Well, it appears it’s time for my bi-annual blog post! What can I say? I guess I’ll say this: Follow me on Instagram if you want to keep a little more apprised of my day-to-day world than this venue provides. However, I do like to bloviate on rare occasions when I have the time, so here goes…
This fall marked the publication of the fourth cookbook I’ve done the photography for (with two more on the way next year!). Adventures in Comfort Food by Cafe Miranda’s Kerry Altiero and co-author Kate Gaudet is a wide-ranging mix of creative twists on classic comfort food and Maine fare, interspersed with ethnic-inspired dishes. The restaurant’s slogan “Because We Can” will give you a pretty good idea of the wackiness factor here. And Kathleen Pierce of the Bangor Daily News has done a great job of conveying the vibe and mindset behind Cafe Miranda and the cookbook here and here.
This is not a book I thought I would end up working on, despite already being a fan of the kitschy, mammoth-menued restaurant in Rockland, Maine, that inspired the recipe collection. I was skeptical about the photogenic properties of “comfort food,” especially comfort food that would be prepared without a professional food/prop stylist on site, and I was leery of chef-driven projects. But, not one to immediately close doors without due diligence, I agreed to meet with Kerry to discuss the project one day last August. I walked into the cafe at the end of a stressful day of shooting. I was badly in need of a drink, a nourishing meal and a laugh…not necessarily in that order. Kerry delivered on all fronts. I left the restaurant in high spirits, with a full belly and ready to tackle a book I had almost talked myself out of. I knew right away—no matter what happened in the course of making this book—he would keep me laughing. That, and the constant flow of cappuccinos and nourishing food that he provided from his farmhouse kitchen during several winter weekend shoots, made a challenging project fun. It was like working on a book with an Italian grandmother who has a really twisted sense of humor. And there’s a reason for that: Constance Altiero, Kerry’s Italian grandmother, was a big influence on him.
Another crucial element to this book’s success was Kate Gaudet, a friend of Kerry’s with top-notch organizational and word-smith skills who helped dream up this project. Luckily for me, she also turned out to have an innate sense for food styling and was a diligent, thoughtful and amiable companion and assistant throughout the process. Her many talents included lightening fast ironing and expert pierogie poofing (see page 137). I literally could not have done this work without her.
The three of us compiled our various collections of dishes, cookware, silverware, linens and background surfaces from which to create 50 unique recipe shots, some that have the stamp of Kerry’s unique brand of humor, and others that have my signature austere/authentic look (including the ones pictured here). We contemplated at length the feel we wanted to convey for each shot. There are so many elements to consider: vessels, backgrounds, color schemes, not to mention the placement and appearance of the food! And on top of that, of course, are those pesky little photographic things like angles and lighting.
Overall, I think the images tell the story of the food well: an eclectic mix that offers something for everyone. And I really mean that. As a non-meat, low-gluten, overall healthy eater I have already dog-eared about a dozen recipes in the book, so if you’re of a similar persuasion don’t be thrown off by the term “comfort food.” Two that will be on regular rotation in our house are No Excuses, a coconut-curry broth packed with veggies, rice noodles and tofu, and Oven-Roasted Kale, which is accented with mushrooms, feta and red onion. For a dinner party this weekend, I’m leaning toward the Squash Risotto with Roasted Kale. (Fresh veggies figure prominently in Cafe Miranda fare thanks to Kerry’s farm, which is meticulously managed by Anne Perkins.)
And hey, look at that, it’s December and I’ve just given you a great gift idea for the adventuresome cooks in your life, especially the ones who will appreciate a side of humor with their polenta pizza casserole. You can order signed copies at CafeMiranda.com or sans garnish from elsewhere.