Do Chefs Hate It When You Photograph Your Meal?
“Camera eats first” – That’s a phrase I first learnt from an influencer in Monaco (#humblebrag) and it’s become something of a way of life for me. I’ll always photograph my food before I eat it. Not only to show off whatever I’m eating to my modest Instagram following but to personally keep track of what I eat. I find that looking back on photos of food helps to spark memories of those meals and it can help me keep track of the best plates I’ve eaten when I might have had a bit too much wine to remember clearly.
I’m wary that not everyone is a fan of such behaviour and not everyone wants to teach you how to take the perfect food photo. Heston Blumenthal has said he gets annoyed when people take photos of their food because it means it often goes cold. Which is sort of fair enough. I understand a chef wanting their food to be consumed as it they intended. He’s even considered implementing a no-picture policy at his restaurant, The Fat Duck, to rally against that – a Berghain approach to ensure that people are more “in the moment”. The difficulty in implementing something like that is, of course, that Instagram is an excellent means of a restaurant advertising itself and its dishes. And Heston is someone that’s benefitted from that more than most with his gastronomic “oh no, you’ve fooled me, it’s not actually fruit, it’s meat” creations.
So it’s a tricky issue. And one I’m personally invested in. To attempt to come to some sort of conclusion, I decided to ask a load of talented chefs whether or not they like it when people take photos of their food before they eat it. Here’s what they had to say:
"We live in a time now where posting your food on social media is the norm, especially if you’ve taken the time to research, plan and visit somewhere that’s held in high regard. I take photos myself for inspiration so it’s understandable that when you see a good plate you want to take a quick photo. If someone is taking the time to photograph a plate it’s because it looks great, everything that’s coming out of the kitchen should be perfect so why not take a snap? It’ll probably end up on Instagram."
Loic is the group executive chef at Bone Daddies.
I love when I see pictures on social media of the food that has been served in our restaurants. Today with the amazing standard of camera phones I’m amazed at how some people get great shots. Sometimes I look at pictures and think, wow, it looks better than it actually is. Some people have a great touch when it comes to taking photos. Others like myself can’t take a picture to save my life but like to take pictures so I can show colleagues/ friends/ post on socials.
I’m not the sort of chef to tell guests how to eat a dish or what not to do. People should do what they want in my opinion. And every now and then when you see a terrible picture it does make me laugh because it reminds me of my own skills behind the lens.
Oli is the executive chef at Aulis.
Personally, I don’t have a problem with it. I believe it’s good to have content from the eyes of the customer.
Lucy is the head chef at Royale.
I really don’t mind, I take it as a compliment. It feels like if people aren’t taking pictures of your food something is wrong, which is interesting I suppose.
Gabriel is the chef-founder of The Water House Project.
"When someone’s photographing our pizza, I’m delighted! What could be a bigger compliment? Especially when the crust is looking all puffed up and blistered into leopard print from our oven. I’ll look out for them on Insta later, when I know the pizza was a beauty, and print the best ones to feature on the photo wall at our Waterloo restaurant. Anyone featured gets a free pizza on us - so we basically encourage picture-taking!"
Joe is the founder of Crust Bros.
"I don’t generally have a problem with anyone taking photos of food when they’re out dining, I do so for myself when I’m out and want to chronicle flavours that wow me and inspire or simply just intrigued by. It does only become an issue for me when people start climbing on the restaurants furniture to take the perfect shot or when their photography is disrupting other guests dining experiences. That I think takes it too far. It also sucks, on the rare occasion, that sometimes people spend ample time to take a photo of the dish and naturally any hot food starts to cool down…then, later on, writes feedback about how the food was cold. Those ones baffle me dearly."
Kimberly is the head chef of The Silver Birch.
"I personally feel that photographing a meal is like capturing the experience as a memory you can look back on, which is important to me as eating together brings joy in so many ways. It’s instant gratification. Photos are also useful for your own food memory bank as a cook. My girlfriend rarely eats any meal she likes the look of without taking photographs of it. It’s become a bit of a culture these days to snap away before your meal so I’m always flattered when people take photographs of my food.
For me, I want my guests to enjoy each dish as I intended i.e. a steak on a hot plate eaten whilst it’s warm and not stone cold, a salad whilst it’s still cool. So if you’re going to take photos, make it snappy so that you can do what you came here to do, which is enjoy a delicious meal!"
Reece Moore is the founder and executive chef of BELLY.
"I still think it’s kinda weird but these days it’s just part of life. I can barely remember a time before we took pictures of our breakfast to put on the internet for strangers to see. Why would I complain about people doing extremely effective marketing for me? I love it. Stand on the tables to get your perfect shot if you like, hang off the light fittings."
"3/4 years ago this used to bother me a bit, mainly for the point that food should be eaten when it hits the table. But, then I found myself slowly starting to take pictures everywhere I went (although, I do it very quickly!) and realised it is just the world we live in now! If you’re going to post a picture of food, then make it a good one!"
Selin is the owner of Oklava.
"If you asked me three years ago, I was slow to catch on to the social media revolution and my blood use to boil at the site of food going cold while people deliberated for hours over the best angle and lighting (we even banned them in our cocktail bar for a short time). Now, after lockdown and being disconnected from seeing loved ones in person for so long, and how generously we have been supported through our Instagram and social channels; I am converted. If I could manage a photo worth sharing I would be in on the act as well! I am constantly amazed at peoples creative photography and love to see what all my friends and colleagues are enjoying eating. Its also a tremendous source of inspiration seeing the amazing things people are doing at home, and in their restaurants! It’s humbling when sourdough from bedrooms across the country are inspiring/influencing what we are doing in professional kitchens."
Joshua is the co-owner of Angelina.