What’s behind a photo? The story on your plate.
John Fink, Autumn 2017
You might recall that old saying: ‘a photo is worth a thousand words’. Steve McCurry’s portrait of Sharbat Gula is a haunting example. ‘Afghan Woman’ has incited millions of politically charged words since hitting the cover of Nat Geo in 1984. And yet the message captured in the image is so precise nothing ever need be spoken.
Only recently I joined a handful of the Fink Group team on location to shoot Lennox Hastie’s forthcoming book. It was hard yakka, but as we shouldered to the wheel to construct each scene there was no shortage of conversation. We had a lot of laughs. I remember thinking what a shame all our witty repartee and dastardly asides could not somehow be a part of the book.
Later, looking through the proofs, I could see a story seeping out of each image and, somehow, the conversations around constructing the shot are all in there too. The stunning image of Hastie roasting a goat over fire in a wide open field under a bright full moon is striking. What you don’t hear is the jokes and conversations as we built the fire pit that day under a searing Aussie sun. What you don’t taste is how the goat was broken down and made into a most delicious curry for the team on the fourth floor at Fink Group headquarters the next day. But somehow, mystically embedded in the photo as some kind of secret code, all that is in there.
I do sincerely believe the same can be said of a perfectly conceived and constructed dish. There is a story on every plate, and some are life changing. I will admit it does sound a little pretentious to announce a dish as life changing, but I have seen it and I have experienced it. Yes, I am a believer. I remember my first encounter with Peter Gilmore’s famous Snow Egg. On first bite I blushed fifty shades of red as a series of emotions swirled through me. All at once I felt completely naked, began to cry while giggling like a schoolgirl and felt an almost uncontrollable urge to burst out in song. By second bite I began to wonder if the police were going to storm into the room to arrest me, because surely anything this good is illegal. No word of a lie, and I am not making this up. It’s true, and I’ve seen other folk having the same experience countless times – people’s first encounter – I call them ‘Snow Egg Virgins’. It’s fun to watch.
There are other examples. I remember the French Teacher’s first bite of Firedoor’s 250 day dry aged steak. “Puh!” she exclaimed when I told her Lennox Hastie’s steak is the best she will ever eat. “A steak is a steak”, she said. I made a point of watching her take her first bite. Whatever the steak cost, the look on her face was priceless. The story she was eating was Lennox Hastie standing in a field with a dairy farmer selecting old milkers for ageing. Hidden in each bite is Hastie’s insatiable appetite for perfection.
Again: Richard Ptacnik’s tuna steak is not just a piece of fish lightly grilled over coals. It is a series of ongoing conversations about sourcing sustainably, about how tuna has to be fresher than fresh to make the grade for the Otto plate. It is chef Ptacnik taking in line-caught whole thunnus and filleting them himself. More: Bennelong’s eggplant dish and Firedoor’s Baharat lamb rump with muhammara are the result of chefs Gilmore, Cockerill and Hastie being a part of the #cookforsyria initiative to support Syrian children and their families. As a result, $3 from each Syrian inspired dish sold at the restaurants during the month of March will go to UNICEF Australia’s Syria Crisis Appeal for Children. You can find out more, and donate here www.unicef.org.au/cook-for-syria.
There are as many stories as there are dishes. So, next time you are in a restaurant, have a look at the plate, and see if you can taste the story you are eating.