After submitting the manuscript for the My Daddy Cooks book, attention turned to doing the photos. This was going to be no small task for my editor at Hodder, Nicky Ross, and her Art Director, Mark Read.
The photo shoot happened in two stages – a day of photos in and around my house and kitchen with Archie a couple of weeks ago, followed by four days of food photography in Battersea last week.
As you probably already know, we live in a small two bedroom house. You can imagine how surreal (and how much of a squash) it was to squeeze me, Archie, my wife Jo, Véronique the photographer, her assistant Jo, Mark Read and Emma the make-up artist (yes, make-up artist, all for me!!) into such a small space.
I always make sure that everyone concerned knows how important it is for the day to feel very normal for Archie, for it to be lots of fun and for him to have an enjoyable experience. If ever I were to spot the slightest hint of stress or discomfort for him, I would stop the proceedings in their tracks.
And from the moment Véronique turned up with a huge puzzle for him, he reveled in showing his world to his new “friends”. He dragged us down to the bakers, to the train station, into the kitchen, out of the kitchen, up to his room, into the garden. He literally didn’t stop. For eight hours, with just a small break to have a morning nap and recharge his batteries.
It’s never easy to know exactly what he made of it all but he did offer a little insight at dinner that evening. Jo asked him if he had had a good day. He replied “It was fun”, before stopping for a long pause and saying, “but them all brought suitcases! Funny!”.
After the chaos of the day, the multitude of people, gadgets to play with, activities to do, the thing he was most marked by was the fact that everyone brought suitcases! I love looking at the world through the eyes of a toddler sometimes!
The food shoot was very different to the home shoot. The aim here was to photograph pack-shots of finished recipes – 30 in all, out of the 100 in the book. The shoot was run by Katie Giovanni, who is one of the country’s pre-eminent food stylists and has worked with all the top chef’s and food publications.
I can’t deny, it was kind of stressful watching my food being cooked by Katie and her amazingly hard-working assistant, Kate. I think my nerves came from the fact that this was the first time that I had seen my recipes come out of my own kitchen into someone else’s (obviously I wasn’t present when my friends tested the recipes in their own kitchen).
The atmosphere was so intense and focussed. Behind the perceived glamour of this kind of process are some incredibly skilled and talented people who work unbelievably hard, under deadline pressure, to produce work of the highest quality. On the plus side, in spite of my nerves (or maybe because of them?!), I grazed my way through enough food to last me a month. Once I got over my stress, it was rather exhilarating to see my book come to life like this. I felt really chuffed to actually see – and taste – the book coming together in this way.
I am disappointed to report that, contrary to common belief (or myth!), I saw no steaming tampaxes used, no shaving foam. In fact, I was struck by how Katie and Véronique used absolutely no gimmicks at all to create food special effects and this is testament to their great respective skills.
The only smoke and mirrors used were for my t-shirts. The photographs were all close-ups of me holding dishes and required no face or upper-body images. The most important things were the block colours of my t-shirt. When it was decided that I needed a dark grey, we looked around the room and saw that the only dark-grey t-shirt we could find was being worn by Rachel, the 15 year old niece of my Editor, Nicky Ross. So, yes, we did a swap, even though the t-shirt barely fitted over my arm! Did we use it in a photo? That would be divulging a secret. What goes on on shoot, stays on shoot!