Thursday, June 14, 2007

Cookbook Camera Shoot

I JOYously spent the first week of this month working on a photo shoot for my friend, Wanda Adams', second cookbook about recipes for local style entertaining. Wanda is the Honolulu Advertiser's food and book editor. This second cookbook should be coming out before Christmas '07 and unlike the first book will be available in stores (Yay!) instead of by pre-order.

We did 24 recipes for 3 days of shooting. I wore many hats on this shoot- food preparer, both whole dishes and prepping ingredients, buyer and food designer, I even participated in some food styling. One unexpected hat was food doctor. Have you ever repaired a pie with a cooked flour-water slurry? We did. Or made something that only looked like "chicken soup" using water and balsamic vinegar? We did.

It was a great crew made up of talented and truly just plain nice people. There was Wanda, the author, the General (in the best sense) and all around cook/preparer/baker. Chris Jose and Iwa Bush were the food stylists. Micki Fletcher was the art director and the representative of the publisher, Island Heritage. Romeo Collado was the photographer as he was for Wanda's first book, "The Island Plate". Brian Suda was Romeo's assistant. And me.

My cousin, Jeanette, sent me a series of interview-type questions about the shoot which I'll answer here.

Q-What goes into planning for a shoot? Does Wanda decide what to feature?
A-My understanding is that Wanda met with Micki a couple of times along with possibly other members of Micki's team at Island Heritage to decide on the look of the photos, the ambience and which recipes to feature. Wanda had spent months researching, testing and writing the recipes on her own. I think these are all recipes that are either hers or have never been published before.

I attended a pre-shoot meeting with Wanda, Micki and Romeo where Wanda described visually each dish of the 24 that would be in the shoot the following week. Wanda and I both had boxes and boxes of possible dishes and props to use for the shoot. We brainstormed about which type of dinnerware to use for what recipe, which props and even the feel or look of the photo (contemporary? family potluck? etc.). We whizzed through the dishes and we all took copious and fast notes on what was to go with what.

The day before the shoot Wanda started on the prep after she'd done her regular Advertiser work. Imagine! Having a regular job as a food editor and ALSO doing a cookbook. I really admire her work and work ethic!

Q- Do you and Wanda go shopping for all of the ingredients or does she just order.. and have them delivered.
A-I wish! No, no delivery. Wanda did the bulk of the buying of the ingredients. I would say based on our receipts it was about 2 to 1. I do remember the first day making 6 stops to markets and restaurants in Kailua, downtown and even Chinatown. Comes with the territory.

Q-Where do you cook?
A- This was the fun part. The day before the shoot we prepped the dishes that we could at Wanda's house. This would be like doing alot of the vegetables, peeling, cutting and some of the dressings. Anything that could be done ahead of time and not affect the look of freshness of the food.

The actual 3 day shoot was at the Sub Zero Wolf showroom and kitchen on King St. It was foodie toy heaven. Large expanses of counterspace. Commercial quality Sub Zero ovens, refrigerators and freezers. Stations with a sink and faucet all over the place. Gadgets and different dinnerware galore!

There were some things that both Wanda and I would make at home the night before or the morning of the shoot and then take it down to Sub Zero. E.g., I made a pudding that had to set overnight and aku cakes that were more easily fried at home. I think Wanda may have made her Codfish Croquettes at her home as well. Chef Keoni Chang from Foodland and also Chef Siu, the chef/owner from Pah Ke's brought luscious specialty fish dishes down to be shot. The timing had to be precise. That's why in my mind I call Wanda, the General, because she was the one coordinating the whole operation.

Q-What do the stylists do?
A- Wanda said it's like giving birth to a baby and then they put makeup on the baby and photograph her. Wanda and I prepare the dishes from scratch using all the ingredients (even down to a dash of fermented fish sauce, patis) as if they were to be eaten. However, this is all about how the dish will look through the camera lens so we also have to make it as sumptuous as possible. It took me twice as long to make perfect hockey puck-shaped aku cakes for the camera than it would have, if I was making that for dinner. After Wanda and I completed the dish and gotten it to look as good as we could, then Chris or Iwa would take over.

The stylists and the photogs are all artists. It was fascinating to watch the process of making the dish as visually appealing as possible. I have an image of Iwa intently and patiently rearranging the noodles one by one on a Korean Chap Chae dish with a pair of thin chopsticks. At another point, she carved her own lemon for a Filipino Orange and Radish Salad because she could not find a suitable prop that she liked. The photo shows the salad spilling gently from the lemon.

Q-Who arranges all the food for the shoot?
A-Once the stylist is done she takes it over to the photogs. All throughout this time Iwa is still checking with Wanda, Micki, Romeo and me about the designated dishes or the props. When Romeo takes over he starts taking photos using a state-of-the-art digital camera and a tv monitor to check each shot. It takes about 1 hour to get just one perfect shot for the cookbook of each dish. Can you imagine how many shots you could take in an hour? Romeo or Iwa would move a plate an 1/8", take a shot, readust, take another shot, blot the meat, take a shot, spray oil to make the food glisten, take a shot. At one point, Brian held an 18" strip of black paper 2' above the dish in order to get just the right lighting! Incredible. What does the photographer see that I don't? Alot, apparently. There is one final consultation with Micki. Wanda approves the final shot and it's on to the next dish.

I have a funny anecdote. I am proud of my fish cakes which I learned to make from Mrs. Jessie Kiyabu. My aku cakes had been plated by Iwa when Romeo came in to pick it up. He exclaimed "WOW, that's....." Now if I'm at, say a party, and someone likes my dish, they will say "WOW, that dish looks so YUMMY or 'ONO!". But not the photographer, he said "WOW, that dish is.... BEAUTIFUL!!" He actually said that that turned out to be his favorite photo so far. And I was proud of that.

Wanda and I were the Food people. The main thing that we are constantly focused on, outside of a shoot, is FLAVOR, how to boost it, how to create it, how to layer it, how do the flavors meld? The stylists and the photogs were all about the LOOK. After hanging out with these guys for days I said we'd gotten into what I call "Iwa-mode" where we would look at food as Media instead of something to consume.

Yes, we did have wonderful lunches which Wanda and I composed and yes, the leftovers were scrumptious.

-the foodiewahine

Wanda Adams wrote an article about this shoot in the Hnl. Advertiser and included her own recipe for a wonderful creamy haupia pudding at or you can go to the Hnl. Advertiser's website and check back issues for June 13 2007. The article is called "A creamy haupia that is versatile". The pudding garnered rave reviews from the crew.

Iwa Bush is an awesome stylist/artist and owner of the business The Visual Group. A subsidiary of that business is Faux Finishes which creates faux finishes, decorative painting and surface embelishments for homes. Their website is

Romeo S. Collado is a premier photographer who does commercial advertising, special events, public relations and special events. He can be reached at 808-677-4888.


Anonymous said...

Hi Mer!

I don't know why my other comment didn't make it but just wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed the latest entry on your blog! It was great reading about your adventures on the shoot, in detail. Also loved the pictures and could almost taste everything as I was reading!! Can't wait for the book to come out!!


foodiewahine said...

Hi, TSB!
Thank you for the kind comments about the photo shoot blog. It was most helpful to have you leading the way for me since you have alot of experience in buying and food prep for tv. I'm blessed to have such good friends and family.

Anonymous said...

hi auntie,

enjoyed the article. let me know when the book comes out. good question and answers from my aunties. see you in sept.

how did you meet wanda; and do you ever cook with your son?


sf nephew