Food styling and photography – Simon Bajada

Food styling - Simon Bajada, Photography – John Laurie for an upcoming issue of Chefs Special.  Food Prep – The Taco Truck!

Food styling - Simon Bajada, Photography - John Laurie for an upcoming issue of Chefs Special.  Taco Prep - The Taco Truck

Food styling – Simon Bajada, Photography – John Laurie, From Antonio & Lucia, forthcoming from Plum / Pan Macmillan.

We’re capping off this food-focussed week with another hunger-pang inducing post – welcome to the very photogenic world of food stylist and recipe developer Simon Bajada!

From a personal point of view, ever since I first started working on film shoots as a wide-eyed little assistant straight out of uni, I’ve always been mesmerised by the work of food stylists.  To me, a great food stylist really is like a magician – they always have a bag full of tricks, and a perfectly ordered toolkit (think toothpicks, tweezers, paintbrushes!) to perfect every glistening strand of pasta!  You’d be truly AMAZED how much painstaking effort it takes to get food to look this beautiful.

I first stumbled across Simon’s brilliant work because he often works with one of my fave Melbourne photographers, John Laurie.  As everyone knows, behind every great photographer there often lurks an equally talented stylist (!!), and in this case, the beautiful raw, rustic food shots John Laurie is known for can often also be attributed to Mr Bajada, John’s regular collaborator.  Their most show-stopping work are the incredible Chefs Special publications for Meat and Livestock Australia, produced with SA-based design studio Mash (blogged here!).  I am still such a huge fan of this amazing work – Australian food photography at it’s absolute BEST!

Simon has a lot to look forward to this year – after many years developing recipes and food styling for various publications and clients including Feast, Country Style and Hardie Grant, Simon has recently taken a leap into photography himself, and has begun shooting some of his own stuff!  (Some of which is pictured here).  Simon is also very excited about his impending temporary relocation to Sweden with his wife and son later this year.  Super exciting times ahead for one super talented local creative – watch this space!

Tell us a little about your background – what did you study and what path led you to food styling?

I originally studied International Hotel management, which meant I did placements in the industry overseas.  I realised hotels weren’t for me, but I loved food and travel. I had a Diploma in Le Cordon Bleu and learned french, and I used these skils to travel around, cooking in kitchens throughout Europe.

Back in Australia I kept cooking before realising that it was the creative side of what was on the table that interested me – the kitchen can be quite monotonous at times. I was lucky to meet Bret Brogan, who was interested in photographing food, and we developed a small folio of images.  I had a lucky break and it went from there.

Where might we have seen your work?

Feast, Country Style, Chefs Special by MLA, books by Plum and Hardie Grant Publishing, and various advertising campaigns.

Food styling – Simon Bajada, Photography – John Laurie, From Antonio & Lucia, forthcoming from Plum / Pan Macmillan.

What have been one or two of your favourite jobs to work on and why?

A recent shoot we did on Latin food for Chefs Special with Mash would be hard to top – we rented an ideal house on the river in Newport, accumulated some of Australias best latin chefs and shot an amazing story. The authenticity of the experience came through in the shots.

Similarily this occurred on a book for Plum, Antonio & Lucia. Its focus was Calabrian food by chef Riccardo Momesso of Sarti in Melbourne. We shot on his parent’s farm, it was a great experience.  A one hour drive west of Melbourne, and it felt like you were in the south of Italy.

Food styling – Simon Bajada, Photography – John Laurie, From Antonio & Lucia, forthcoming from Plum / Pan Macmillan.

What does a typical day at work involve for you?

Coffee, unpacking props, cooking, plating then re-packing.

The work of every stylist is open to a lot of subjectivity so I have found managing client, designer and photographer expectations on the day is key.

On pre-production days there is a lot of ‘napkin faff’, that is, crossing off multiple lists and running around.

On shooting days there is a lot of resisting the temptation to eat everything. I could work on this…!

Every food stylist seems to have a magic trick. ie – some trick involving glyercine or cotton tips or toothpicks or using apple juice instead of olive oil or some random thing like that!  What’s you favourite food styling trick!?

I try to avoid tricks, if the photographer is ready, the light is right and the food is fresh from the kitchen its always looking best as it lands. If it begins to tire, the toothpick is a great tool for small moves and a small spritzer brings back a lot.

Recently I wanted dessert wine in the background of a shot but I had none so water, honey and a touch of soy made a great alternative.

Food styling and photography - Simon Bajada

Can you list for us 5 resources you turn to regularly for creative inspiration?

1. Personal experiences, travel
2. Vintage cookbooks
3. Monocle magazine
4. Brian Ferry photography
5. Swallow Food Magazine, although it seems to have dissapeared?

Which other stylists, photographers or creative people do you admire?

While it was around, I was heavily influenced by American Gourmet.

Particularily the styling of Christine Rudolph. She has affirmed my love for blue and green tones.

I am also drawn to the different edge Marcus Nilsson brings to his food photography, it’s a litTle gritty which is different. The network of Australian food photographers & stylsits is incredible. I believe nowhere does this work better than Melbourne and Sydney, so I admire all those I work with and alongside.

I also admire chefs who can deliver smart, balanced food on the plate, they have so much to manage, as it is, and to then to sneak in their creative flair, and make it work, is impressive.

What would be your dream creative project?

It would involve researching the cuisine of some untapped region, some incredibly sparse, isolated location, photography, seeking out ancient hand written recipes, helicopters, wolves, midnight sun and polar bears.

Bringing it all together with a talented designer.

I think this means I want to do a cookbook on food of the arctic??

I’m not sure that would fly..

Food styling - Simon Bajada

Do your friends and family expect perfection at your dinner table!?

Asked this 10 years ago I would have said yes.

For years I laboured over the perfect dishes for occasions.  While I still do, I have to say that as cuisine has become more relaxed in all aspects, so has my cooking – and hopefully their expectations!

For a while, a new ingredient or cooking technique was important to me, but I have come to realise that nothing beats well matched, high quality produce cooked with well practiced technique.

What are you looking forward to?

2 things..

I, my beautiful wife and son are temporarily relocating to Stockholm, Sweden.

I’m excited about exploring a new cuisine and working with food in Europe.

&

Photography, it’s a passion I have always had.  Having now learnt some technical aspects of it, I’m looking forward to shooting more and more. I just updated my site with some of my own images  - its very exciting.

Food styling and photography - Simon Bajada

Melbourne Questions

Your favourite Melbourne neighbourhood and why?

I will have to be biased here, we live in West Footscray and we love it.

We have seen so much positive change here in the past year, traffic barely exists and the scope of cuisines and produce is exactly what I love.

I’m also drawn to the heritage of Carlton, I like being in South Melbourne / Albert Park, the market is great and there are some excellent stores for propping.

What / where was the last great meal you ate in Melbourne?

The Duchess of Spotswood, they always deliver, if you order one of their ‘named’ dishes, you’re guaranteed greatness.

Where do you shop in Melbourne for the tools of your trade?

I utilise all the markets on their different days.

Sydney road is the place for Middle eastern & Italian supplies, Footscray for Asian.

I use Chefs Hat for kitchen tools and generic props.

I use Prop.d on occasions to hire props, as well as from ‘Prop Kitchen‘, my own collection of props with Leesa O’Reilly, which is now open to the public.

Where would we find you on a typical Saturday morning?

Sipping coffee, reading the paper at some trendy café on the corner, no that’s a lie. I’d probably be doing that only in the back yard while watching my son Max find that a parsley bush can open up a whole new world of possibilities…

Melbourne’s best kept secret?

There are less and less, can I skip this one?…..

Food styling – Simon Bajada, Photography – John Laurie, From Antonio & Lucia, forthcoming from Plum / Pan Macmillan.