Monday, February 6, 2012

Food styling with Kate Gibbs and Philly

I was losing the battle against an 'early' Saturday morning, drizzly grey skies and weekend public transport. But I was on my way to a food styling and photography session at Concrete Blonde in Kings Cross with Kate Gibbs; daughter of Suzanne Gibbs, granddaughter of Margaret Fulton, journalist, author, blogger and ambassador for Kraft Philidelphia. So I persisted, despite the downright weird Saturday morning loiterers around Kings Cross station.

Kate Gibbs (front) and Suzanne Gibbs (back) for Philly food styling and photography
session at Concrete Blonde, Bayswater Road, Kings Cross
In the session Kate, assisted in the kitchen by mother and 'sous chef' Suzanne Gibbs, was going to demonstrate three recipes and provide us with some tips and tricks on how to plate up dishes to entertain guests, as well as tips on food styling and photography.

Kate's collection of food styling props
After a perfect macchiato (thanks Concrete Blonde), I was ready to go and a little amused as I've never really played with styling props before, though I have tried to nicely plate up a couple of dishes in my kitchen (perhaps twice in my entire cooking life).

Seared tuna loin
For the first of the recipes, a tuna nicoise crostini, Kate started by searing a flawless piece of yellow fin tuna loin, simply seasoned on the surface with salt, pepper and olive oil. About 10 seconds on each side in a hot pan ensures that the centre remains pink and raw, which goes towards looks and texture.

Tuna nicoise crostini
The crostini are fairly straightforward to construct: rub a garlic clove on thin, toasted slices of baguette. Slather on some spreadable cream cheese and top with diced olives and a squeeze of lemon (the acid of the lemon directly on the tuna would start to cook it).

Tuna nicoise crostini made with Philidelphia Spreadable Cream Cheese
Then, lay on a nice thick slice of the seared tuna and garnish with chopped chives and perhaps a drizzle of olive oil. Something so simple to put together almost shouldn't be allowed to taste so good - but it does.

Back light - how I detest thee
This was by far my favourite thing I had to eat all day - the explosion of flavours was just awe-inspiring. First, the soft, raw tuna backed up by the crunchy toast. And then acidity from the lemon juice followed by the big punch of the salty olives, all soothed by the creamy cheese.

Tuna nicoise crostini with Philidelphia Spreadable Cream Cheese
I honestly can't wait to make this at home for some very, verylucky dinner guests. In this shot above, it shows the tuna slice almost falling apart as Kate had cut across the grain of the flesh - as should be done with all meat for greater tenderness, and flavour too.

Tuna nicoise crostini as appetisers
From the number of shots of the tuna nicoise crostini, one might be able to tell that we played around a fair bit before eating them.

Lighting (artificial, then natural, from front and back), plating, angles - I'm not sure my dinner party guests would have the same patience to go through all that, but I'm a firm believer of "practice makes perfect". And I also believe that photography and styling are very subjective matters.

Boiled, peeled and chopped beetroot
I've recently discovered a love for beetroot, mostly in salads. Fresh baby beetroots, usually with an acidic dressing, are the most gorgeous things as long as you don't drop them on white clothing.

Here, Suzanne has boiled them in their skins (with a dash of white vinegar to stop them colour bleeding out; salt does the opposite) and skinned them, which is apparently very easy to do post boiling.

Kate was next demonstrating a baby beetroot salad with broad beans, walnuts and Philly cream cheese, which reads like a list of my favourite salad ingredients.

Baby beetroot salad with broad beans, walnuts and Philly cream cheese
Kate talked about preparing food the way you would like to eat it; for example, would you want a tiny dice of beetroot or thick chunks that you can cut into? I must admit I'd never thought about that before, but can think back to Greek salads topped with whole tiles of feta cheese - and now I wonder what the point is.

For the salad, along with the thick sticks of beetroot, Kate added peeled broad beans, crumbled whole walnuts and pinched nubbins of cream cheese from the block, rather than cut it into cubes. And indeed, with the cream cheese being quite rich compared to the other salad ingredients, I thought the smaller the piece of cheese the better.

Mussels with speck and cream
For the final recipe - mussels with speck and cream - Kate thoroughly cooked onion, garlic and bay leaf before adding diced speck (bacon for me at home), browning them all well before adding liquids which would essentially stop the browning process.

Using supremely fresh South Australian mussels (the open ones would close up if you pressed on them!), the molluscs went into the pot of onion and speck with a healthy helping of white wine and at the very end, Philidelphia's Cream for Cooking, which I'd never actually seen before.

My serve of hiding-from-me mussels with speck and cream
The smell from the pot of mussels was quite seriously making a few mouths water, although the pesky mussels were one of the more difficult things to photograph (they're dark, don't reveal their insides all that well, fall awkwardly on the plate, and so on).

Mussels with speck and cream and Philidelphia Cream for Cooking
Fresh parsley helped on the styling front, as did a a magazine-esque setting with bread and a glass of wine. The looks were catching up with the aromas and starting to look good enough to eat.

Lunch is served (at Concrete Blonde, food cooked by Kate Gibbs)
Lunch was looking pretty darn good, but there was always time for more photos, more styling - and wine, of course. In a matter of a few hours and three recipes, I'd picked up a number of tips for the kitchen and food styling - a significantly more productive Saturday morning than usual.

Many thanks to the gorgeous Kate Gibbs and Suzanne Gibbs for their time and patience in the Concrete Blonde kitchens, and thanks to Peta and Louise too for the fun, filling and fruitful session.

P.S. With the Philly sample pack, I've attempted a few recipes from the Simply Heaven volume 2 cookbook by Philidelphia (somewhat following the recipes - sorry Kate), though clearly need better lighting and props in the home kitchen.

Ham and vegetable crostata
(I halved the recipe for a smaller pie and used whatever vegies I had in the fridge at
the time. And I accidentally broke the pastry so egg leaked out the bottom of the
crostata. Looked rather average but tasted delicious!)

Cherry berry cake
(Without cherries nor blueberries; replaced with dried cranberries and diced dried
mango as this was all I had in the pantry. A very moist, yet crumbly, cake in which
the cream cheese is not noticeable. Would most likely be improved with fresh berries.)

Food, booze and shoes attended the session with Kate Gibbs and received a Philidelphia sample pack plus cookbook courtesy of Kraft Philidelphia, with thanks to Liquid Ideas.


john@heneedsfood said...

Looks like an interesting session and yes, photography and styling is very subjective. SOme people simply must use a tea towel in their shots or throw crumbs around, others like it clean and simple. There are no rules. I guess it's nice to pick up a few tips here and there

lateraleating said...

Those dishes are all a bit tricky to style IMO. I don't have much patience to be good at it :)

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

What a fund day and Concrete Blonde is really worth a visit for their food too.

Simon Leong said...

you've captured the dishes well. i always find it very challenging trying to photograph mussels. if it's not the steam getting in the shot it trying to find a decent looking cooked mussel and then trying to find how to shoot it showing the ingredients. i definitely want to visit Concrete Blonde now that I know about the place. reminded me of Chophouse meets Porteno for some reason. perhaps it was the huge grills cooking up meat.

Vivian - vxdollface said...

This looks like such a great event, I love the simplicity of the dishes. Really want some of that tuna niciose crostini!

catty said...

That seared tuna looks AMAZING! Great to get some good food AND learn something new :D

Sara - Belly Rumbles said...

Great pics and what a fun day.

Tina said...

Hi John - Not sure I'd be the type of person who'd have the patience to scatter crumbs and position tea towels, but each to their own ;)

Hi lateraleating - Agree, but particularly the mussels. And given we didn't have much natural light.

Hi Lorraine - Yes, they had a whole lamb on the spit roast when we arrived. We were all salivating at the sight...!

Hi Simon - I've always been more of an eater than shooter, but was quite the educational day :)

Hi Vivian - I'm dying to throw a dinner party just so I can make and eat that crostini (a bit weird making it for myself, no?)

Hi catty - It was amazing, especially the combination of flavours :P

Hi Sara - Thanks :D said...

You take great photos! I have to agree with Simon, it’s quite difficult to capture a decent photo of mussels because of so many factors, but your photos of them here are splendid! I’d love to visit Concrete Blonde soon.

Arnold @


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