Thursday, October 9, 2008

Client work: Laura Chenel's Chevre

Hi y'all!

Recently, I had the great fortune of working with the fine folks at Laura Chenel’s Chevre to produce photos of their revamped product line. While the products themselves are still the same fabulous goat cheese masterpieces, the packaging and marketing are brand-spanking new. Have a look and certainly have a taste next time you’re in the grocery store.

About the client: Laura Chenel's Chevre
Laura Chenel's Chevre was founded in 1979 by you guessed it – Laura Chenel. Chenel became the first American producer of goat cheese, and was put on the culinary map, to some respect, by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA when she listed the brand of goat cheese on her menu. The brand took off and production grew to over two million pounds of cheese per year.

Great lactating goats, Batman - that’s a lot of cheese!

Indeed, Robin. Laura Chenel’s Chevre became THE American goat cheese. It’s sold pretty much everywhere – from larger supermarkets to Whole Foods, Trader Joes and other artisanal food shops.

Fast forward to 2006, Laura sells the production and brand to Rians Group, a French corporation that purchases small artisnal food companies with the promise of unchanging the products or philosophies. While Laura isn't involved in the business anymore, her 500 goats are and still making fantastic chevre!

So the goats don't actually do anything but eat, sleep and shh-uffle around the farm. Oh yeah, and give their milk. It's a pretty good arrangement, I think.

Read more about Laura Chenel's Chevre in the NY Times.

About the shoot: Unintentionally, we decided to shoot on what may have been one of the hottest days of the year. While things outside were cooking, chef extraordinaire, Jacquelyn Buchanan, whose real title is Director of Culinary Development at Laura Chenel’s Chevre, and chef Nick were cooking up a storm inside.

I arrived to the smell of eggplant grilling on a cast iron skillet. With the patience of a Franciscan scribe, Nick tended to the delicate slices, and after seeing the ones that came off the grill, I swore that he was painting on those perfect grill marks. (A later attempt at the same recipe in my own kitchen did not yeild the same results…)

Back to the kitchen and task at hand. Our goal for the day was to shoot three types of pictures: the straight product packaging shots, “ambiance” shots featuring multiple products arranged real purdy like, and recipes featuring the products.

With a large task at hand, we set to work. Jacquelyn and Nick, with their years of professional chefing moved about the kitchen with an efficiency of motion likened to ballet dancers. They cooked and styled dishes while I photographed.

It’s quite something how food is basically another art form, another medium. And as with any creation, the piece takes on a life of its own, showing its true persona only after being massaged, heated, cooled, retooled, poked, prodded, brushed, turned, twisted, and lit.

Add more light here; Less light there. More garnish. No, less garnish. More cheese. Always more cheese! That’s actually my motto – when in doubt, add more cheese. :) We worked in tandem to create photos that portrayed their products in a mouthwatering, creative and beautiful way.

For me, the recipe shots were the most challenging and rewarding to create. It takes very little to make food look unappetizing in photos, yet a great deal of lighting and finesse to make a dish look like something you’d actually want to put in your mouth.

Most of the photos were made shooting into the light, which is against the general rule of thumb that the light (sun) should be behind you when photographing. Though there were several light sources being used at once, having the main light source behind your dish provides a soft, indirect light that wraps around the food. Additional light sources like other strobes and bounce cards are used to add light to specific parts of the plate, to say, add a nice highlight on a drop of oil or the edge of a plate. Next time you’re flipping through Gourmet magazine (particularly page 54 in the October 2008 issue) keep in mind that every spec of light in the food photos is deliberately placed there. Cool, huh?

So after a long day of shooting the dishes below, there was the question of what to do with all the leftovers… heirloom tomatoes, mushrooms, eggplant, and cheese up the wazoo. Lucky me ended up with an amazing doggie bag. Later that evening, I dove into it as if I were a kid with a stuffed trick-or-treat bag from a Halloween bumper crop. Soooo good.

I love my job!

Enjoy the photos…

Grilled eggplant stuffed with Laura Chenel's chevre

Grilled eggplant stuffed with Laura Chenel's chevre

Baby greens, figs and Laura Chenel's tome

Grilled mushroom caps filled with Laura Chenel's chevre

Heirloom tomato salad and crumpled chevre

Goat cheese and lemon curd tarts