When chef Dean Sheremet set out to create Eat Your Heart Out – a cookbook he describes as “modern and clean, but accessible” – he reached out to photographer Aaron Cameron Muntz. This was back in May 2014, when Sheremet wanted photographs to enhance his pitching presentation. “Dean and I work well together, most importantly on the creative side of things,” Muntz tells us. “We are always pushing each other, trying to one up each other with ideas. We push and push till it breaks, then bring it back to a cool, do-able idea that we can execute. I think a big factor in working together on this project was our mutual desire to do something visually out of the ordinary for a cookbook.”
When it comes to their demographic, Sheremet explains that he aimed to create an approachable cookbook. “Too many books and magazines these days have really cool photography, but the recipes and ingredients read like a foreign language and are impossible to track down,” states the chef. “When Aaron and I started this project, we had a similar vision in mind. A clean and modern look that would push the boundaries of the everyday cookbook, but also wouldn’t scare the consumer by being far out of reach.”
With accessibility in mind, Sheremet and Muntz worked together with designer Melanie Ryan to capture 5-6 recipes (which were made from scratch every day during the entire shooting process) for the cookbook pitch. In the end, this presentation was greatly successful and the book’s publisher wanted to keep both Muntz and Ryan on the project. Then, in January 2015, food stylist Maria del Mar Sacasa joined the team as they worked to pick the recipes for the book. “Dean and Maria spent a lot of time working on the book itself, while Maria and I developed ideas for how each of the recipes would be photographed,” Muntz reveals. “I also brought on prop stylist Maya Rossi to handle all of the surfaces, plates, linens, etc. It was a huge undertaking.”
After several months of preparation, the Eat Your Heart Out team began shooting the books’ images during the last week of May 2015. They spent a total of seven days shooting, which includes the day they spent working on Sheremet’s pitch (since the book’s cover was actually pulled from that shoot). In the end, they had produced around 150-175 images. “We had an incredibly aggressive schedule. We were shooting anywhere from 10-12 setups a day,” reveals Sheremet. “We ran two sets simultaneously so we could capture it all and also have some cool, behind-the-scenes shots.”
Muntz adds, “With so many photographs to accomplish, I tried to keep things as simple as possible. Each set was primarily a two light setup, key and fill. We shot with Profoto strobes. And I use a lot of different types of shine cards to redirect light around my sets. The look of the lighting in the book is pretty hard for a cookbook. Specifically, I went with a hard key light and a soft box to fill on each set. I shot the primary images with a P45+ digital back on a Hasselblad 503CW camera body. I like working with the older Zeiss glass and these cameras are just incredible workhorses. The secondary set I shot with a Canon 5D. It worked well if I needed to take it off the tripod to follow what Dean was doing. And the smaller camera also made it more manageable to shoot straight down on a countertop height set.” In the end, the photographer worked with freelance retoucher Ashlee Gray on the final edit.
In addition to the visuals for the book itself, the creatives also decided to produce stop-motion videos to promote the cookbook on social media. “I just called Aaron up and said, ‘Wouldn’t some stop motion for the book be badass?’” says Sheremet. “The attention span of people these days rarely goes past 15 seconds, so we wanted to create a story that was comprehensive within that time frame. I’m really proud of how cool they turned out. I’d never styled a shoot like that so I was constantly learning and evolving on the fly, which I love.”
For these 15-second videos, the team went in a different direction. “A hard light source is very specific. These stop-motion videos required a lot of different setups to show the steps of each recipe, so I wanted a much softer light to keep things simple and clean as we shuffled things around on the set. So I used a 4×4 scrim with a hard dish behind it as key and a soft box for fill,” Muntz tells us, mentioning that he used his Canon 5D for this part of the project. “I believe that more than any other outlet, stop-motion lends itself to social media. It’s fun, different, and relatively inexpensive to produce. Instagram limits videos to 15 seconds long, so you don’t have to generate a ton of content to fill that time.”
Yet, while the stop-motion clips and cookbook visuals may be different, there is one theme that unites them: the reality that food preparation can be messy. “Life is irregular and messy at times, and that is beautiful,” says Sheremet. “I hate when food shows or books project this faux perfection as if the herbs just fell onto a plate from heaven or a sauce wasn’t meticulously spread before the shot was taken. I wanted the audience to feel as if they could achieve the final result at home and not be intimidated. I prefer inclusive to exclusive.”
“One of my favorite images (I insisted on capturing it) is the empty plate. Maria decided to pick the tacos as the empty plate shot. We all sat around eating the food from the plate in the main shot. Just dove right in. Then plopped the plate back down on set and… perfection!!” Muntz adds, attesting to the realistic and playful nature of the shoot. “The shoot was like another test kitchen and I can assure you these recipes are amazing!”
In conclusion, Sheremet states, “We approached everything with what we like first. If you set out on a project with the goal of pleasing a certain group, you end up chasing your tail and it doesn’t really have a concrete message. This book was so personal that it had to have my fingerprint and point of view on everything.”
More Work from Eat Your Heart Out:
Eat Your Heart Out can be purchased on Amazon. Images used with permission.