Interview with Food Photographer Michael Lamotte & From the Source

Star Route Farms

I met Michael Lamotte back in 1998, when I was looking for a photographer to shoot my first book, Room for Dessert. Because he had done several beautiful books with other Bay Area authors, I was really happy that I was able to work with him because I was a big fan. He did such a great job that he photographed my second book as well. I was a newbie back then and didn’t have much of a sense of what goes into a photo shoot for a cookbook, but I learned a lot working with him. And I also learned why he’s so successful; not only is he a great photographer, but he’s a terrific guy.

There are a lot of food photographers out there, but Michael has a particularly keen eye for food. Which is why I’m fascinated by his current project, From the Source, with images that are both haunting and magnificent, and make me look at everyday foods from a different perspective. I was curious why he chose to take his photography in this particular direction for this very personal project, focusing on local foods from the San Francisco Bay Area.

Michael is currently preparing an exhibition in San Francisco at the a.Muse art gallery (see end of interview for opening dates and related events) and since I was recently in San Francisco, I thought I’d ask him some questions about what he does, how he gets such amazing shots, and what motivated him to take on this project.

FTS B+W

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The Ice Cream Bar

The Ice Cream Bar

Rats! It used to be my dream to open an ice cream bar. But then again, that’s coming from the guy who thought that no one in America would be interested in bean-to-bar chocolate, no one in Los Angeles would ever buy artisan bread, and who sold his Apple stock when it was 38 per share.

As I’ve been traveling around the U.S., I’ve noticed all the artisan places that have popped up, everything from local olive oil at San Francisco airport, folks distilling whiskey in big cities, and people waiting three hours for a plate of smoked meat. Am not sure exactly how to explain this phenomenon to people who live outside the United States, but whatever triggered it, I gotta say, I’m swallowing my words.

The Ice Cream Bar

However perhaps I was ahead of the curve because after I’d written my ice cream book, I played with the idea of opening an ice cream shop (unfortunately, not with any money I made on my Apple stock), where I imagined myself churning away all sorts of flavors, using bean-to-bar chocolate (after I got done kicking myself…), artisan breadcrumbs (don’t get me started…) as well as local fruits and berries.

While on book tour, I met a number of swell folks who handed me their battered copies of The Perfect Scoop for me to sign, worn down from being passed around the kitchen of visionaries who had better insight than I, and opened ice cream shops.

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Josey Baker’s Adventure Bread

Josey Baker gluten-free bread recipe

It gives me a little frowny face when people tell me that they can’t find good bread in America. But I’m turnin’ that frown upside down because the more I travel, the more good bread I see. And I love passing on the word because, really, everyone should have access to good bread – no matter where they are.

The San Francisco Bay Area has had a tradition of good bread for a while, from the golden loaves of airy Boudin San Francisco sourdough, to the earthy levain breads from Acme, Tartine, b. pâtisserie, Della Fattoria, and all the other bakeries that are pulling terrific loaves out of the oven daily, in the area.

Josey Baker Bread

People in San Francisco are obsessed with good bread, and good food – a tradition which I am happy to report is still in evidence from all the great meals I’ve been having on this trip. And like France, and many other countries, bakeries are important to the community. One bakery that is extra-special to me is The Mill, which I discovered on my last trip. And one that I was anxious to revisit on this one.

Josey Baker Bread

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I’m sorry, Vancouver

Vancouver Canada

A while back I was discussing something with a Canadian friend in Paris. Until – at one point, she stopped the discussion and said, “Y’know, I’m Canadian. I don’t have an opinion.” And while that may be true, before touching down in Vancouver, I decided to give crowd-sourcing where I should go for dinner another go, since I knew almost nothing about where to go in Vancouver. The only thing I knew was that it was known to have especially great Asian food. And it seemed a shame not to indulge in some of it.

Mexican food truck

Vancouver Food Truck

Since my plane was coming near the tail end of the dinner hour, and I had to be up-and-at-‘em early the next morning, I needed somewhere to go that was near to my hotel. After a day of flying, I wasn’t up for wandering around an unfamiliar city in my dazed stupor. And since I only have the barest minimum of free time, I needed to use it wisely – and make sure I didn’t eat any meals that were duds.

food truck

For an opinion-free culture, folks on Twitter sure had plenty to say about where to go, although many were eliminated since “near” was the operative word. I also learned that apologizing for everything was another trait Canadians were known for. And as we were lining up to exit the plane and race toward the border patrol area, which is usually a scrum elsewhere, I heard plenty of people apologizing and saying “Oh, I’m sorry” to each other. And letting them pass.

canada flag

On the food front, a few places kept popping up repeatedly, and looking at a map once I landed, and talking to the nice folks at my hotel, I saw thatShuraku was just a five minute walk away from where I was staying. So that was the deciding factor.

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City of Light

City of Light Cocktail recipe

There’s nothing like an icy cocktail to start off summer, and I’m considering making this my new seasonal refresher. When the team at Lucques restaurant in Los Angeles presented a menu from My Paris Kitchen for one of their Sunday suppers, head bartender, Christiaan Rollich came up with an inspired cocktail that’s light, and refreshing, and combines a splash of Lillet, a pour of French vermouth, another nod to France with a dash of orange liqueur, finished up with some bubbly from our friends across the border in Italy.

Lucques cocktail city of light.jpg

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My Paris Kitchen (errata)

In some copies of the first printing of My Paris Kitchen, it’s not clear when to add ingredients in two of the recipes in the dessert chapter. They’re correct in most copies of the book. But for the few where they weren’t, here are the clarifications:

- For those who use metrics, the conversion for the tahini in the Beet Hummus (page 58), is 90g, and for the Hummus (page 60), is 120g. 1 tablespoon tahini = 15g.

- In the sardine spread recipe (page 79), the metric conversion for the 1/4 cup of cream cheese is 55g.

- Bay leaf pound cake with orange glaze (page 296): The bay leaf-infused melted butter gets added with the other wet ingredients (the egg mixture) in step 6.

- Bûche de Noël (page 319): The orange syrup is brushed on the cake after it’s unrolled, in step 8, just before spreading on the chocolate/orange/ricotta filling.

And for two other recipes, here’s a tip, and a variation:

- For the Chicken Pot Parmentier (page 166-167), if you don’t have a food mill or potato ricer, you can use a stand mixer to make the potato topping (steps 5 and 60. After drying out the potatoes, beat them in the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, along with the 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, until smooth and the potatoes are cooled down a bit. Then beat in the cream and egg yolks.

- The Chocolate-dulce de leche tart (page 289): If the dough needs help coming together, feel free to add a tablespoon or two of water to it, in step 2.

L.A.

LA

I’m one of those people who loves Los Angeles. Even rarer, I’m one of those San Franciscans who loves Los Angeles. Each sometimes writes off the other, and the two big cities in California are often at odds with each other. One is serious, grey, and a little foreboding and mysterious. The other sunny and warm, with an upbeat attitude that even after visiting for the umpteenth time, I find refreshing. And it always makes me happy to be in LA.

LA

My first “Aha!” moment on this visit was when I woke up the morning after dinner at République, the stunning restaurant that took over the space of the former Campanile restaurant. I took the elevator up to the breakfast room of my hotel, on the top floor. When the door opened, my eyes took a moment to adjust after being greeted by a sky so bright-blue, I was wondering why I had spent so many years trying to stay warm under the blanket of chilly fog of San Francisco.

So a poolside breakfast it was, a plate of scrambled egg whites with kale, squash, avocados and Sriracha sauce, along with a thermos of coffee, and a terrace view. I was ready to move in.

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Onward…

Stiles BBQ in Austin

One thing vegans and vegetarians don’t have to worry about is going into a “meat coma.” But I do, as I’ve been in one twice during my week in Texas. On a previous trip, my friend Matt (who own Tèo gelato and espresso shop, in Austin – and is a must-stop) whisked me away from the airport and took me straight out to Lockhart, known for its excellent bbq joints. However since my free time was limited to little less than three hours, total, we decided to stay within the city limits of Austin (or at least nearby) and get my bbq fix there.

Stiles BBQ in Austin

Matt told me the two places that were more convenient, since I was pressed for time, and when we drove by Franklin Barbecue and saw what is said to be a three-hour wait (people were, indeed, lined up, sitting in lawn chairs, with coolers of beer), I said, “Keep going…” and we pulled up to Stiles Switch BBQ.

And once inside, I was glad we did. The super-friendly staff at the counter provided yet another Texas-style welcome, spending time telling us about the different kinds of meats, after they found out I lived in Paris. While I appreciated the introduction, I had already honed in one the brisket, the beef ribs, and the pork ribs. All were excellent, but the beef rib was especially good and if that had been my last meal ever, I would have been happy.

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