Book Review: Take Away, A Food Photographer's Story | Squid Ink | Los Angeles | Los Angeles News and Events | LA Weekly
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Book Review: Take Away, A Food Photographer's Story

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Thu, Jul 26, 2012 at 6:00 AM

click to enlarge Take Away - CHRONICLE BOOKS
  • Chronicle Books
  • Take Away
On these hot, muggy nights when your ambient kitchen temperature rivals that of your oven, we highly recommend whipping up a batch of ice cream for dinner (protein, calcium, fiber if you add fruit). It's also the perfect excuse to settle in with a fantastic, photography-driven food book like Take Away by French photographer Jean-François Mallet.

The book, a visual discourse on what we cook and consume, is a reissue of Mallet's French version (published in 2009). The photographs are not limited to a single photo-rich country like Morocco but have been culled from Mallet's years of travel throughout the world. On one page you're at a stand in Costa Rica about to bite into an empanada; on the next page, you're quietly peeking at a line cook catnapping among piles of delivery boxes at a Brooklyn pizzeria. A few more pages in, it's evident where Mallet, a former chef, has spent the most time on his travels: primarily the New York City area, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo and throughout Italy.

Only here, the photographs don't come across as mere personal reflections of what the photographer has seen, eaten or done, as this style of travelogue photo often does on food blogs today.

Instead, Mallet's photos read like an invitation for viewers to explore that Tokyo fish market on their own -- to make their own political, cultural and culinary conclusions. In Hong Kong, he includes a British breakfast of toast, marmalade and tea, in Bangkok, gorgeous, glistening kebabs of chicken hearts, and in the Rodrigues Islands, a mesmerizing photograph of whole octopus flapping in the breeze like freshly washed sheets as they dry in the sun.

click to enlarge Photographs from Take Away - CHRONICLE BOOKS/JEAN-FRANÇOIS MALLET
  • Chronicle Books/Jean-François Mallet
  • Photographs from Take Away
In part, Mallet's tightly edited, factual captions ("maple candy on ice in Quebec"), rather than highly opinionated, bloglike prose, encourage that personal interpretation. But read the Introduction by Jean-Louis André (the two have collaborated on many cookbooks), and there is another Take Away for all of us who have ever quickly snapped a photograph at a restaurant or in our home kitchens for our personal or professional procurement.

We may not be able to visit a restaurant or taco truck twice, as Mallet does, or even have time to make that second, photo-ready blueberry pie. But as André reminds us, a professional photographer like Mallet intuitively understands that the perfect photograph isn't always the one that was taken before our first bite.

Every time we find ourselves in a bar or eatery that tells a country's story, Jean-François takes the time to savor its offerings. The photograph comes later, on a second visit. First, he must taste. He is seeking not to judge things but to find their story, to make the connections that inform his role as cook-photographer-traveler. He needs this time, these moments of reflection, so that his photos are not just shots of food but shared moments in life.


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