Simplicity

by Jon Sullivan - 2022-01-03 - Stories

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For me food photography is a special niche. Both photography and cooking are major happy-making hobbies. So dishes I plan to photograph end up being an overly complicated meal.

Normally a photo is supposed to be all about light and focus and a moment in time. But for food photos the goal is to capture flavor, texture, mood, all of which are invisible. And of course it needs to be a good photo, so I need to worry about shapes and color and contrast. It should also be a very delicious meal. No point in going to all the bother if it's not also wonderful to eat. And you need a cool name. If I have a food photo here, you know it was a whole production just to eat lunch.

So here we have - Blood orange Tso's chicken with ginger cream and chili crisp. Basically just fried chicken with sweet and sour sauce. But I wanted a "kicked up" version. And Sharon had given out homemade chili crisp for Christmas. So I start tossing around color ideas. Red chili crisp, white cream, green cilantro. Hey! Christmas colors! Then flavors. Ginger cream should balance and combine with the chili oil nicely. Some orange zest to make sure it's still "Tso's"-ish. And let's use blood oranges for a cool name, even though they won't affect the flavor at all.

And it has to work as a photo. That's sort of the point. So I have that overused "stack of three things" composition. The Christmas colors are subtle but comforting. The red chili oil makes a great foreground. Molding the rice makes it look somewhat fancy. So nice use of color, shape, contrast to make it worth the effort.

It's complicated.

But.... Honestly some good basic Tso's chicken likely would have been better. Better because of it's perfect simplicity. Fried chicken tossed in too much sweet chili sauce is just a great dish. Not fancy-restaurant great. But more "what food am I craving" great.

But... irregardless of my many/endless/tedious food photos, most food I cook daily is pretty simple. Lots of stews and soups. Chicken soup is a favorite. Also various fish chowders. Gumbo, curries, inauthentic pozole. And while curries can be a big production, mine is just lentils, Penzey's curry spice, whatever veggies I have, and a nice piece of fish. Simple.

Of course, while I love Penzey's blend, I do like a bit more ginger, garlic and cumin. So I add those. It's also a bit mild, so I include a sizable dump of cayenne. And no one likes thin curry so I add some tomato paste and coconut milk to thicken it up. And one of the nice properties of a curry is how smooth it is, so I'll usually add some butter. My father seemed to add cardamom to everything, so I love an extra pinch of that in my curry. Air dried shallots too, as they are one of those magic ingredients. For a bit of texture I often add some brown rice. And it is a fish curry, so I'll add a wee bit of fish stock at the end. Maybe a splash of sweet wine.

And...... so much for simple. Even my "simple one pot meal" is complex.

I keep thinking I live a simple life. Alone in my Hobbit hole. Just me and my video games. But when you break it down it's not simple at all. Wonder if that's a problem.

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