Stephen Jardine: No more food in a flash say chefs

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
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WHEN it comes to food porn, I’m a total pervert. I’ve just checked the photo-library on my phone and more than half of the images taken this year involve flesh – usually well seared and served with béarnaise sauce and chips on the side.

I used to refuse to eat in any restaurant that had photographs of food on the menu. Now taking pictures of food in a restaurant is more likely to be a recommendation than a warning.

The advent of camera phones has turned every meal into a potential photo opportunity. To begin with, it was generally a memento of lunch or dinner somewhere fancy, but now more and more people are photographing food simply as an extension of the way they record their lives via social media.

In the early days, lots of chefs took it as a compliment. If we photograph something it’s because we want to capture a special moment and that is what every kitchen strives to create.

Then a few chefs started to get fed up. Like most things, the fightback started in New York, where stories started to emerge of diners arriving with big cameras and even tripods.

The owner of the celebrated Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare was one of the first people to react by banning photos in his 18-seat restaurant. “Some people are arrogant about it. It became too much of a distraction for the chef and for other diners,” Moe Issa told the New York Times. Instead, he offers to send diners professional images the next day.

In Greenwich Village, chef David Bouley offers diners the chance to take pictures in his kitchen before the food comes out. That way gives him more control over what images are taken.

For many chefs that is the key concern. Having spent hard-earned money on websites and professional food photography, they don’t want to see amateur images all over the web.

But if diners are paying good money for food, surely it is up to them if they want to remember it with a photo?

Scotland’s top chef takes a relaxed approach to the subject. Andrew Fairlie reckons 30 per cent of the guests at his Michelin two-starred restaurant at Gleneagles come with a smartphone ready to take pictures.

“Most people are very discreet, but we do draw the line when it comes to flash photography. That disturbs dinner for everyone, but as long as the flash is off, people are paying to be in the restaurant, so photography is up to them,” he told me.

Fighting food photography is a bit like bemoaning the demise of half a grapefruit as a starter. It’s just progress.

The technology to allow us to do it has only been around for a couple of years, and I suspect it is a novelty that will soon begin to wear off. When it does, get ready for those same New York chefs to start reminiscing about the good old days when the food paparazzi flocked to their tables.