Memorial Weekend was the one-year mark for my move to LA. The anniversary inevitably leads to reflection. “What have I accomplished in my first year here?” While it’s easy to sit in self-judgment and say, “Not enough”, I will refrain from picking the low-hanging fruit. I now have a clear focus on what type of photography I want to concentrate on and a concrete plan for the next 6 months. That’s a big step.
I found out about a pop-up restaurant Top Chef All-Star Marcel Vigneron and former Chaya Executive Chef Haru Kishi were doing for Memorial Weekend. Since I wanted to do something that weekend I reserved a spot on Sunday for the BBQ brunch. A few days later I decided to send them an email asking if they needed any photography for the event. After a few emails and phone calls back and forth, I met with Marcel and Haru and we decided I would come on Saturday to shoot behind-the-scenes photos as well as the food and portraits. It was a lot to bite off in one day but I was pretty excited about it.
Haru Kishi plating the main course.
I showed up and the kitchen was busy but not crazy and the attitude was relaxed. As I started shooting behind-the-scenes in the kitchen, Haru and Marcel were alternating between concentrating on their work and hamming it up for the camera. It was a really fun environment. I also met Devon Espinosa, the resident mixologist, who started us out with drinks.
I set up in a room of the kitchen to shoot the food. After a while, they started bringing out the beauty plates for me to photograph. I figured, since we were at a restaurant, that I would have what I needed to dress the setting for the food. I was wrong. Everything was minimalist at the restaurant and not in a way that is good for pictures. It started out a little stressful for me because I wasn’t getting the looks I wanted.
Smoked BBQ pork and potato salad.
Maybe Marcel sensed something because he brought over some elements they used in the centerpieces, including some hay and little plastic army men. I started going with it and things got better. I started getting more ideas about how I wanted to shoot it and realized I didn’t have the props I needed. I was thinking about packing it in and coming back the next day after shopping for props.
Haru was bringing out the main BBQ course and I started to tell him my plan. He asked me what I needed and I told him a tablecloth for starters. He happened to have on a red and white checkered shirt and took it off saying, “Use this.” So we set up a little picnic scene on the table and got the best food shot of the day.
The delicate dessert course.
After service was done for the day, I photographed the crew in a group shot and then some of Haru, Marcel and Devon together.
Sunday, I showed up for my reservation to enjoy the food. From the starter of infused watermelon and deconstructed PB&J, to the BBQ ribs, smoked (literally) potato salad and chicken fried chicken sliders, it was a fantastic Memorial Weekend brunch.
Now, I’ve seen every season of Top Chef and was well-aware that Marcel was the guy everyone loved to hate. He would claim he’s actually a really nice guy and people would say, “Yeah, right.” But, both Marcel and Haru were very easy-going, had a lot of fun with the pictures and were also very appreciative of me being there. It made for a great day. They even took care of my brunch with a guest the next day. Great guys and great chefs; I trust I can work again with them soon.