Friday 24 May 2019

Bairbre Power: 'Oh no, I've turned into that person who photographs their food. Say cheese!'


The Wolseley’s Omelette Arnold Bennett is a picture
The Wolseley’s Omelette Arnold Bennett is a picture
Bairbre Power

Bairbre Power

I reached into my handbag, pulled it out and did what I always swore I wouldn't do... I Instagrammed my lunch. Well, to be exact, I took a photograph of it in case I might post it later with other moments of a glorious day around Dublin Bay.

I know, I know, it's fierce annoying when people start faffing around with their food, whipping out smartphones and refusing to let other guests eat until they get their 'shot.'

I swore I wouldn't fall into that zealous brigade after a pal rudely admonished me for diving into the sweet potato fries and eating some before she had her shot. "Are we at lunch or a photoshoot," I asked caustically. She didn't reply so I ate her subject matter. And now here I am, after swallowing my words, committing crimes against hot food.

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Being snap happy for Insta is almost worse than reaching for condiments and lashing on salt and pepper without even tasting the food! So if the older generation were quick to salt their food - a knock-on, I suspect, from the war years when grub tasted bland due to rationing - generations have followed this dining behaviour to our shame.

But here we are in 2019, on the cusp of a new decade and the current generation of millennials are fixated with living their best lives - and if not, creating the illusion of lives they wished they had. It's all moved on from salting virgin food so we can hashtag the restaurant... and don't forget to tag the chef.

I'm not trying to exonerate myself here, but my food Instagramming behaviour is more aimed at making a record of dishes and capturing fun nights out with pals. In my line of work, you do meet food enthusiasts who come armed with ring lights in case the candles aren't waxy and yellow enough for shots.

There's always the establishing shot followed by the close-up. Don't forget one from above, move the candle for a warmer light. Quick! Catch that 'foam' before it evaporates and whatever you do, edit out the lamps in the background. Waiters armed with parmesan and pepper mills are shooed away. How exhausting... and meanwhile, the food goes cold!

Last Saturday, my subject matter was a 'Clucking Unbelievable' toasted sambo, which I ordered on the Bull Wall. The casual cafe was outdoors, so I wasn't invading anyone's privacy. Maybe I was just extra giddy at trying out the Leica lens on my new phone, but I took loads of shots.

Some foods photograph better than others. Fanned slices of avocado with eggs are enough to send me running to the shops for supplies. In my defence, I will say that photography is my hobby. Years ago, a lecturer shared insights into the fascinating world of professional food photography. Motor oil used as a stand-in for not very photogenic syrups, white glue instead of milk for cereal photos and did you ever spot brown shoe polish on the meat? At least the food in my photos is actually for consumption and, as my thickening waistline proves, I demolish it all.

We eat with our eyes but how much should social media influence chefs on what they serve to us ?

I saw in Esquire magazine how it was suggested to Jeremy King that his restaurants should start making dishes more 'Instagrammable' in order to boast popularity on social media. He owns some choice London locations like The Wolseley, The Delaunay and Brasserie Zedel. However, vindication came the very next day, via Instagram as it happens.

An esteemed food critic went to The Wolseley for their Omelette Arnold Bennett. Foodies will know that this concoction of fresh eggs and smoked haddock was a favourite of the writer Arnold Bennett who resided at The Savoy Hotel, where the iconic dish was created for him. Jeremy King acknowledged how this omelette was "probably one of the least photogenic dishes because it looks a bit sort of brown" but the critic, Marina O'Loughlin, praised it as "unspeakable bliss".

Now that I've reprimanded myself publicly in print for food Instagram fetishes, I'm off to try make an Arnold Bennett and I'll make sure not to leave out the bay leaves. I wonder! Have I possibly discovered the answer to avocado and eggs? Watch out for the photos!

Irish Independent

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