The Food Porn Laboratory

by Lynne on August 14, 2011

Post image for The Food Porn Laboratory

Spicy “Crack” Krab Cakes from Starry Kitchen

The full title for this post is actually “The Food Porn Laboratory Sponsored by Starry Kitchen featuring Pulitzer Prize Winning LA Times Photographer Kirk McKoy & Award-Winning Photojournalist and Photo Editor Ken Kwok”. Quite a mouth-full. But all true.

Last week my friend Michele sent me an urgent email saying she had read about this photo event in the LA Times and thought it was right up my alley. She included the link to the article. It sounded like fun and something to get me outside my comfort zone, so I called up and registered. Subsequent emails revealed that about 70 people had signed up and we were urged to get there early, as we would be given numbers and be shooting the food in the order of our arrival.

This free event was hosted by Visual Communications, the nation’s premier Asian American Media Arts organization, and was billed as a three-part feast for the senses, one-part photography tutorial and food styling workshop, one-part photo competition and one-part community potluck. Guaranteed to give you multiple foodgasms. The dishes for the photo competition were donated by Starry Kitchen and the owners of that famous underground restaurant, Nguyen and Thi Tran, would be judging and selecting the winning photos. The prizes included the winning photo framed and displayed in Starry Kitchen’s restaurant, website and menu, plus a $20 gift card to Starry Kitchen.

Potluck at The Food Porn Lab

We started off with the potluck, which was set up in the courtyard in front of the Union Center for the Arts Theatre. There was so much good food, I can’t even describe it all. I just remember one guy taking a bite of his Rice Krispie Treat Pop and saying “Who made these? I’m going to marry her.”

Eating and Networking at the Food Porn Lab Potluck

We all sat around stuffing our faces and networking. I met one other food blogger and everyone else seemed to be there to learn about photography. At the appointed time, we were called into the basement offices of Visual Communications, where they had set up rows of folding chairs in front of the tables where  Pulitzer Prize Winning LA Times Photographer Kirk McKoy and Award-Winning Photojournalist and Photo Editor Ken Kwok were giving their photography and foodstyling workshop.

Kirk McKoy

Kirk McKoy talked about turning your dish around until the way it looked really appealed to your senses. He had a LED light faced with vellum shining on the hero and placed those nifty silver reflectors around just so. On the opposite end of the table a strobe light was also shining on the dish.

Kirk McKoy and Ken Kwok

More silver reflectors were used, and Ken Kwok consulted and held the big silver reflector.  Kirk McKoy suggested that if we were in a restaurant and it was dark, that we should take the plate to the nearest window. Or use the light or candle sitting on the table. Or as a last resort, get everyone around to turn on their cell phones and hold the lighted screens near the food while you take the shot.

Kirk McKoy and the Photo Submission Station

For this dish, you can see a small compact mirror was used as an option. After the photo competition, we went to the computer center upstairs and uploaded our photos into our own folders. We could choose to enter them into four categories: Most (Food) Pornographic, Best Color, Best Mood, and Best Composition. No Photoshop was allowed. I needed a lot of help with this part as I am MAC-challenged. DSLRs and point-and-shoot cameras were judged separately.

Spicy Vietnamese Salad from Starry Kitchen

Finally we got into groups of ten according to our arrival numbers, in preparation to go shoot the dishes from Starry Kitchen. I want you to guess who had number one. OCD me, of course. LOL.

Pandan Donut Holes from Starry Kitchen

The dishes were set up on tables covered with black tablecloths. We had been told we could bring our own props, but I didn’t. In retrospect, I should have brought a white napkin and a knife and fork, at the least. As I said, the room was in the basement and was lit with overhead fluorescent lights. We got two minutes each to shoot 5 dishes (10 minutes total) and only got to choose the first dish. Then the rules were that you had to go on to the next four consecutively numbered dishes. There were actually 10 dishes in all. They blew a whistle every two minutes. I had never been in a photo competition before, especially one that was timed, so it was a very interesting experience. I did ok, I think. At least a couple of my photos turned out.

Seered Spice Tuna Salad with Citrus Mango Viniagrette from Starry Kitchen

Thank you Visual Communications, Starry Kitchen, Kirk McKoy and Ken Kwok for a really informative and interesting event. Next time I’m bringing props, you can bet on that. Oh yes.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

polwig August 14, 2011 at 9:33 am

Your photos look amazing. I really really want those crab cakes but I need to make your tomatillo soup first.

Donna August 15, 2011 at 4:35 pm

Enjoyed meeting you at the event. We brought props and the pictures turned out nice, but couldn’t download onto the Macs. Yours look great.
Also to read your story about the neighbor who showed up with produce. If she has lots of zucchini – even the huge ones – try the zucchini soup base on my blog and stick it in the freezer for later.

Jacqueline C. August 15, 2011 at 5:49 pm

Thanks Lynne for this post! Saw it on VC’s FB page and it made my day when you wrote the comment about my Mochi Cereal treats. Hilarious! Beautiful food pictures :)

philip SINSHEIMER August 15, 2011 at 9:38 pm

Bravo for the detailed description of that fun event and the pictures which surely should put you on the podium! It was great meeting you.
Philip alias Vietnamese style rice noodle,veggie and tofu salad with peanut butter dressing, cilantro and mint

Monet August 16, 2011 at 6:51 am

What a great event…I need and want to attend one! Thank you so much for sharing with me, my sweet friend. I hope you have a wonderful Tuesday. I’m starting out strong with an egg sandwich and a big cup of coffee :-) Much love from Austin!

redmenace August 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm

What a great experience. I would love to do something like this. Thank you for sharing!

Nancy@acommunaltable August 20, 2011 at 9:10 pm

Hi Lynne!!

As you can tell, I am totally behind in my blog reading! What an absolutely FUN event – kudos for you for stepping outside of your comfort zone. One of these days I am going to get better at that..
I think your photos turned out great!!!

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