Real Maine Food: 100 Plates from Fishermen, Farmers, Pie Champs, and Clam Shacks published this week by Rizzoli is the culmination of a project I began working on in September 2013. How satisfying to see the finished product of a long-term, labor-intensive project! Hard work, yes, but documenting the work of a wide range of the state’s unique food producers—from a fifth-generation maple syrup maker to a nationally revered heirloom apple expert to scallop dredgers to stone ground flour millers—was also some of the most rewarding and interesting work I’ve done. Many images that originated with the book project appear on my recently overhauled web site, most notably in the Ocean section.
Ben Conniff and Luke Holden, the book’s authors, operate fifteen lobster-shack style restaurants—called Luke’s Lobster—in the U.S., all serving exclusively Maine products. Initially a food writer, Ben had the idea to do a book that would showcase Maine food and the people that work so hard to produce it. I jumped at the chance to partake in a subject near and dear to my heart.
Our travels took us around the state over the course of a year. Following the seasonality of the food gave me renewed appreciation for those who make their living growing and harvesting the bounty of Maine’s fields and waters. So often, the season for one’s product of choice is limited to a few months at best, which means long, grueling days packed with many challenges, not the least of which is weather. Given the choice, I’d certainly opt for the most glorious of crisp fall days picking heirloom apples in a centuries-old orchard to bitterly cold mid-winter ones harvesting mussels from an ice-covered barge on the open ocean, although photographing both was a treat!
Ben does a great job of describing our encounters with various food producers, making this much more than a cookbook in the traditional sense. I can recall several pre-dawn mornings waiting on various piers for one kind of boat or another that would whisk us off into some unusual and captivating world different from any we’d experienced before. The people we met during these adventures were so passionate and knowledgeable about their professions that they were a real joy to learn from and spend time with, and, of course, to document at work. Some of my favorites, both visually and from a personal standpoint, were apple expert John Bunker (so singular in his knowledge that many people here refer to him simply as “the apple guy”), and Adam Campbell and Matthew Moretti, who are sustainably growing oysters and mussels, respectively.
In addition to the myriad environmental shots, I shot 20 plated dish or ingredient images to go along with a quarter of the recipes in the book. The rest of the Maine-based artistic team was the fantastically creative designer Jennifer Muller (yes, she hand-lettered those recipe titles) and the ultra-talented and meticulous food stylist and recipe developer Vanessa Seder (check out those expert butter- and cheese-melting skills). Since the three of us have a similar aesthetic sense, we had a great time compiling our various props and making plans for how to best portray the selected recipes. We shot over four days, emailing the ever-patient and helpful (“Hey, could you go easy on the polka dot props?!”) New York-based editor, Christopher Steighner, sample images along the way. Here are a few of the resulting recipe shots. Some others can be viewed in the Table section of my site.
The depth and breadth of this project was a rare and wonderful opportunity for me as a photographer. Seldom does such a suitable long-range project present itself. I feel lucky to have been a part of it. Reading this book and making the recipes in it, I hope you’ll feel as inspired and energized by the people producing and harvesting food in Maine today as I do.