October 11, 2016

Image Credit: Siobhan Ferguson

What better way to spend a weekend than exploring the colourful lanes of Notting Hill, learning how to slay at Instagram and eating lots and lots of delicious food? We did just that at the #NottingHillWorkshop hosted by @belleeannee @joythebaker @hannahargyle @siobhaise and @angrybaker. Having learnt how to artfully style food in the kitchen to getting the best of photo editing tools, we caught up with Jessica to find out a little more about her favourite seasonal recipes, most used lenses and what she’s up to next.

UO: What is your favourite fall recipe? (Sweet or savoury!)

At the moment my go-to recipe for the fall is a Blackberry + Apple Oat crumble. It’s super simple and a little bit sweet and a little bit tart and just perfect for making ahead and popping into the oven as you serve dinner rewarding you with a piping hot, homemade dessert at just the right time.

For savoury I have my sights set on Thomas Keller’s savoury leek bread pudding for Thanksgiving this year. I made it last Christmas and it was absolutely fantastic! One of my biggest regrets in life is that after we ate half of it someone put it on a side counter and no one refrigerated it and the next day when I went in for leftovers it had been left out at room temperature all night. Heart. Breaking.

UO: What are your top food photography tips?

1. Use natural lighting. Always turn off interior lights and if you can’t (because you are at a restaurant) then just don’t even take the picture.

2. Some foods are just plain ugly when cooked. A fantastic food photography professional can make anything look good but that skill goes way beyond casual Instagram shots. If you come across this then consider just shooting the dish raw. Decorative pie crusts are a great example of this. A beautiful and delicate pie crust just looks better before it is cooked.

3. Break up blocks of colour with pepper, herbs, olive oil or gravy. For instance if you shoot macaroni and cheese there isn’t much colour contrast so go heavy on the black pepper when you shoot it. If you are shooting hummus in a bowl, sprinkle some paprika and olive oil on top to break up the monotony of the colour.

4. Use smaller dishes for food shots than you might use in “real life” When I first started shooting I went to a garage sale and bought a handful of gorgeous platters that I thought would be perfect for food photography. I found out quickly that large plates or platters just make servings look sparse or take up the entire screen. Plates really should not be any bigger than 8″ across and 6″ is even better.

Image Credit: @remagouyez

UO: Top food styling tips you’ve picked up along the way?

Learn to love negative space. Food can be really busy. Don’t be afraid to show some empty table next to your gorgeous plate of pasta and let viewers’ eyes rest.

Use a great fork. A few great pieces of flatware can make your shot come to life. I learned that from photographer Helene Dujardin.

There are three stages of a dish for photography: Preparation. Cooked. Eaten.

Remember that trifecta because if you ever get frustrated because you can’t tell your story with a finished dish, you can always tell it with a raw dish or a shot of preparation. For instance, last Christmas I had agreed to shoot a British classic, “Christmas Pudding” for Life and Thyme (keep in mind that Christmas pudding is really a big brown blob.) I spent two days trying to style it, shoot it and edit it. I changed angles, backgrounds, accoutrements. And nothing worked. I finally had to email them and tell them that I had tried and I couldn’t make it look like anything edible. After I sent the email and beat myself up for failing them I did a bit of research and I found some really gorgeous shots of it….wrapped in gauze and not yet cooked. The stories and recipes were still lovely…even more so really because the photographs held the promise of discovery. I wish I’d have thought then about the three options for shots. Another option is to shoot an empty serving dish and dirty dishes and let your scene styling tell the story of a successful dinner.

UO: Apart from your iPhone, what is your go-to camera to use?

I am a Canon girl. I currently shoot on a 70D which is really the best Canon I’ve had. I also have a Canon 5D Mark IV that I bought from a professional photographer second hand but it is too much camera for what I am doing. The 70D is my best friend.

UO: What are your favourite lenses to shoot with and why?

I use two lenses. The one I use ALL the time is a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. It works in a wide range of conditions – from food photography to pics of my children in the park. The maximum aperture of 2.8 means that I can get great depth of field but the minimum of 22 means that I can also take a landscape shot of a great building if I am travelling. It is an expensive lens but I would suggest picking up a camera body that is a model or two behind and then splurging on this lens.

The other lens I use is a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM. This is the most expensive of the fixed 50mm lenses and, to be honest, isn’t a necessary expense. You can pick up the Canon EF 50 mm-f/1.4 USM Lens for a quarter of the price of the 1.2L and still get that great depth of field that makes one item of food look sharp and makes else in the background blurry.

Image Credit: @Icvander

UO: What are your favourite things about living in Notting Hill and where are some of your favourite cafes, restaurants in the area?

My favourite thing about living in Notting Hill is that there is always a buzz in the neighborhood because it is still such a culturally mixed area. People who live here really want that energy that comes from a working, living neighborhood. It isn’t over sanitized. The same men and women have been working on Portobello road for 30+ years but newbies show up with their freshly issued expat visas and everyone finds a way to fit in.

Some of my favourite restaurants are Ffiona’s on Kensington Church Street for date night or brunch with the family, Taqueria on Westbourne Grove for great Mexican food, Casa Cruz for date night and a few (too many) margaritas and the Electric House for working lunch. Tin Shed on All Saints Road is my very favourite breakfast stop (ask if you can sit downstairs – most people don’t even know there is a downstairs and the light is fantastic) and Pedlar’s on Blenheim Crescent has the best coffee. There is also a crazy coffee place up Portobello Road near the Westway called Vinyl Cafe. It’s a bit sketchy, the design isn’t great and you probably wouldn’t Instagram it but the staff is super cheery, they really love their coffee and even though they are excessively hip they still embrace me with open arms when I show up with my children in their properly smart private school uniforms. Plus they make hot chocolate by melting chocolate chips with hot water and then adding whole milk. It’s sooooo good!

UO: You’ve lived in a number of amazing places including New York and Switzerland, where is next on your travel itinerary and why?

Ha! I wish I knew! We debate, daily, whether to move back to New Orleans in order to have more space and a dog but we love Notting Hill so much that it makes it really hard to leave. So I don’t know, but I’m sure it will show up on Instagram once we know!

Image Credit: @belleeannee

UO: What should no kitchen be without?

Really sharp knives! I am a big knife person – I have 11 hanging up on a knife rack plus another 3 or so packed away for special occasions. I have the knives I was given in culinary school 10 years ago still in steady rotation as well as some expensive single-edge bladed knives that I picked up in Japan a couple of years ago. And I have them professionally sharpened twice a year.

UO: Who or what do you look to for creative inspiration?

This sounds silly but I look to grocery displays and grocery magazines for most inspiration – what produce is in season and just pouring out of baskets in the grocery store. When I see pumpkins piled high I automatically start thinking about pumpkin muffins, pumpkin ravioli, roasted pumpkins…and then I start thinking more obscure combinations. Maybe diced roasted sweet potatoes and poached figs sliding off of a charcoal grilled duck breast. I don’t do really, really outlandish pairings. My style is more about what can be picked up at a good grocery store (or farmer’s market) and then turned into a stunning family dinner.

My friend Joy is my very favourite cookbook author but if she was unavailable I’d have to say that Ina Garten is my favourite cookbook author / television personality. She just has it all figured out.

Image Credit: @Icvander

UO: If you could invite anyone over for dinner (dead or alive!) who would you pick?

Barack Obama. Without question. 100%. (Could you arrange that?)

UO: What’s next on the horizon for you in 2016 and beyond?

When we first moved back to London last fall I decided to take on writing for other publications. I had great success, almost too much, and ended up with very little time to dedicate to my own projects because I was always thinking about articles for other people. This year I took time off of that and really let myself think about what I wanted to do and I came up with a new energy to put toward BelleAnnee.com. So my next big thing is to redesign BelleAnnee.com and let myself write more for it. I am also finishing up my diploma in wine through WSET so I am sure that will show up on Instagram and the website somehow.