This week I open up the newest part of my portfolio. 'Lifestyle Diaries' is a new feature where I share my food, drink and restaurant photography. I've begun booking and enjoying more lifestyle shoots in bars and restaurants lately, and applying my natural storytelling style to the new setting.
It's surprising how natural the side step is, from the build up and unfolding of a wedding, to the prep and running of a restaurant. I did many enjoyable, hard working years in hospitality. I thought I had experienced the full buzz and passion of the kitchen and the service. But when I was invited to La Terrasse, (the gorgeous restaurant that sits proudly beneath the Lodge du Village, it's drink serving sister in Meribel Village) I was not prepared for just how much work and passion goes into an apres lunch.
I turned up with my camera bag, in time to greet the early morning deliveries. Fresh produce was piled high in crates and boxes. Stunning colours and textures shone from fresh ingredients; bright red bell peppers; super fresh asparagus; baby carrots; cherry tomatoes;
gorgeous bouquets of fresh herbs filled the room with heavy scent while I unpacked and re-arranged some of the ingredients.
And don't get me started on the sweet smell of those strawberries.. they were lucky they got them all back..
It wasn't long before I realised I couldn't rest on a single thing for longer than a minute. Even at 9am, a good 4 hours before service, I could already hear the clang of pots and the fast tap-tap of the knife hitting the chopping board. I looked up and tables were already being pulled across the empty terrace;
the hard morning sunshine bouncing off the last remainders of Feburary's snow.
I would quickly move between the terrace, the inside of the restaurant, and the kitchen. The only real way to capture the crazy action in there, was to get right in there. Not easy, with a big tripod and camera, and three super busy chefs. Squeezing up between stacks of fresh meat and bubbling pans on the hob was not easy; but it really gave me a true sense of the atmosphere in there. Busied with prep and taking deliveries from all their local suppliers, the chefs were relaxed but constantly on the move.
I thought musicians moved too fast for slow shutter speeds.. have you tried to pin down a chef?!
Everything was arriving throughout the morning, from locally reared and butchered meat, to fresh fish caught only the day before. And the oysters.. I think the photographs describe those beauties better than I can...
Out on the terrace and in the restaurant, the floor staff were laying out tables, writing on the A boards, laying the foundations upon which all the atmosphere and presentation would happen. Every menu, every glass, knife and fork, was placed with precision; the odd breeze peeling the placemat corners off the tables and fluttering in the sunshine. It felt quite peaceful outside, compared with the bustle in the kitchen. That didn't last long though.
Only 200m away from the terrace, you can see the skiers and boarders coming down Le Lapin, the piste which skis right down into Meribel Village; the chair lift slowly scrolling its way up the mountain, and out over the horizon. Gradually, those skiers started unclipping their skis and making their way over the terrace. The pace and atmosphere at that point, totally changed.
The pull of energy seemed to radiate out from the kitchen, across the pass and then out onto the terrace.
It felt like, if I stepped into that vacuum for too long, I'd get swept up and served on a table alongside the Plat du Jour and a bottle of lovely red.
The focus of the staff was pretty cool to watch, and the smiles and laughs which punctuated the people eating outside was lovely.
But the food.. oh the food.. Just as the title of this article describes, I followed these ingredients throughout the day. Short of jumping in the pot with them, I felt like I'd cradled them through my lens for hours. Seeing the dishes finally appear on the pass, steaming, shining and stacked, was so satisfying. My favourite dish to photograph was
the Prawn Laksa, truly Malaysian in colours and flavours, with a fresh pink prawn laid atop it's gleaming creamy broth.
The stunning Seared Duck Breast, served with crispy, orange polenta cubes.
The beef for these burgers is fresh from renowned local (and Irish) butcher, Joey Macfarland, of Savoieire Foods.
This Prawn Laksa was truly Malaysian in style, the broth made creamy with coconut, laced with chilli, lime and coriander.
Then of course, there was the Pork Belly, with it's dark and thick layer of boudin-noir sandwiched between deep layers of pork belly meat and fat. Watching those perfectly formed bricks sizzle in the pan was a little too much to take.. And what about when head chef Marc, offered me a piece of seared duck breast to try?
It looked so beautiful on the dish, set in a scattered line with crispy polenta cubes.. but to taste?
The texture and taste of the meat was divine, soft but rich.
Above, Poppee serves drinks on the sunny terrace, while Jez and Emile take more orders and serve these amazing dishes.
Outside, people continued to file in from the piste; ski boots clanking across the wood floor of the terrace, snow slowly slipping and melting down their skis in the sunshine. From a photographer's point of view, everything glinted out there; sunglasses, bottles of deep red wine, even the golden crust of the fresh bread (from my favourite bakery, right next door) seemed to shine in the sun. This place really is a sun trap, and it seemed to stay bright and warm long past lunch.
Fish (including these incredible oysters) is delivered daily, from the nearest coast, caught fresh only the day before.
It wasn't until the gorgeous cakes and coffee began to file out of the bar, that I realised it was almost time for apres. The fire was lit, the hot chocolates, confees and teas were being ordered, and a little touch of an english afternoon tea seemed to tap me on the shoulder.
It's hard to say no to carrot cake, and I don't trust people who do it too easily.
I mean, carrot cake, with a wedge of creamy icing almost as thick as the cake itself? With a steaming cup of proper hot chocolate set beside it, it was hard not to steal it away when no-one was looking.
La Terrasse have a freshly baked cake everyday.. Pictured above is Carrot Cake. Pictured below, is the Blondie- A white chocolate brownie, served with Savoie vanilla ice cream and a shard of marbled white and dark chocolate. Oh and by the way, the Chantilly piled high on these hot chocolates is 100% real.
It's taken me some time to realise just how much a I love to photograph (and clearly.. write about) food. It's everything I've ever loved in reading, like the work of Louis de Bernieres or passages from Joanne Harris' 'Chocolat'.
Photographing food and describing it with light and narrative, is intoxicating.
But following the day, and experiencing what it takes to get it out there, was really humbling. I can't wait to work on, and share, more of this project 'Lifestyle Diaries' with you.
As the season heads fast into it's close, make sure you head over to La Terrasse. This isn't a plug.. its a rec from a local. The bar is an ace place for an apres drink, but the terrace is the perfect place for a leisurely lunch.