My Low Light Set Up.

Following on from a recent post I made on Facebook and FlickR there was a lot of photographers all asking a very similar question… Getting great shots in low light, what’s my technique.

Lets start with the photo to the the right. It’s a wide shot which was taken at a recent gig in a local library. It’s not a great shot but I wanted to give you an idea of the situation I found myself in. The only light in all the photos in this post came from six small “disco” lights either side of the stage, which went on and off at random intervals.

Now library and gig aren’t words I’d normally put together and sure enough it was a bit of a weird event, but that’s a whole other story. No this was a classic low light situation where I had to nail the shot without resorting to flash and without using a tripod.

Gear guide:
Now normally I tell people that equipment really isn’t that important, it’s the person behind the camera that makes the image. Now whilst that’s true, low light photography is one of the exceptions to that rule. Gear really does make a difference when there’s very little light and every shot is hand held.

Camera Body:
When it comes to low light photography you’ll need a DSLR if you’re going to capture quality shots.

Almost any DSLR camera body will be OK in low light, but I love my Canon 5D mark 2. One of it’s party pieces is it’s ability to shoot at very high ISO. For example many of these images were shot at 3200 iso which is at the upper limit I will use with the knowledge that the noise levels will be acceptable. The 5D is also a full frame DSLR camera which means it’s performance at high ISO’s is exceptionally good and by good I mean 3200 ISO show the same amount of noise as my older Canon 40D at 800 ISO.

Lens Choice:
The lens you use is probably more important then the camera for this type of low light work. I Used my favourite Canon 24-105L lens for most of these shots it has a maximum aperture of f/4 which means it lets in a pretty decent amount of light and that keeps the shutter speed up. It’s image stabilised to further reduce camera shake (but not motion blur) and it’s focus is fast and accurate.

For the really close up shots I switched to a Canon 70-300 IS lens. It’s a bit of a budget lens and zoomed in, only has a maximum aperture of f/5.6, but the image stabilisation is very good.

Camera Settings:
Other tips I can offer would be use Aperture priority mode and keep the aperture wide open to maximise shutter speed and minimise blur from both camera shake and motion blur.

Use continuous shooting to get a series of shots and capture great expressions like this.

Auto ISO is also a handy feature. Now normally I avoid auto features at all costs, but if you know you’re going to be shooting at the cameras maximum ISO (as I was here) auto ISO will drop the ISO if and when the lighting improves.

If you are faced with shooting a music gig in a library, don’t panic. It may not be Glastonbury music festival but great photos are there to be captured, just like these.

A couple of questions have come up on post processing. All these shots have been processed in Lightroom. This would include sharpening & noise reduction as well as colour & contrast adjustment.

However don’t confuse adjustment with “make over” as very little needed to be altered from the “as shot” originals. In fact the 400+ shots taken on the night we’re sorted, adjusted and the best emailed to the relevant media organisations with in 60 minutes of getting home.

cef in vietnam – part 4 the mekong delta – upper river


i’ve been on the move, so for now this post is one in pictures… about 40 or so, briefly captioned.

i wanted to lead with this shot. it’s from the home where i stayed the night before last which you will see more of in a moment. this is a wall in their kitchen which although somewhat rudimentary was quite large. these past two days have been incredible, only marred by my sleep schedule being thrown off in a big way. i’m just now back on track and i am on my way out the door to the cai rang floating market of can tho. more on that later but in the meantime please have a look at my latest wanderings. i’ve only brought my little point and shoot camera with me as i’m traveling for 5 weeks with one carry on bag. i’m a terrible photographer but i fancy myself having a decent eye so i hope you enjoy what i was able to capture. i’ll write more soon…

now on to the pictures…

launched out onto the river at ben tre

a stop for lunch on phoenix island. this is an elephant ear fish which was then rolled in rice paper with cucumber and served with a dipping sauce. it was 2 days ago and so i can’t recall just what the sauce was


after the river, a stop at a beautiful pagoda. i should tell you the name of it but i can’t recall that either. and atop the adjacent building sits…

 a smiling buddha that is ginormous. kind of like vegas comes to the mekong.

we walked around the pagoda and happened upon a back kitchen area. a group of people had come from 40km away to spend the day working on the landscaping and doing repairs to the temple. i believe it’s an annual sojourn from their village. they were sitting down to lunch and invited us to join them but having just eaten we politely declined. they were so incredibly lovely and we had a really nice exchange via my guide…

the vietnamese are wonderful people…

then we drove about 30 minutes and the driver pulled into a little storefront. we got out and i was told we had to walk to the house where i’d be staying. there were no roads for cars…

along the way i got a closeup of some of the graves. they dot the landscape all through the mekong. you see them in the rice patties, the fields, next to homes… if you lived on the land and you died there, that’s where you stay.

a warning. i think he’s saying “look what happened to the last guy…”

a road less travelled…

and on that road sits this house. and in that house the tv is on… i was relieved that was not to be my house.

security gates

my home for the night… looking out.

dining area. almost al fresco…

interior space leading onto my bedroom

closer up. and through the back door of my bedroom…..

the wash room

angles and rooftops

the lovely dinner served to us by the host

that night, laying in bed and looking at the window through my mosquito netting…

kitchen wall

one of the 5 family dogs… she was my favorite

a monkey bridge, temporarily widened for me…

the next day driving towards can tho. this is one of my favorite shots taken so far

snakes for sale… the recent flooding helps business

we stopped to buy durian. this place was just visually amazing

the proprietor 

i really do like durian

while we were driving – a typical shot of a (very) local market


(update: from here down, i am in can tho which is now considered the lower river of the mekong)

in can tho by the river just talking a stroll. i’d not eaten so i bought this off a street cart. fishballs. pretty much tasted as bad as they look. i ate a few and tossed the rest.

roasted corn and bananas along with some tapioca cakes. a german guy shared his tapioca cake with me and i liked it. the corn was dry and not so sweet.

but she was really nice and we talked to her for a bit

these are everywhere… rambutans.

and these were totally weird. i’d never seen anything like them. they grow in the water and you crack the shell with your teeth. the inside is like a cooked taro root, slightly sweet potato’esque.

the red fruit they call water apples in english. the juice is milky white and they’re quite sweet. i bought a kilo of the mangosteens. they were “pricey” at $2.50 a kilo (about 20 of them) because they were from thailand. the season is over for them here. god, they’re good…

banh boa with quail egg and some spicy meat with onion. i like these things…

this banh bao man ran over to see his picture after i took it. we all laughed and chatted for a few minutes


i ate the bun at ths cafe right next to the cart with my guide nghiep and a woman who wandered over to talk to us… i had a coffee with just a touch of condensed milk and it was dreamy.

another mosquito netting picture – because i thought it was so cool…

i’ll be back soon. thanks for looking…

How Running is Like Blogging

(Photo source)

This time of year is my busiest season for writing and other projects. And, it is at this time each year where I contemplate sacrificing some of the things I love – like running and blogging – in order to make more time for work. Last year, I did actually take a hiatus from blogging for 1-2 months in order to spend time working on more lucrative projects. As for running, although I’ve never stopped running for work-related reasons, I took a planned hiatus from running for 2-3 weeks after I had both of my children.

When you really think about it, blogging is a lot like running. In many ways, at least for me, the two go hand-in-hand, with running as an impetus for blogging and vice versa. Plus, giving up blogging or running, even for a short amount of time, is difficult for someone who does it every day. But although the “giving up” part was difficult, the coming back after the time off was even more difficult than I imagined.

Let’s take a look at the other similarities between running and blogging:

6 Ways Running is Like Blogging

  1. Love/hate relationship: I truly have a love/hate relationship with running and blogging. I love to run, just as I love to write. But I hate that both have me so entranced that they are hard to give up cold turkey. Both are definitely hard habits to break.
  2. Practice makes perfect: Although blogging is not a sport – unless you consider taking hits from women’s magazines a sport – like running, your blogging/writing skills will typically improve the more you engage in that activity, be it running or writing. Running and blogging also take practice and dedication to get to the level that you want to be. Furthermore, many experienced bloggers and runners will keep to a set schedule in order to become more consistent in their practice and to gauge their progress.
  3. Varying Levels: Like runners, bloggers can be considered anything from novice to experienced, or from casual to professional. Some runners run for fun, some bloggers blog for fun. On the flipside, some runners run professionally, to earn money, prestige or just to beat a previous personal record. Bloggers are the same way in that many experienced bloggers write because of the money it earns them or with the intent of receiving some sort of recognition in the blogging world.
  4. Socialization: Blogging and running can be solo or social activities. You can write for the masses but never read or respond to comments or you can engage in online communities, conferences, and more. Similarly, you can run by yourself to your heart’s content or you can join a group of runners for weekly workouts.
  5. Outlet for feelings and ambitions: Running and blogging can be used to help alleviate stress, tension, anxiety, make you feel empowered, or simply help you achieve a purpose – whether it’s to run a 5K or to write your first novel.
  6. The Good and the Bad: Runners and bloggers have good days and bad days. On a bad day, a blogger may post just to get something posted, while runners will force themselves just to finish a few miles. But on good days – both runners and bloggers can be on fire – writing strong content or achieving that runner’s high.

Now, if I could just find a way to run and blog at the same time….

Turn your Panasonic GF1 into a pinhole camera

Here is a cool gadget found in ebaY. Its a pancake lens kit from SKINK HOLE to convert your Panasonic GF1 into a pinhole camera.

Some details:

The modular Skink Pinhole Pancake System is the ideal addition to your camera and offers new creative opportunities to the photo enthusiast.

Pinhole disks, zone plates or zone sieves – also in combination with suitable filters can easily be swapped and installed between the retaining rings in the center of the Pancake lens.
Depending on the desired effect, you can use your camera as a pinhole-, zone plate- or zones sieve camera. To a high degree the installed aperture determines how your vision is creatively interpreted in rendering an image. The traditional pinhole creates relatively sharp images with exposure times ranging from one second to several minutes. With a zone plate or zone sieve however, photos can be taken without a tripod, if the lighting conditions permit higher speeds.
In comparison, images turn out softer with a painterly, impressionists’ character. Highlight are emphasized and appear with a dreamy halo-effect, while darker areas seem to be pushed into the background.
 With the Skink Pinhole Pancake installed, the Olympus Pen can be used either in automatic or manual mode. Both work fine and the camera’s LCD screen shows a bright live view which makes image composition very easy.

link to ebay you may alsop search skink pinhole pancake in ebay 

Speaking About FTC Rules and Ethical Blogging At Lavish!


I have been neglecting this blog because I am so busy these days. Which is a good thing and I am not complaining.

So here is an update on my activities for the last month. I attended another social media conference, Blogalicious. It was a good time and of course I learned a few things. Most importantly, individuals are using social media in such creative and business savvy ways. It is amazing. There is a lot of intellectual property being created through social media and individuals have to become educated about protecting their intellectual property.

I was invited to speak at the Lavish Experience Conference. It is a conference conceived and produced by Shameeka Ayers of The Broke Socialite and focuses on the Lifestyle blogger. Lifestyle blogging is Big Big Business and mainstream media and corporations are taking note! I will discuss how to navigate offers of paid income to blog or advertise on beauty and fashion blogs while also adhering to the revised Federal Trade Commissions Regulations regarding disclosure of paid advertising and product endorsement on social media platforms. Yes disclosure is required on all blogs, Facebook updates, Twitter feeds, etc.

The conference will take place here in Atlanta, GA at Mansion Hotel from December 10-12.

If you can not attend, please follow my tweets on that day. My tweets will include all the good information you need!

Stephen Zeller Photography Gets A Makeover

I have completely redesigned my website for Stephen Zeller Photography, including a new logo which I had mentioned about a week ago.  I wanted to do with a design that could be consistent with both my website and blog.  This was important to me for fluidity and consistency with the design and function of the […]

Coffee Preparation Through the Ages, Part II

A 1947 ad for the very popular Silex vacuum coffee pot / photo by Flickr user jbcurio

This is part II of an article exploring the development of coffee preparation techniques from the 17th Century Ottoman Turks to the Italian Espresso of the mid-20th Century. Part I can be found here

We last met in 1838 Paris where the French Balloon style vacuum pot was patented. This high-tech, theatrical method of brewing coffee was developed further in Britain in 1850 and eventually exported to the US where it became the basis for the famous Silex vacuum pot.

Another innovation in coffee preparation emerged in France around 1850, a pot with a fine mesh screen attached to a plunger, which would be pressed down when brewing is complete to prevent the depleted grounds from pouring into the cup. This was a great improvement over cloth or paper filters which absorb the coffee oils and hence much of the best of coffee’s flavors. In hindsight this seems like an obvious thing to try, however, the technology to create fine wire mesh screens was not really available until the Industrial Revolution was in full swing.

Again, it is the French who are forging ahead with coffee innovations. Messrs. Mayer and Delforge received the first patent for this “infusion coffee maker” in 1852. The only drawback to the design was the fact that it was difficult to make a mesh filter that would hug the sides of the pot tightly enough to keep all of the grounds out. This was improved in the 1930s when Italians Attilio Calimani and Giulio Moneta redesigned it with a spring coiling around the edge of the filter. Finally, in 1959 Mr. Fallero Bondanini of Switzerland hit upon the solution we see in the modern version of the press pot, with the mesh screen extending out beyond the coiled spring and turning up at the edges. The official name for this style of coffee maker in French is cafetière à piston filtrant, the word cafetière simply means coffee maker. In English it is often referred to as a French Press, or a Plunger Pot.

A French Press or Plunger Pot / photo by Flickr user illustir

It is only in 1901, 256 years after that first coffee house opened in Venice, that we get an inkling of espresso. In the late 19th Century there was much experimentation happening with steam pressure. Naturally, people were curious to see what effect this could have on making coffee. The idea was that if the water could be put under a pressure higher than 1 atmosphere (the normal pressure here on Earth), it might extract more flavor from the coffee.

The first success at this was achieved by an Italian factory owner named Luigi Bezzera who thought his employees spent too much time on their coffee breaks. So he built a machine that forced steam and boiling water at 1.5 atmospheres of pressure through the ground coffee and directly into a cup. All of the coffee preparation methods we have discussed so far take a minimum of 4-6 minutes to complete (depending on how you like your coffee). Bezzera’s new method was fast taking only seconds, which is how it got it’s name espresso is Italian for “fast.”

By all accounts, even though Mr. Bezzera was a skilled inventor, he wasn’t very good at marketing and he didn’t have a lot of spare money to promote his new creation. In 1903 he sold the patent for his espresso machine to Desidero Pavoni who popularized it, eventually shipping it all over the world. If you’re in New York City, stop by Cafe Reggio on MacDougal St. to see their original La Pavoni machine, which dates from when the cafe opened in 1927. It is supposedly the first espresso machine to reach America.

An original La Pavoni espresso machine / photo by Flickr user ohskylab

While these early machines produced a richer, more complex cup of coffee than previous methods, they were fairly difficult to operate and often produced bitter coffee because the water and steam was too hot. Also, the La Pavoni could not produce enough pressure to generate the rich crema that is seen today as the hallmark of a high quality shot. Even so, espresso became very popular, especially in Italy, where every man made a home away from home at the espresso bar.

The fact that espresso could only be obtained outside the home gave an idea to another Italian inventor, Alfonso Bialetti. In 1933, he created a variation on the pumping percolator of 1819. It is made of aluminum, in three sections. The bottom piece holds the water, and a filter basket with a tube extending from the bottom holds the coffee above the water. This bottom assemblage is then screwed into the empty upper container, in the bottom of which is found a rubber gasket to ensure a tight seal, and second metal filter. The pot is then placed on the stove and heated until a pleasant gurgling noise indicates that the hot water under pressure has been forced upwards through the ground coffee and into the upper container from where it can be served. Higher manufacturing tolerances and the presence of a safety release valve in the water reservoir meant that levels of pressure similar to the La Pavoni machine could be achieved, right on the stove top. Bialetti called the coffee pot the Moka Express and used the slogan “in casa un espresso come al bar” or “at home, an espresso just like the one at the bar.”

Alfonso Bialetti’s Moka Pot, circa 1933 / photo by Wikipedia user Imm808

The Moka pot sold reasonably well, but mainly locally in Milan. Production was then interrupted by World War II, and did not resume until Mr. Bialetti’s son Renato, who had been a POW in Germany, came home and took over the business. Renato Bialetti succeeded in marketing the Moka Express nationally and by the 1950s the company was making four million coffee pots per year! To this day, most Italian households have a Moka pot tucked away somewhere, even if it’s just for when grandpa comes over and wants to make coffee.

During the rise of the Moka pot, changes were also coming to Italian coffee bars. In 1947 Giovanni Achille Gaggia, a coffee bar owner in Milan, filed a patent for a new style of espresso machine which used a spring-loaded, lever-operated piston. The operator pulled down on a large lever which released hot (not boiling) water, and no steam, from the boiler into a chamber between the piston and the coffee. He then slowly released the lever, expanding the spring which pressed down on the piston and forced the hot water through the coffee at very high pressure (about 3-4 atmospheres). The ability to more finely control the temperature and pressure of the water resulted in a much superior cup of coffee, with a rich, dappled froth on top which no one had seen before.

At first, Gaggia’s customers were suspicious of this “crema di caffe or “coffee cream” as he named it. If there was no milk, then where was the “cream” coming from? A smart man, Gaggia marketed it as a natural cream, extracted from the coffee itself by his new process. He was more correct than he may have realized. The water under the higher pressure achieved by Gaggia’s system, was able to emulsify otherwise insoluble oils and volatile compounds in the coffee, creating the highly flavorful crema. Once people discovered how tasty it was, everyone wanted crema on their espresso and Gaggia had the slogan Crema Caffe Naturale engraved right on his machines.

An original Gaggia spring and piston espresso machine / photo by Flickr user Ciccio Pizzattaro

The final change which brings us into the age of truly modern espresso, occurs in 1960 when Ernesto Valente of the FAEMA company, created a machine which used an electric pump to pressurize the water and force it through the ground coffee. And so the final curtain fell on the mesmerizing scene of a trim Italian barista theatrically pulling the levers on his machine to create that special brew. On the plus side, while baristas still need training to make good coffee, FAEMA’s E61 machine was easier to learn than the lever and piston style machines. It was also capable of 9 atmospheres of pressure which is pretty much the pressure at which modern espresso is made today.

FAEMA’s E61, the first truly modern espresso machine / photo by Flickr user Ciccio Pizzattaro

Some of the coffee preparation methods discussed above have fallen out of favor (good riddance, pumping percolator!), while others are very much in use. Naturally, there is much argument on coffee enthusiast web sites, but there is no one way to make a good cup of joe. Home espresso machines are getting better and better, but are expensive and require quite a bit of skill to approximate what a good barista can create with a top of the line La Marzocco. The Bialetti company has a new version of the Moka Express called the Brikka which supposedly with some practice, can create crema. If you’re more of a minimalist, go with a French Press or make the time jump to 1645 with a Turkish cezve. However you brew it, here’s mud in your eye.

Filed under: Food as Anthropology, Food History, Ingredients Tagged: coffee, Food History, History of Coffee Preparation, History of Espresso

Touring California Walnut Country

I recently had the great pleasure of touring California’s walnut county on behalf of the California Walnut Commission. The tour was quite an adventure that spanned two days – two days of learning about walnut harvesting and processing, as well as the many great benefits that walnuts hold.

My adventure started at the beautiful Citizen Hotel in downtown Sacramento where I joined a group of 20-25 other journalists and walnut experts for an elegant dinner. Prior to dinner, we watched cookbook author Mollie Katzen and Chef Michael Tuohy from Grange restaurant whip up some very easy pesto.

We all proceeded to get our hands a little dirty making Chef Tuohy’s own version of white walnut pesto. This was, by far, the best pesto I have ever tasted and not just because I made it. I am not a huge fan of pine nuts or basil in pesto, which are standard ingredients for many restaurant pestos. But Chef Tuohy’s white pesto was made with a base of cheddar, olive oil, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and, best of all, ground walnuts! Again – the best pesto I have every tasted! Don’t worry, I do plan on posting the recipe in a few days!

Our cooking demo was followed by a three-course dinner, with walnuts playing a starring role. We also were very fortunate to hear award-winning researcher and author Dr. Brian Wansink discuss some of the pitfalls to American eating, much of which was discussed in his book, Mindless Eating.

The next morning, we were treated to a walnut-studded breakfast at Old Soul Co. in Sacramento, which included walnut scones, banana walnut sweet bread, and even spinach and goat cheese quiche with walnuts.

After breakfast, we headed to the main event – a tour of the walnut trees at Fedora Farms in Meridian, CA. Here we learned about the varieties of walnuts, how they are shaken from the tree and collected, and how they are hulled and dried before being sent to the processing plant. What I was impressed by most about Fedora Farms was how much time and care they put into harvesting quality walnuts – it really is a great source of pride for the Fedora family and for walnut growers in general. Like Fedora Farms, most walnut farms/orchards are experiencing a fantastic harvest this year. According to the California Walnut Board, California will produce a record harvest in 2010, estimated at 17% larger than that seen in 2009.

Lunch was a gourmet meal underneath the walnut trees provided by Chef Patrick Mulvaney, owner of Culinary Specialists Catering. Chef Mulvaney prepared a first-class lunch for our tour, right in the middle of the walnut orchard – very classy! Oh, and did I mention the menu included 4 uses for walnuts, including the chocolate pudding!

After lunch, we headed to Yuba City to visit the Sacramento Valley Walnut Growers, where they process, package, and distribute the walnut grown in the area. What surprised me most about the processing and packaging of the walnuts was how many steps are in the quality control process – I counted at least four but I’m sure there were more!

For dinner, we headed back to downtown Sacramento to The Kitchen Restaurant, touted as one of “the most entertaining and distinctive dining destinations in Sacramento.” This meal and whole experience truly lived up to the hype. Not only was the atmosphere like no other that I had experienced (when do you ever get to go into the kitchen of a restaurant and just hang out?) but the food was unbelievable! Granted, I did not eat all of the 6 courses because they included seafood and beef, but the presentations were extremely entertaining and amazing looking!

Aside from the highly interactive dinner preparations, I was really impressed with the fact that each dish could be, and was in my case, tailored to fit each guest’s likes/dislikes. Don’t care for frog legs? No problem! They will just replace them with tender breaded chicken made to look like frog legs – so  you don’t feel completely left out! Furthermore, as a testament to the Chef’s creative genius, 5 of the 6 courses included walnuts. After my 5-hour culinary experience, I was quite full and ready to fall into a deep, walnut-induced food coma.

Overall, the California Walnut Harvest gave me a new perspective about the growth, harvesting, and processing of walnuts. It’s not every day that I get to see a food that I love go from the tree to the table. And, although I have written about the many health benefits of walnuts before, this tour reinforced how healthy these little nuts are and how incorporating them into any meal is possible and easy.

If you don’t know by now, walnuts are one of the best, if not the best, nuts in regard to nutritional value. Don’t believe me? Check out the California Walnut Commission to see the full details!

ceF in vietnam – part 3 more market gazing and fine dining in saigon

oh vietnam… don’t make me love you so. the time will pass so quickly and then we will be apart. 

it’s the people. it’s the vibe. saigon has this “thing’ about it. this way of being that has taken me by surprise. amidst the never ending drone of 4 million scooters with a chaotic traffic pattern that somehow moves with a slo-mo ease that feels comfortable, even strangely choreographed – perhaps even enhanced by the the endless symphonic clamor of construction going on everywhere, i feel very peaceful here…

then there are the throngs of people eating, always eating… i’ve never seen so much eating happening – on the streets – everywhere people are cooking. women setting up a little spot with a propane stove and a pan for an egg and some bbq pork with a few customers gathered around sitting on these tiny stools. the local street food scene is astonishing. if only because of the bizarreness of it here in saigon. these are not the carts that you see in thailand, these are people kneeling down and cooking simple food with squirt bottles of chili sauce and fish sauce, everywhere…

westerners are warned off this local food. there is nothing close to any ‘sanitation’ and from what i hear one might tend to come down with nasty gastro issues if one were to indulge… i am fearless in this regards but have so far mostly eaten at the markets where supposedly the food won’t make you ill. for breakfast this morning i chose a stall at random in the middle of the market and had 2 fresh spring rolls and a bowl of noodles with shrimp paste cooked around a stalk of sugar cane and bbq’d pork. 42000 dong. or about $2.25. and it was very good…

i didn’t ask but i’m pretty sure the lower bins are snake… i think everything else was shelled crab, different kinds, different parts

ladies of the tofu

hearts, livers, tongues and something else below the tongues… maybe kidney?

ears and innards…

squid and shrimp and soft shell crabs…

the wonderful herbs that make everything explode into some kind of harmonious cacophony of flavor…

a fish portion of my wanderings…

the garlic, ginger, shallot, lemongrass vendor – way up top towards the center are those tiny little purple shallots that i love

right outside the market… on a quieter sunday mornng

it all comes at you – but gently…

the french were here and it shows…

tonight for dinner i took myself out to hoa tuc, one of the acclaimed restaurants of saigon. for my first course i asked for a half order of one of the salads. spicy char-grilled beef with kumquat, mustard sprouts and white eggplant. the eggplant was uncooked (who knew?) which was a pleasant discovery and the overall dish was just plain excellent. 

for my second course i had bbq fillet of vietnamese snapper with spicy beet root and ginger sauce. on a personal note i liked that they didn’t mess around with trying to make it look like anything other than what it was. which was perfect. 

a glass of torrentes, a small bottle of water and the above was $15. at one of the top rated restaurants in the entire city. my 20 year old server, huon was incredibly sweet and since the night was slow had time to practice her english on me and share that she was sad today because her boyfriend had been caught sitting in a cafe with another girl. she ended it with him and now he is very sorry. on the upside he had bought her an electric fan for the room she rents. i advised her to keep it. we parted friends and i think she was sad to see me go as she walked with me awhile down the street towards my hotel.

perhaps i will visit her again when i circle back around to saigon, if only for the update.


Fitness and the Foodie

“Never trust a skinny chef.”

I’ve heard this phrase a thousand times and up until recently, didn’t give it much thought. I think it’s a cute and amusing phrase (still) that simply implies that the best cooks, chefs, and/or bakers are those who LOVE food so much that there’s no way they could be skinny. They need to bring this zealous, culinary spirit into the kitchen when preparing foods so that flavors pop and perform, smells intoxicate and arouse, and the profound presentation of plates dramatically kidnap breath from many throats that can barely muster “ahhhh!”

Basically, the phrase says skinny chefs are those who restrain themselves far too much to enjoy and make good food.


Let’s be honest. There’s some truth to that, but it’s not completely true.

I do believe that foodies are people who naturally and avidly enjoy all things food and drink, even given each of our various approaches and distinctive leanings toward particular cuisines and flavors, and our specific areas of focus in the realm of  food mania.  It’s hard to be a strict disciplinarian with one’s waistline when there’s so much love going on here.

The love of food naturally spells out passion. That’s obvious. Foodies don’t just eat to function and to satisfy hunger. And, we often know that passion, in any form, should be unbridled and uninhibited. At least, that’s what most of us think about passion when pondering over the nature of it. Passion is not passion unless it’s intense, deep, and obsessive…and free.

Passion, like anything else that’s exhilarating, can become warped and darkly baroque and lead to irresponsibility and addiction. There always has to be a checks and balances on most things, right? I shall say that food is certainly no area exempt from this supposition.

So, when it comes to the phrase “never trust a skinny chef,” I think some foodies do realize that unchecked passion with food can lead to bad health over time. The body has its limits and we each should know our own. Every person is different.

I believe strongly in the philosophy of HAES (Health at Every Size). This acronym means that what is healthy for one person weight-wise might not be so healthy for another and that intuitive eating is the best way to achieve and maintain good health. The goal should not be to become skinny, but simply healthy, and a person can be healthy with extra weight given their unique body dynamics and limitations. This is fact.

It’s only been recent that North America’s body ideals have related to being at the lowest end possible of BMI. And let’s face it, that BMI system itself is not so accurate for some. I’m one of those people.

So some bona fide foodies can indeed be “skinny.” I think some people either have very fast metabolisms (although most people are average this way) or they find ways to incorporate a good degree of physical activity and balance in their eating into their lives to where they work off any excess weight, whatever the motivations are behind their actions. They allow themselves to eat whatever they want, but in moderation and sometimes perhaps with substitutions.

I do think that women in the food industry are under even more pressure than average to remain visually appealing, conventionally, and still exude this orgasmic attitude about food. Food is everywhere in the food biz, so there’s more to watch out for if one doesn’t want to fall out of popularity, given what they are known for.

Over time, as I’ve observed some of the most conventionally attractive celebrity chefs on Food Network and The Cooking Channel, I’ve seen there have been periods where they were a bit pudgier or heavier. Giada De Laurentiis’ weight can fluctuate at times, I’ve noticed. She is very petite but she’s been chunkier during certain seasons of her shows. This wasn’t just when she was pregnant. The woman enjoys food and if she didn’t work out to maintain her weight, I can easily seeing her being naturally chubby. In my book, she’d certainly still be cute as I am not at all fat-phobic like I used to be and as the average person tends to be, but I know viewers would give her tons of criticism for “letting herself go.”

Some others chefs have even been criticized for their weight gain (Nigella Lawson comes to mind), but I notice that in this industry there’s still a bit more acceptance towards plus-sized bodies than in others, overall.

To name a few…

  • Guy Fieri
  • Sunny Anderson
  • Anne Burrell
  • Ina Garten
  • Paula Deen
  • Emeril Lagasse
  • Nigella Lawson
  • Jeffrey Steingarten
  • Mario Batali
  • Rachael Ray (her weight fluctuates)
  • Alex Guarnaschelli

 If you take a good look, all of the average-sized chefs have their chubby or pudgy moments as well. Not many are very thin naturally. You can tell most work out to keep up appearances. Even Bobby Flay has indeed been far more stockier than he is at the moment.

The reality and what viewers must realize is chefs and food hosts aren’t on their shows showing America how to cook and how to masturbate at the same time. It’s not meant to be any porn but food porn.

Also, who wants to see someone completely anorexic-looking cooking? Not me. You know that just doesn’t look and seem right. I understand we want people to look somewhat attractive while they cook, even if that for some people means thinner, but seriously, these food channels aren’t substitutes for the Playboy channel so I often find it incredibly ridiculous when certain food celebs are put down for any weight gain or any change in their physical appearance. It’s often female hosts, too.

In the everyday life of a chef, it is best for chefs to be in shape. I am aware of this. Cooking in commercial kitchens in food establishments is hard work. You stand on your feet all day without many breaks, you are moving about doing a variety of chores and tasks, you are lifting and cleaning a lot of large-scale commercial equipment, you endure repetitive movements, and you must be quick, efficient, and agile. If you are out of shape, I can’t see this kind of career being anything one would endure for long, if at all.

But, all foodies aren’t commercial chefs and there are such people as fat chefs, cooks, and bakers who make magic in the kitchen and manage to hold their own very well.

I hear that bakers tend to be less lean than their savory cook counterparts. Not sure why this is or if this is really true. In some bakeries, activity can be quite hectic, especially if there are long lines and lots of little tasks to do with a multitude of pastries and desserts. I think some people might think that because baking is more exact in nature than cooking, standing for a longer time concentrating on the precision of design or a technique is far more common than in a savory kitchen. Point taken.

As a foodie, I realize that I need to keep a watch on my personal obsession with food, especially desserts.

Recently, I’ve gotten back into a daily gym schedule because as I bake often, I know that being around so much decadence is tempting. I have such a high tolerance for sweets and if I don’t control myself, that passion turns topsy-turvy and like any good carousel ride, it’s fun for the time being and you want to come back intermittently for the thrill, but you never want to stay on forever nonstop or find yourself strapped down on a candy-colored faux horse as the carousel moves into surreal warp speed until you are violently sick and put out commission completely.

OK…that was rather disturbing…

Well, anyway, what are your thoughts on the phrase: “Never Trust a Skinny Chef”?

Do you feel it has truth or merit?
Are you a foodie or a cook in any manner and if so, how do you personally relate to this phrase?