Creating Delicious Photos

As the Asian Palate team celebrated our holiday lunch at Bo Innovation , Chef Alvin Leung came to our table to say hello.  On what was probably the coldest day of Hong Kong’s winter so far, I rubbed my hands together to keep them warm. But I couldn’t help but notice the Demon Chef’s red hands.

“Why are your hands red?” I asked.  “I’m working on a photo shoot for my cookbook,” the chef known or his molecular gastronomy dishes.  “I’m working with the best food photographer and he is using this top of the line camera. It captures so much detail, we can create big billboards with this photo.”

Leung is working on his first book an art/food type book featuring around 36 of his recipes. But the book also doubles as a travel/lifestyle book on Hong Kong, after all his “X-treme Chinese” dishes are inspired by this city. Being a trained food stylist, I could not help but be intrigued at his shoot. “Why don’t you come and take a look,” Alvin suggested.

So while most of Hong Kong was scampering around doing their holiday shopping and parties on the last Friday before Christmas, I headed to the Miele Private Lounge Show kitchen in Causeway Bay.  The high-powered digital Hasselblad H4D-50 medium format camera was right in the middle of the kitchen. Manning this super high-resolution powered camera capable of 50 Million pixels is world-class Danish photographer Rene Riis . The Copenhagen-based lens man met Leung at a food photography seminar for Hasselblad in Hong Kong last year.  The two artists quickly developed a rapport and friendship sealed over a few beers.

So when Leung decided to come up with his first book, Riis was the natural choice. The Danish photographer is known for his remarkable close-ups and detailed images of food. With over fifteen year experience in photography, his work is featured in art publications like Wallpaper, Elle Decoration, Living Architecture, Gasto and GQ Magazine.  

Riis flew into Hong Kong on Monday to begin work on this project.  Alvin personally created and styled the food. There were no sketches, or photo reference. The two geniuses created the images as they go.  Alvin would set up the food, repeatedly until he achieve the image he wanted on the screen of the laptop.  The calm and unassuming Rene waited patiently, and executed the desired look of the chef.  It was a fitting collaboration: the fiery demon chef and the mild-mannered photographer. They are very much yin-yang.  

It was Day 5 of their collaboration when I watched them work. On the table were the fruits of their collaboration: over twenty stunning photos.  Since I am a food stylist and know the secrets to make gorgeous food, I thought the magic would be gone. But I was stunned by how this tandem made something as simple as congee look stunning.  The moment I arrived the two were tackling how to present hot pot.  They fiddled with the raw meat, with chilli, Sichuan pepper, tomato to make a stunning work of art.  

The weekend was about to begin and the duo still had one more day of food shoot to do at Bo Innovation.  I quietly slipped away from the kitchen leaving them concentrated in their delicious creation.  

I will just have to wait to be wowed once more when the book is released in late spring 2011.  

Text and Photos by Maida Pineda.