A Behind the Scenes Photo Shoot

Francis Hammon
Francis Hammon
Francis at work

I’ve participated in many photo shoots, always as writer, there to make sure the food looks the way it is supposed to. For this latest, however, I was not just the writer of the book, the creator of many of the recipes, the boss of the photo list, the procurer of ingredients, but the cook, the stylist, and yes, the cleaner-upper.

It’s a big job. But thanks to the photographer, Francis Hammond, widely known for his stylish and elegant books, it was one of the most fun jobs I’ve done.  Seriously. Francis and I have collaborated on many an article, as comfortable tramping through pastures in the wilds of the Auvergne to get interviews and photos of cattle farmers and cheese makers as we are styling plates and pretending that a rainy day isn’t.  He peppers the day with silly jokes; I laugh at them, and a good time is had by all.

steak frites
Steak frites by Francis Hammond

Last week we finished up a photo shoot for my upcoming book, FRENCH GRILL.  Our goal was seven to ten full-fledged plate shots a day, which is ambitious. But an advantage to having worked much together is that we know what we can do.

Pouring red hot coals by Francis Hammond

I’m fast in the kitchen, but of course the grill will only go as quickly as it wants to, so that was the unpredictable part of the project.  Francis is a professional and while he’ll adjust and focus and shift and nudge until it makes you crazy, when he gets the shot, it’s gotten and we move along.  And as the days got shorter our job got, in some senses, easier because we had to quit at 7:30.  No matter what.

Roast Chicken
Roast Chicken by Francis Hammond

One thing about shooting a cookbook is there is just so much food involved. This meant that at days’ end there might be a roast chicken, a shoulder of lamb, slices of sweet grilled squash or even sweeter eggplant. One day there was enough pork to make a pig, perfectly crisp potatoes, carrots sweet as candy, fillets of salmon, perfectly grilled oysters…all just waiting to be tasted.  Because of course we don’t really take time for lunch; how can you when the light is available for a finite moment, and you’ve got the bar placed so high?

oyster with butter and pommeau
Oyster with butter and pommeau by Francis Hammond

Oh, we snacked plenty – the grilled poundcake is too good to miss, and the perfectly tender pears that go with it just have to be eaten warm from the photo, as do the oysters that keep their warmth through the variations we shot  – but it wasn’t until days end that we sat down for a meal.  This meant we began early, but an early start is always a good one.

The choice of what to focus on was Pantagruelian – would it be the lamb, redolent of lemon zest and garlic? Or the salmon, with its buttery tarragon sauce? Or the chicken, bursting with citrus and rosemary? Or the fragrant choucroute that offered, among other things, crisp and smoky chunks of bacon?  Or Dinner in Fifteen?

Our choice was, inevitably, the most freshly grilled morsels. And while I’d tried everything many times over, tasting them on the heels of a photo shoot, with someone who has eaten in the finest restaurants of the land, was a whole new experience.  I knew the recipes more intimately because I’d not only made them taste good but look good too. And Francis was a happy and appreciative public, the books’ first. Stay Tuned.

Fifteen MInute Supper
Dinner in Fifteen by Francis Hammond


Don’t we all wish for recipes like this, something quick and gorgeous, a little wild and lively, that goes together in no time at all?! I know I do, and this is what I turn to. It’s so easy, so pretty, and so seasonally perfect because it takes best advantage of the lively vegetables of summer’s end. I make sure to always have rose chilling, and it goes perfectly with this dish.
ASTUCES: If you don’t have a plancha, you can cook the vegetables in a cast-iron skillet, and the sausages right on the grill. I suggest using Aidells sausages www.aidells.com or any artisanally made sausages that contain real ingredients.





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