One of the most rewarding elements of what I do is that I get to work in a truly diverse range of environments with a fascinating bunch of people. Last week it was school dinners; this week (so far) it’s been for one of the UK’s most respected, hard-working and gifted chefs, Pierre Koffmann.
People often ask me what it’s like working with such lofty figures – are they really a bunch of fouth-mouthed bullies? I’ve had the opportunity to work with some supremely talented and yes, famous, chefs.
But without exception they’ve all been charming, accommodating and eager to please (and I’ve barely heard a swear word, even in French). I reckon it’s all about respect – it certainly seems to go a long way.
For me that means getting the basics right on any shoot – no matter who the client is. Here are some of my golden rules:
1. Do some homework. I try to find out as much as I can about the client and the particular commission well in advance. What’s the culture? What makes them tick? What do they want from this shoot?
2. Check out the venue. If it’s a location shoot there’s little point in turning up on the day with no prior knowledge of what to expect.
3. Get there early. Even if the chefs aren’t ready, I will be. I’ll have all the kit set up and assessed the best light source.
4. Get to know the people. I always try to spend some time (see point 3!) getting to know the people I’ll be working with on a personal level. As an example, talking rugby with Pierre Koffmann proved to be the perfect ice-breaker.
5. Be polite and involve everyone. Whether it’s a Michelin-starred restaurant or the local pub it’s always a team effort to get the food on the plate and out to the diners.
6. Don’t abuse the hospitality! I seldom eat on or after a job, even if the food has been cooked by a world-renowned chef.
I applied all of these rules (and some more!) on my recent shoot at Koffmann’s. He and his team were a joy to work with. And, as I’d made clear in advance that I prefer to work in natural light, Pierre’s partner Claire had thoughtfully set aside a room which had two windows looking out on to Knightsbridge (it was novel to be photographed by tourists whilst I photographed food…).
So, I duly set up and ten minutes later the beautifully plated dishes started appearing from the kitchen of the great chef. I particularly relished the opportunity to shoot Pierre’s hands – they surely have some stories to tell!
After 90 minutes I was packed up and out the door, well before lunchtime service had started. That’s respect.