Behind the Scenes - Photoshoot at Dominique Ansel's Kitchen

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A portrait of Dominique Ansel holding out a plate of food.
Dominique Ansel holding out a plate of food.
Dominique Ansel was a pleasure to work with. We were there taking photographs of the food for an app and at Dominique Ansel's kitchen on 7th Avenue. There aren't any tables to shoot on indoors, just a jungle gym like area of steps where people can sit and devour their creative treats. Wanting to capture something more polished to match his perfectly composed aesthetic I declared 'let's shoot outside in the rain! I'm going for that French countryside look.' I meant under the restaurants awning of course but he didn't bat an eyelash at this crazy photographer. Between shots photographing the food my account manager Laura had me sneak into the kitchen to get some shots of him as the was preparing the dishes.

Chef lost in thought For these photographs I chose a Pentax 50mm 1.4 lens. The very first film slr camera that I got had this lens on it and it's become one of my favorites. I have an adaptor ring that allows me to mount this lens to my Canon 5D IV that allows it to achieve infinity focus. The reason why this is one of my favorite lenses has to do with the shape of it's aperature. Photographs are made up of millions of tiny little dots in the shape of the lens aperature and at 1.4 this lens has a very smooth aperature. This produces a very pleasing soft milky blur to the background of the image allowing the subject, in this case Dominique Ansel, to pop more.

Because I was using such a wide aperture I could only pull so much focus. As a safety I shot multiple exposures with varying objects in focus and retouched them together. In this case Dominique’s face, the food and part of his arm are actually three different photographs that I stitched together in post.

I got a chance to talk with him for a couple minutes. One of my favorite things to ask chefs is how many times do they think that they’ve made that dish. Nobody has yet to have an answer but it’s interesting to think about and then get to talk to one of the best pastry chefs in the world about about what it takes to become a master of your art form. Be it photography or the culinary arts. Not only did he invent the Cronut, but Dominique made an unfathomable number of pastries leading up to that invention. He agreed with me that practice is key to mastering an art form but that talent can be finite resource and some people have it and some people don’t.

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Closeup of food being prepared in the kitchen.

Toast being drizzled with oil in the Kitchen.

dominique Ansel grinding peper on a dish.

dominique Ansel smiling while grinding pepper on a dish.

A plate of cookies at dominique Ansel's Kitchen in NYC.

dominique's cookies dripping with chocolate.

A croissant photographed in what I called the 'French countryside' look.

Croissants being photographed in what I called the 'French Countryside' look.

Master chef dominique Ansel working in the kitchen.

Looking in through the window at Dominique Ansel's Kitchen.

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Will Engelmann
 Food Photography

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Will is a food photographer based in New York City.