Camera cuisine

iPhone food photo

We've all heard the phrase "we eat first with our eyes." That has never been more true than in the digital age, when if a meal isn't on Instagram, it didn't really happen. Digital photography not only allows us to share (and perhaps overshare) our meals, it has also changed the way chefs approach their craft, according to Pete Wells of the NY Times, who calls this shift "camera cuisine."

The first noticable effect is that new concepts are shared much more rapidly than ever before. While it took nouvelle cuisine decades to cross the Atlantic, it took only two weeks for the first copycat cronut to appear in Australia. Digital photography has also proven to be an effective marketing tool. Customers send shots of their food to various social media sites, and an attractive photo can result in an uptick in reservations for the next day. Chefs have embraced this tool, to the point of designing their kitchens with less cooking space and more plating space. The result is that often the food is fussed over so much it comes out cold.

People expect cookbooks to have drool-worthy photographs, fussed over until the food looks just right. (In fact, some of us can't get enough of them!) But in the real world, diners expect the dish to taste as good as it looks, yet often the taste suffers along with the temperature. As Wells notes, too often "the flavors aren't as vivid as the image; they're spectral, washed-out. Foraged plants and other ingredients sometimes seem chosen for size and color more than for taste." Diners are left with a dish that looks far more impressive than it tastes.

A few restaurants are bucking the trend, prohibiting cameras from their dining areas. But for most chefs, plating is becoming as important as the food. Perhaps diners, realizing that their pretty food is cold and bland, will eventually revolt, and the concept of posting a photo of every meal to Twitter will seem as quaint as tomato aspic. What are your thoughts on the way digital photography has changed food?


  • ellabee  on  7/10/2014 at 8:01 AM

    :: as quaint as tomato aspic :: Lots of other mid-century modern fashions are back. Tomato aspic may be next...

  • sir_ken_g  on  7/14/2014 at 11:32 AM

    Japan is food photo heaven.

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