Primping and Pimping for Premium Pix

The art of enhancement.
The art of manipulation.
The art of deception—sometimes.
The art of turning something pedestrian into something irresistible.
No, I’m not talking about push-up bras. I’m talking about food styling.
I had the good fortune learn some food styling tips from one of the top names in the business, Delores Custer, thanks to a workshop offered by the Portland Culinary Alliance at The Art Institute of Portland’s Culinary School.
My wildly swinging appetite during her slide show attests to her skill. Oohhhh, I want a hamburger—char grilled, juicy, crispy with lettuce and onion. No, I want pancakes dripping with syrup and melted butter.  Wait, no, bread pudding swimming in chocolate sauce REALLY sounds good.
I am easily manipulated.
No longer an obscure behind-the-scene art, food styling is increasingly on everyone’s radar, not least because of the explosion of enthusiastic amateurs snapping tasty pix for their blogs, review sites like Yelp and food-obsessed websites like Chowhound
While a sumptuous dish viewed in person triggers all five hungry senses, a successful photograph utilizes every trick to appeal to our eyes alone, suggesting tempting scent, luscious texture, a hot sizzle or refreshing chill, and a transcendent deliciousness. Experts like Delores harness a variety of techniques, which she discusses in her new book–the absolute bible on the topic–Food Styling: The Art of Preparing Food for the Camera. After over 30 years as one of the top names in the business, she knows all the secrets, many of which she invented. A split-second with a heat-gun gives chocolate chip cookies that straight-out-of-the-oven look. An eyedropper—or even a tiny jot of soap—gives coffee that just-poured freshness.
I was inspired to put my little Canon digital point-and-shoot through its paces. Here are a couple shots in which I captured that tight depth of field so popular in food photography today. And now, armed with the methods Delores shared, my food pictures–my favorite souvenirs of any trip—will burst with sensory appeal.

A Food-Obsessed Fest with the Best

The IACP just concluded its annual conference, held in Portland this year.

Which IACP? The International Association of Chiefs of Police? Nope.

The International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists? Nope.
How about the International Association for Cognitive Psychotherapy? Uh uh.
Maybe this picture gives a hint:
It attracted food-obsessed folks of all stripes, from several continents. Food stylists, expatriate bed & breakfast proprietors, cooks, personal chefs, cookbook authors, editors, cooking teachers–all bound by an bottomless love of all that’s edible.
I signed up as a local volunteer, allowing me to give directions, recommend restaurants and join some excellent seminars while rubbing shoulders with some renowned food folks. Ruth Reichl gave the keynote address. Legendary sausage king Bruce Aidells sassed teacher/author Crescent Dragonwagon, who sassed right back. Shirley O. Corriher, author of Cookwise and Bakewise, made me biscuits.
Okay, she made them for everyone.
Hugh Carpenter won Cooking Teacher of the Year, and I got to shake his hand and remind him that I was one of his assistants at Montana Mercantile in Los Angeles back in the eighties.
At the Host City Reception, I scooped gelato for Cathy Whims of Portland’s Nostrana, and flitted about the room sampling lavishly garnished potato pancakes from Broder, chocolates from Moonstruck, Dungeness crab with delicate gnocchi from Paley’s Place, gorgeous macaroons (passion fruit!!! port wine!!!) from Pix Patisserie, and about two dozen other delicacies. And a surprisingly delicious cocktail, bravely combining Campari and Krogstad Aquavit from our own House Spirits Distillery!
Next year Austin, Texas hosts. Need any volunteers?

Portland Dining Delights

IMG_0526A three-day visit to my home town of Portland, Oregon, and all I did was eat. Really. Thai food, bar food, fancy tasting menu, homey crepes. It was divine.

One highlight was a five-course lunch at Bleu, the restaurant of the Western Culinary Institute. Now, I don’t need five courses at lunch, but at $14.95, I managed to put them away, having skipped breakfast in anticipation. My very accommodating lunch date agreed to go halvsies on everything, and most courses included two choices, so we covered most of the bases.

Soup: potato leek or butternut squash puree.

Salad: shaved fennel and red onion, (too) lightly dressed with orange, garnished with orange and blood orange, or butter lettuce with peeled cherry tomatoes (had they been canned? in any case, very nice! they absorbed some of the excellent dressing) and bacon.

Appetizer: salmon mousse with asparagus tips, awash in beurre blanc, or a charcuterie plate showcasing two kinds of salumi, with 3 mustards, sliced apple and cornichons.

Main: clams (5 of ’em) with wide noodles, seasoned with curry, or pork loin with curry sauce and lentils.

Dessert: chocolate souffle with creme anglaise, or creme brulee.

All this, plus a coffee, tea or soda–a screaming deal. While the food was neither transcendent nor sublime, it ranged from fair (the fennel salad, grievously under-seasoned) to delish (the salmon mousse) and nicely portioned. We cleaned our plates throughout, until we were met with the substantial creme brulee, which defeated us both and returned to the kitchen unfinished.

Perhaps we ate too much bread: slices of an excellent baguette, served with three kinds of butter: plain, herbed, and honey-saffron. This last was delectable, although I’d prefer to see it on the breakfast table, not with my savories. On the whole, I will gladly be dining at more cooking schools.