JEAN CAZALS shoots with Brendan Collins

Cook Book - Brendan Collins 'Cooking, Blokes & Artichokes’ 

Photography by Jean Cazals

"What you see is what you get". And what you see on the cover of Brendan Collins' new book, Cooking, Blokes and Artichokes, is an enormous sandwich, the thin slices of beef spilling out, practically begging you to grab it with both hands and tear into it right off the page. If this is man food, then it is meaty, gutsy, bold. "It's real food, you go to the kitchen, you start with a beer and make something like a big sandwich or something to really show off". Jean Cazals clearly hit it off with Collins, a British boy who's found his culinary home in LA. "His food is about gritty, robust, modern rustic cooking. It's served up on a kitchen table, but there are plenty of clever things which give so much character to a dish. And he really knows his meat."

Dividing his time between Los Angeles and London - Cazals wanted to preserve the continuity which flows through the book. "I shot all the chapter headings on purpose with an empty plate - after the dish is finished. And I kept it simple, because most guys aren't going to spend hours in the kitchen - it's all very now."

He spent a few days with Collins in his Hollywood restaurant Birch, to understand his style: from the early gastropub influences to the Californian vibe. "It revisits something classic, and then modernises it."

Cazals' wife Marie-Ange cooked and style the food for the shoots back in London, with styling by Cazals himself. "I wanted weathered wood, metal, black and stone, natural organic things . I'm lucky: most times I just have to see a dish, and that's it. For eight recipes, I can take eight shots - there's only one winner in a race."

The discipline, the precision, the marriage of imagination and creativity and sheer ingenuity is incredible. "You see images everywhere. When you see something in the street, when you frame it, even if you don't have a camera you've taken a picture in your mind. And that's all photography is - seeing something and framing it."

With Collins' book, as with all his work, Cazals relishes the process as much as the end product. The food itself, the plate, the lighting, the cropping, the font. For this book, it was just "cooking, man..." - or dude food, with real expertise to back it up. The photography exudes a kind of simple joy: the colour pop of an 'ultimate meat board' , a burnished silver bowl of cauliflower soup, laden with cream and cheese, shards of golden toast spilling off the plate. An exuberant bowl of brioche doughnuts, some already sticky with their bourbon glaze.

"I look around things", says Cazals, as if it were obvious. "I have to understand where it comes from, understand the best light." The sheer skill he brings to his craft has helped him to forge a natural camaraderie with the best chefs in the business.

"With lots of chefs, you have to prove yourself. But they soon realise that I'm like them - that taking pictures is a bit like cooking: respect comes when they realise you can deliver the goods." A bit of mutual recongition can get you a long way.

A British chef, a French photographer, producing magic from the heart of LA: with hearty, deceptively simple food that is a long way from the extreme faddishness of many a Hollywood diet. What you see is what you get - modern, classic, clever, and very, very moreish indeed.

Written by

Felicity Spector 

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