"If you don’t like the way food looks, you can’t eat it"

Pau Esculies is a Spanish photographer based in Barcelona. His amazing eye for culinary art together with his sensitive perspective of colour and his capacity to highlight the natural beauty of ingredients are making him one of the most sought-after food photographers in the country. He has been kind enough to talk to this blog.

Pau Esculies photography

What made you go for Gastronomic Photography?
When I was a child I wanted to be a photographer or a cook. I feel attracted to the creativity and the artistic inspiration linked to both professions. I started to work in photography in general, advertising, interiors and decoration, and little by little I began to specialised in gastronomy.

Which is your favourite restaurant in the world?
I don’t need to go far... It’s in Girona, one hour from Barcelona. It’s el Celler de Can Roca (world best restaurant 2013), for their quality and excellence. I really admire them, and I identify with their phylosophy of tradition and modernity. I had the chance to go there regularly during the season to take pictures and to try their new creations even before they were served to the public!

You have been to many destinations very different as far as cuisine is concerned, Morocco, China, France... as a photographer, what is what you appreciate the most when travelling?
The experience of becoming part of a new place and being able to put myself in the local people’s shoes and sharing the authentic and popular foods. This allows me to take the most real images of the local cuisine. Moreover, in this way I can know the history and costumes of the place without visiting the historical and touristy spots.

Pau Esculies photography

Have you studied photography or are you a self-taught photographer? Are you a full-time photographer?
I learnt things at the Photography School IEFC in Barcelona, also working as an assistant for various photographers, and on my own. And yes, at the moment I work exclusively in photography.

Would you say that the appearance of food is really important?
Absolutely, I have no doubts. If you don’t like the way food looks, you can’t eat it, and the other way round works too. That’s what “holistic” cuisine is about. They also take this into account in the Asian cuisine, concretely in the Japanese, every food is served in a specific dish depending on colour, form,  texture, etc, it’s great!

Which are your influences or references in your work?
I am a consumer of cooking magazines and books, like Jamie Oliver’s, Food&Travel, Saveur, Elle à Table, Donna Hay, Descobrir Cuina or Marabout among many others. They are very inspirational, sometimes they surprise me and they give me many ideas for my photographs.

What did you feel when you became shortlisted for the Pink Lady Food Photography Award?
That I am not doing it so bad (laughs), and I also feel a great joy when I think that my work is recognised by great professionals at an international competition.

Have you always being an advocate of healthy food?
When I was a child, at home the basis of our diet was vegetables; locally produced natural products, we rejected the industrialised foods.
Currently I like to work in healthy cooking projects, with chefs and nutritionists that support a healthy and more conscious living. This way my work makes sense.

What’s what you take into account the most when you are creating a photograph? Are you a food stylist as well?
I like team work, the chefs and food stylists that I work with are the creators of the dishes, then I am responsible for taking a good picture in the best way so that it highlights the beauty of their creation.
I also like to go to the market and choose the products myself to then go back to the studio and setting up still lifes. Choosing the right product is very important to create a good photograph.
For me, a good photography is to make food looking delicious, tempting. Achieving that just by looking at it you want to eat it and you can almost smell it or feel it. That’s my job. 

Pau Esculies photography

What would you advice to somebody who wants to start a career as a food photographer? Do you work in other fields too?
I think that one has to do and pursue what they want and like. From there it’s just a matter of effort and being constant, then luck comes.
90% of my commissions are related to gastronomy, the rest are other projects like advertising images, interiors or portraits.  

Is Spain today the Mecca of gastronomy?
(Laughs), the Mecca sounds too much, I don’t think that just one place is the centre of the world gastronomy.
The Mecca may be not, but sure it is a global reference together with so many other places in the world.
Here there is El Celler de Can Roca, considered this year the best restaurant of the world, Adrià’s Bulli was a few years ago, then Carme Ruscalleda, who is the female chef with more Michelin stars in the world. And there are also innovative chefs in the natural and healthy cuisine, like Montse Vallory or Christine Mayr, together with the nutritionists of Etselquemenges.com.
It is fortunate to have chefs of this level here since we all profit from it.

Finally, which are your future projects?
Now I am focused on my current commissions, I guess these will lead to other projects in the future, it always works like that.
Therefore, I will keep on working; I really like my food photographer job and travelling, always trying to enjoy the little things in life.
I hope many high-quality international magazines, editorials and restaurants call me to publish with them and keep on working and travelling and doing interesting projects around food, healthy food if possible.

Pau Esculies photography


Rose Bakery, the best carrot cake icing in Paris

Visiting a Parisian bakery is always exciting. But Rose Bakery is a particular case. Commanded by a South-Africa born, British raised baker married to a French gentleman, Rose Carrarini had to hear the French pâtissier across the road assured her that her English bakery wouldn't last two minutes in Paris.This was more than ten years ago, and with branches in London and some Asian capitals, the French fellow couldn't be more wrong. 

Rose Bakery chocolate & raspberry cake

This Franco-British patisserie offers a great range of cakes and little meals made with high quality ingredientes, either organic or from small producers. And you can tell as soon as you taste their products. Prices aren't cheap but they are normal for Paris standards and even fair for the quality they offer.

Rose Bakery at Le Bon Marché

She has even published a book -okay, everyone is publishing cooking books these days, but still- "Breakfast, Lunch and Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery" edited by Phaidon and which offers us, poor mortals, an approach to her too-good-to-be-true creations.

The best carrot cake icing I've ever had

Expect a bit of waiting if you are planning to sit down to enjoy these pieces of heaven. This is especially annoying when the person before you in the queue takes the last piece of the cake that was making you salivate while waiting.You could also order it to take away, equally delicious and queueing free.
Rose Bakery take away box

Rose Bakery
46, rue des Martyrs (9è)
Le Bon Marché (6è)


“A good image is born from a state of grace”

When in Paris you have to be very clever choosing which museums you are going to visit since there are way too many. However, if you are into photography, the choice is clear: Henri Cartier-Bresson Fondation is one of the ones you simply cannot afford to miss.

The last exhibition of this year (until 22 December) shows the work of Magnum fellow Sergio Larrain, who has instantly become one of my idols. Not only because the amazing quality of his photography, capturing spontaneity as I have never seen before, but also because he spent most of his life on a sort of spiritual retirement, meditating, practising yoga, writing and drawing.

Born in Chile in 1932, he joined Magnum in 1959, one year after the British Council gave him a scholarship to go to London to work. The distribution of the exhibition makes clear that Larraín travelled loads for his assignements: England, France, Italy, Bolivia, Chile... Sadly at some point he decided he was done with that way of life and he went back to Chile to rest... and eventually quit the photography business.

The exhibition shows some unpublished images -not seen at his Arles show earlier this summer- and it offers the visitor a tour through Larraín's photographic career, from his London years to his major photography work in his hometown, Valparaíso.

He used to say that "a good image is born from a state of grace" and was he right! 

The building that is home to the Fondation is a little treasure by itself. A former atelier d'artiste at Montparnasse, it was built in 1912 by Molinié and then Ceria and Coupel reformed it and transformed it into what it is today: a very bright and slightly narrow three floor building with an impressive top floor dedicated to Cartier-Bresson legacy.


Parisian Brocantes

If you have been to the Marché Aux Puces at St. Ouen, north Paris, a few years ago, going back might be disappointing. Not only its streets are packed with that terrible mix of pickpockets and tourists, but worse, the first rows of stalls –if you go by tube- are packed with crap. Bric-a-bracs with no charm whatsoever. Plastic smelly shoes, 80s key-rings, and so on...  You need to walk all along the trashy stalls to get to the indoor market, like 10 minutes away and where lovely (and most times expensive) vintage furniture and stuff lies.
In case you go, be ready and wear comfy shoes, it’s something like 17 acres and said to be the world’s largest antique market.
However, most of the Parisians I’ve met here claim that they don’t go up there anymore and they introduced me to the brocantes.

Are you now wondering what a brocante is? I had never heard that word in my entire life either...
Brocantes are a mix of flea markets, second hand markets, antique fairs and car boot sales.
They are normally held at open-air spaces, really charming ephemeral stalls all around Paris & France, especially during spring/summer. Brocantes are the markets crammed with locals, the ones you can picture on your mind before you come here... and the ones that aren’t that easy to find. 

What can you get in a brocante? Anything under the sun basically. The ones I attended were good for kitchenware and furniture, but you can also find old books, posters, games, music, art, tableware, clothing, collections of anything, from bottles to stamps... If the first two words you usually type in Etsy are “French vintage...” brocantes are definitely your place.
Prices vary from a few euros to hundreds, depending obviously on what you are getting. I noticed that bargain isn’t as popular as in some other places and if you try once and they say that option isn’t available, don’t push it, it will get you nowhere.

After time I have come to the conclusion that the best two sites to check brocantes are Brocabrac and the Paris Local Council one.


Shopikon, a treat for enquiring minds

Phillip and Oliver are the minds behind Shopikon, a new digital guide and App to shop locally worldwide. Oxymoron? Not at all! This guides are a celebration of independent stores and uniqueness. 

You can do your search by categories (Accessories, Books&Music, Children, Clothing, Food, Health&Beauty, Home&Design, Markets or Other), or by neighbourhood, obviusly depending on the city you are searching. Currently they have guides for London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Vienna, New York, and San Francisco. The fact that they list shops on their guides based on high standards (and for free) it's a good sign that at Shopikon there is no room for mediocrity. 

The mix of beautiful images, simple interface and quality writing was good enough to spend hours searching on Shopikon, but their shop selection is so exquisite that even if I have found out about it just a couple of weeks ago (shame on me!), my custom made maps have become a can't-live-without tool.

They were kind enough to answer a few questions here:

How did the idea for Shopikon come up?
P-I was traveling in Japan in 2009 when I was looking online for design stores in Tokyo and to my great astonishment almost nothing came up. While the internet is full of guides for restaurants and general sightseeing spots, shops seemed to be the most overlooked corner of the travel/blog world. 

You are from Vienna but you are based in New York, still most of the cities you cover are in Europe, is it difficult to organise the shop search?
It's not easy. While our research is very work intensive, it's the only way to ensure that we can maintain our high standards.
You simply cannot judge a store by its website or press photos. You have to be inside the place. Pick up the products, get a feeling for the atmosphere, the service, the lighting and mission statement.
We generally visit every city at least twice a year and then spend hours walking around every day, which can be very rewarding as you always discover new neighborhoods and truly experience things like a local.

Your project aims to offer a global approach to local quality shopping, do you think this kind of shops will survive the scary globalisation?
Absolutely. Chain stores can never replace the diversity and abundance of charm of locally owned places. We believe that there is a place for both.
But at the same time, small shops need our help. They don't have the luxury to spend a lot of money on marketing and tend to hide in quaint little side streets.
Especially tourists need to be made aware of, how they can escape the 5th avenue's, oxford street's and champs élysées of this world.

Shopikon team (from left, Phillip and Oliver)

Your App service is free, as well as your website, can your users trust your independence?
We get lots of emails every day of places that want to be listed, even chain stores. But we are incredibly picky in what makes our selection. Shopikon clearly distinguishes itself from the booklets you find in many shops that only list paid and therefore often mediocre places.
All our shops get listed for free, to ensure we get all the great places on board. We will however offer services this fall that will allow shops to interact more with their customers. But to answer your question: yes, no one can buy their way into Shopikon.
How can a person know the price ranges in the shops you recommend? What do the stars mean?
The stars represent the average user rating. We are working on a system right now that will allow users to assess the price range of stores.
Which are your favourites shops in the world? (it would be great if you could let me know for each of you three)
Phillip- I love bookstores and stationary stores, so R.S.V.P in Berlin, Rizzoli bookstore in NYC and Press: Works on Paper in San Francisco.
R.S.V.P in Berlin - courtesy of Shopikon
Oliver- Natalie Capell in Barcelona, Compotoir de L'Image in Paris and Cut Brooklyn in NYC.

Natalie Capell Barcelona - courtesy of Shopikon

Julian (contributor)-Living in london for two and a half years i was lucky to get to know some of the people involved in ln-cc. I am not able to afford most of what they have but the vibe and feel of the store is really something different. Also their music selection is excellent, and they're all together really nice people. 

I also really love Baerck in Berlin. Again, the people who run it are supernice, they change the set-up of the store every couple weeks it seems...you can tell they love what they're doing.
Are your guides address to the design-savvy only?
Even though one might think that at the first glance, Shopikon features every kind of store. Whether a butcher, flower store or and old stamps shop.
The places can be run down at times, as long as the products are carefully selected and the owner knows his stuff.

What are your plans for Shopikon for the future? Paper version maybe?
We will definitely bring out a paper version in the near future and have been talking to a few interested publishers.We haven't decided on the final format. Also we will add new cities next year and bring out exciting features.
What's the meaning behing "Shopikon", was it difficult to find a name that you all liked?
You bet ;). There isn't much left in terms of domain names, which explains the "k". All of our shops are icons of retails and it's extremely gratifying to find and feature them.

Wanna hear more? You can stay tuned through their Facebook page.

And if you think you could be one of their contributors, check their requirements:
Our contributors have to have two key qualifications. 
1) they have to love and know their city. We rely on them to keep us up to date and in touch with what is happening.
2) they have to be excellent writers. Our text are as important as our photos, we want them to really bring across the emotions and feeling of every place and find out why the store exists.


La Rentrée

Or how French people get back to normal after the summer holidays. It is likely that even if you come to France as a tourist, just for a few days during the summer, you will learn what "rentrée" means. Why? Because it will be in la rentrée when the shops and bakeries you are looking for will re-open. La rentrée means literally "return" and it always happens on the first week of September.

So, bear in mind that in Paris EVERYTHING is closed in August. Everything. Seriously, everything. 

Coming from London, it's difficult enough to cope with most shops closing on Sundays, but closing down for a whole month (sometimes even longer) it's really shocking... How can they manage their businesses? I don't know. A funny fact on that here: last Friday I went for coffee with a Parisian friend (I was delighted to see that my favourite coffee shop had an early-rentrée and was opened!) and she told me a local policy that I really liked. Because it is well-known that in Paris every single shop closes during the summer, the Mairie forbids near bakeries to close at the same time, to ensure that in every neighbourhood there is at least one bakery open at all times. Adorable, isn't it?

Also, if you are in Paris and you plan to get something like a haircut, dentist, plumbing...done in August, forget it. You never will. 

Today was the first day of "la rentrée". You can tell because you can't sit in the tube, you get many more calls at work, streets are busy again and shops are re-opening. It's like a sort of New Year here.

The good thing is that apart from the school and political rentrée, I learnt that there is as well the literary rentrée, which means that up to 800 books are coming out between September and November! Behind it there are obvious strategic sales' reasons, but considering that most literary prizes are awarded between September and November, this literary rentrée also makes sense.


Less than an hour from Paris: Petit Trianon, Versailles

We should all be grateful to Marie-Antoinette for the Petit Trianon. Well, technically to Madame de Pompadour, but anyway...

In 1774, the same year that Louis XVI, Marie-Antoinette's husband, became King of France and Navarre, he offered her the Trianon estate. Although Madame de Pompadour, the favourite of King Louis XV, was the instigator of this small palace built in the 1760s, it is the memory of Marie-Antoinette that hangs over the building. 

Petit Trianon was the masterpiece of architect Anges-Jacques Gabriel. Built according to the latest Greek-style fashion and surrounded by gardens, it allowed the Queen to live away from the Court. 

Not as sumptuous as the excessively ornate Versailles, my favourite buildings are the Queen's Hamlet. Marie-Antoinette ordered its construction in 1783, so she didn't really enjoyed for long. The Hamlet became a veritable farm. Producing supplies for the kitchens of the Palace, it was built in a rustic style, following a trend initiated by the late Louis XV. The Farm was located outside the village and sheltered a varied livestock: a small herd of eight cows and a bull, ten goats and pigeons. You still can see animals today.

If you go to Versailles Palace, allow a good couple of hours to walk around the Petit Trianon area, the lakes, the folly, the gardens, the farm... Unlike Versailles Palace, this area is not at all crowded -and I visited in August-. It's an oniric dreamy world that Sofia Coppola captured perfectly in her movie, Marie-Antoinette. 

Petit Trianon ©

Petit Trianon's folly ©
The Queen's Hamlet ©

Lavender was Louis XVI favourite plant ©


"I guess every girl goes through a photography phase..."*

And some end up better than others...

That is the case of Janine Niépce. In a superlative effort to discover the best of French culture, I have been researching the work of this amazing woman who lived between 1921 and 2007. Being herself a distant relative of Joseph Nicéphore Niépce, one of the fathers of photography, her graduation in Art History at the Sorbonne comes as no surprise.

While she was at uni, she contributed to the French Resistance by developing films and she also took part in the liberation of Paris. That was 1944.

She was one of the first photo-journalists in France and a privileged witness to the changes in French culture in the second half of the 20th century. Her photography career, influenced by Henri Cartier-Bresson, started in 1946 and after portraying the life in France, from 1963 her photography took her to far away places, including Japan, US or India.

She covered May 1968 events dressed like a foreign tourist, pure genius!  A self-confessed feminist, in the 1970s she focused on the women's liberation movement and the battle for the freedom of contraception, abortion and wage equality. Her pictures portrayed the evolution of women's role in society for 50 years and not only are they a great source of inspiration, but also of visual information.

In 1981 she was named Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres and in 1985 became a Knight of the Legion d'Honor.

*(Quote from "Lost in Translation", Sofia Coppola, 2003)


A Parisians' obsession

I have heard a lot about Paris-girls shoes, they are -as everyone else, I guess- fond of ballerinas. Of course that must be true, but what really struck me was this: Tropéziennes par M. Belarbi. A Paris-based shoe brand (there isn't really much info on their website), that is literally everywhere in Paris. Always the same shape, Roman style sandals, but in different colours, sometimes even in a horrendous mix of flashy colours (...).

The first time I noticed it was at my office, where four out of seven women are wearing them on a daily basis. Then I started looking around and I surprisingly found out that Parisian women (young, middle-age, elderly, tall, short, thin, big...) are wearing them everywhere.

They seem so out-of-fashion and if so, then why every single girl in Paris is still wearing them? Are Roman style sandals coming back or they never really leave?