inspired by an informal Biz Ladies dinner at my friend Rena Tom's house (she owned Rare Device then and now works at- and founded- Makeshift Society). Rena invited us over for drinks and some casual moral support (all the guests ran their own businesses) and I mentioned it on the blog as a great way to get advice and feedback. People asked me to create one so I did. Then I turned it into a 10 city national meetup one year (I funded it on my own) and then, when travel became too costly, turned it into a weekly free advice column.

7. Has social media played a large role in your business?

Until recently it hasn't played a huge part. I only really got into twitter two years ago, so it's been something I've slowly learned to love and embrace as a place to be more casual and talk about things other than design.

8. Where are you originally from? Will New York always be your home?

I'm from Virginia Beach, VA. I love the south but I think I'm pretty much a New Yorker (more specifically, a Brooklynite) now.

9. Who inspires you? Do you have anyone on your wish list to contribute to Design Sponge?

I'm inspired right now mainly by people who really put themselves on the line for their work- musicians, comedians, chefs- people who make their personality and their passion a major part of what they do.