Amateur Food Photographers Get Bad Rap From Restaurants

Jan 30, 2013


The picture-worthy meatballs at Osteria Acqua y Farina.
Credit Eric Barton

Every couple of months, I finally plug my phone into the computer. iTunes annoyingly asks if I want to upgrade something or other, and then I download what looks like a year’s full of photos. There are plenty of my dog, friends, the wife, and whatnot. And then reams of food.

Lots of food. Some are things I’ve cooked myself. Others are dishes I’ve forgotten about from just weeks ago, taken after that third glass wine or just on a random Tuesday night that long ago blurred into yesterday. 

The New York Times published a piece Jan. 22 about how restaurants are reacting to amateur food photographers. Some encourage them to go into the kitchen for the better lighting, while others argue that it disrupts the ambience and have told people to put away their cameras. The article claims some have stood on chairs to get better shots or set up tripods and lights. Yes, that goes too far, but if I'm being reasonable in taking a photo of my food, I'd say I've paid for the right by paying the bill. 

The other night, the wife and I sat on the couch and went through months of the photos. We labeled them and tried to remember where the dishes came from. Sometimes we checked our calendars to see if we had a reservation or set time to meet someone at a restaurant in the hopes we could remember who made that delicious carpaccio.

The photos have a date and time stamp, so you can trace back to the first time you had these dishes. There were the meatballs from Osteria Acqua y Farina. They come out as an appetizer, four small balls of veal slathered in a thin red sauce and then topped with a thin pickle, which adds acidity to the sweet sauce and a crispy contrast to the soft meatballs.

There was the matzo ball soup from Ben’s New York Kosher Delicatessen. It wasn’t much to look at in the photo, just a single matzo floating in a broth of thin noodles. But the photo brought back the memory of that rich broth, flavored from carrots and celery and rich chicken fat.

Sometimes the photos are more than food. There was the Sunday night that we met friends at a barbecue joint in north Miami-Dade. The place had an all-you-can drink special with Narragansett beer. They kept the 20-ounce cans coming until you told them stop. We didn’t tell them to stop until the place was about to close. Which it did, I guess, because I couldn’t find it online today when we were looking up the name. Maybe we did it in that night.

Among the photos is also documentation of a few things that I always go back to cooking when times are tough, when times are good, or when I just can’t come up with a new thing to put on the stove. Namely, there are lots of photos of hot dogs, covered in cole slaw and barbecue, or guacamole and mole sauce, or Chicago style in a too-toasted bun. There are also pizzas, with salami and carmelized onions, figs and balsamic, and a fried egg and bacon.

There’s the creamy flan George brought over one night. Moist chocolate cupcakes Lori added to the New Year’s Eve party two years ago. And the black truffle the wife buys me every year for my birthday, added to scrambled eggs, sliced on top of a Spanish tortilla, and diced into rice with snow peas and mascarpone.

Sure, some of these dishes are right there, ready to be recalled, when someone asks what to order at D’Angelo (the sausage with brocoli rabe and white beans). But most would have been long lost to the reservoirs of our memory, just another dish on a Friday night, drowned in pinot or great discussion. Luckily there’s a photo and one more chance to savor them again.

Eric Barton is a contributing editor at WLRN-Miami Herald News. This article was reprinted from his blog, Barefoot Mailman 2.0.