Shoot The Chef

Shoot The Chef

Capturing the creative vision.

Kaleb Ladd-Cocca

Last week’s article, We Were Mislead-- We Can't Do Anything We Want, was focused on the importance creativity plays in the lives of many people around the world. Putting the time and resources into any kind of creative outlet is usually seen as a hobby to those who don’t fully grasp the amount of work that goes into a photograph, a poem or a painting. Whereas a creative person sees their effort and product as hard work deserving of proper recognition.

I can offer a first-hand perspective on how misunderstood following the non-traditional path to career building can be. My mother left her assistant teaching job many years ago to pursue her passion of photography, then later, writing. My brother, Kaleb, followed a similar path and continues to work long hours in order to maintain his own photography business. My father, a high school math teacher, split his time at home between correcting papers, tirelessly trying to tutor me in math and playing his guitar while The Grateful Dead played in the background.

Where one person sees just the twist of the focus and the press of a button, I see the insane hours my mom and brother have to put into making their pictures look high-quality, without being overly edited or adding an obvious filter (spoiler alert: it is a bit more involved than choosing your go-to Instagram filter and a cute #hashtag).

Many evenings I get the pleasure of witnessing art in motion, in my own kitchen. Dom (my boyfriend) has had the passion and love of cooking since I met him. I could tell pretty early on (date no. two to be exact) that cooking was much more than a hobby for Dom.

Over the past couple of years watching how Dom glides around the kitchen with an intense focus that you just know should not be interrupted, I have been able to understand how cooking can be taken to a new level far beyond food. Watching someone so driven to literally present their ideas on a plate with effortless grace is very much the equivalent of watching an artist paint a portrait. Imagine witnessing Da Vinci and his entire process of painting the Mona Lisa? Watching Dom cook is a privilege, getting to taste test the creations is just a plus.

Now, I won’t pretend I understand everything about photography or cooking. The extent of my knowledge is just by observation or through my taste buds. I do, however, know how to respect art in its many forms.

Since Dom pours his heart into his cooking and Kaleb constantly searches for the next new photo opportunity to satiate his creative appetite, they have collaborated on multiple occasions for photo shoots of elaborate meals Dom makes and plates. This isn’t your basic Insta-food post, this is real-deal-cookbook-level artistry. I may be a bit biased, but I do know a great picture when I see one, either way, I invite you to be the judge.

This week, I observed the entirety of Dom’s cooking process and Kaleb’s photographic operation.

I know when Dom is serious about what he is cooking when the headphones go in. He chops, preps, preheats, sears, fries and tosses food in various pots, pans and other appliances. It is truly interesting to see how a 6’3”, bear-of-a-man can move so lightly around a small space, with a series of twirls and spins, from one end of the counter to the other.

The only way to explain how he navigates through the space between the table and counter is by comparing it to dancing. The cook’s dance is perfectly timed and deliberate.

When asked what the appeal is to this restless motion, Dom simply responded, “Every move has a reason.”

He seems to thrive on the perfect balance of creative freedom and the rigidity of time and technique. I try not to enter the kitchen when I see that near-insane hyper focus on his face.

Dom and I work well together because he is the logical, organized realist, whereas I am the optimistic, impulsive dreamer. He keeps me focused on reasonable goals and I tune into his adventurous side so that he doesn’t take life too seriously. I think the process of cooking elaborate, time-consuming meals gives Dom the freedom to be impulsive, but just impulsive enough.

I asked Dom what he listens to when he cooks. He looked a bit hesitant to tell me, so I was assuming some kind of hardcore, angry, screaming. Then he nonchalantly shared that he listens to classical music. He describes the entire experience as having “total focus”. The music combines with the movement through the kitchen in a choreographed fashion. Dom says listening classical music while cooking adds to the “romanticism” of the meal, and enhances the entertainment aspect of food.

If you think about how some of the best chefs make their food, you picture loud sizzling, tossing vegetables around a frying pan and see flames burst up to the ceiling, maybe making you a bit nervous for a minute. There absolutely is an entertainment value to food. Even the media has adopted the marketable entertainment that cooking can offer by creating multiple channels and shows dedicated to chef competitions and trendy restaurants. So, when listening to Dom express how powerful the concept is that cooking becomes a “show” to entertain combined with the fact that food, on a basic level, is an essential tool for survival may sound dramatic, but it really is thought-provoking. Food and the concept of cooking truly is an art-form.

Kaleb has a process all his own, as well. When he takes pictures, he isn’t just pointing his lens at random objects and clicking away, hoping to get a good picture. I know that’s what most photography looks like, but even his movements are just as deliberate and methodical as Dom’s.

He walks into the apartment with multiple bags thrown over his shoulder (that the cats must thoroughly sniff before deciding he is not an impostor). When he sets them down, he begins his unique ritual that only makes sense to him. The laptop comes out to be ready for uploads and edits, the tripod is set up just in case, the lighting is assessed and the camera is dressed in whichever lens is necessary for this particular shoot.

After Dom has perfected his plating, Kaleb steps in to take a few practice shots. He must be sure the lighting is right, so he can capture every detail and structure of the food. The colors must pop and the contrast must accentuate every ingredient to be undeniably appealing. If you opened a cookbook or skimmed through Pinterest, would you trust a dull-looking salad? Would you even move forward to reading the recipe?

Kaleb has a keen eye for detail, that not many possess. He can see how color, shape and shadow form an entirely new portrait with simple manipulation. He uses a variety of viewpoints to capture every piece to the meal. At some point, he decides the lighting is not quite right and constructs a makeshift reflector out of cardboard and aluminum foil. Somehow, this makes the lighting exactly what he needs.

Dom periodically holds up the reflector while Kaleb directs. Sometimes they just both stare closely at the food like it is telling them a secret. The meal of the night just happened to be a Buddha Bowl, a delicious concoction of vegetables, grains, proteins and spices. I wondered if they were trying to find spiritual balance through the Buddha Bowl, but I didn’t want to interrupt this odd display of artistic process.

The shoot, alone, took about two hours (I think). I was fortunate enough to watch while actually eating the masterpiece. Kaleb was using Dom’s portion as the product model, which just seems like a form of masochism. I guess we all make sacrifices for what we love, right?

Finally, the guys got to actually enjoy the meal while the pictures loaded to Kaleb’s computer. We got to see the vision Kaleb had for this shoot, and it made me hungry all over again. The meal looked like it could be a featured picture in an upscale magazine. And, I promise, this is not a biased opinion. The best part was that Kaleb hadn’t even begun the editing process, which means the photos would look even better.

I wanted to observe the artistic process of two important people in my life and write about it because I wanted to spotlight the inspirations I am surrounded by. When the three of us get together to just shoot out different ideas we have had, we have a good time, mostly because we are all ridiculous, but also because these brainstorming sessions actually turn into some great ideas.

I began writing on a regular basis because I was frustrated with myself for constantly thinking about pursuing writing, instead of actually taking action. I realized how much creativity surrounds me and I really took comfort in knowing that some of my closest friends and family put their artistic talents to use, despite the potential of failure or societal demand for traditional career-paths.

If you have the desire to do more of what you love, please don’t talk yourself out of it. Don’t use lack of time as an excuse, or feel like your creations cannot be compared to what others can do. I use my writing as an escape from daily routine, Dom cooks to focus on one task and block out the noise of everyday demands and Kaleb uses a camera to capture how he sees the world in that particular moment.

When so many of us accept our mind-numbing responsibilities day-to-day, we need these creative minds to add flavor to our lives, and inspire us to push our own limits to accomplish more than we ever imagined we could.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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