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Photographing Food With Intention

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Photographing Food With Intention with Melina Hammer

Melina Hammer, Kenna Klosterman

Photographing Food With Intention

Melina Hammer, Kenna Klosterman

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1. Photographing Food With Intention with Melina Hammer


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Photographing Food With Intention with Melina Hammer

Yeah. Mhm. Mm. Mhm. Yeah. Hello, everyone. And welcome to Creativelive. Welcome to Creativelive. It's your first time here or welcome back. We are here, coming from my home to yours to the home of our guest, Molina Hammer. But before I introduce her again, this is an episode of creative Live TV where we connect to you again with photographers, filmmakers, household names, new people to you, um, from all over the world so that you can understand what it is to live a creative life and not be alone. Um, So if wherever you are tuning in from from all over the world, of course, we love to give you those shout outs. So let me know if you're on Facebook Twitter on our YouTube, you can type in where you're coming from and I'll give you those shout outs. And if you are watching on creativelive dot com slash t v, you can also click on the chat, and I might see you there first. So get those coming in, let me know where you're from. And also, if you have questions along the way for our guest Molin...

a, Um, so, without further ado, I am super excited to bring on to Creative Live for the very first time. Molina Hammer Molina is a award winning food photographer, stylist, cook, chef, same thing. Recipe developer, author. And she is the owner of the catbird cottage, which we will talk a little bit about, Um, she is up in upstate New York and has, Oh, I just can't wait to hear more about what she has created. Fulfilling her continued passions of food and growing. And all of that, um, she is a visual storyteller, and she says her love language is fresh whole and Wild Foods can't wait to talk about foraging foods before photographing them. She's also commissioned work for produce commission work for The New York Times Food 52 eating Well, Cooking Light and many more. Her first cookbook is called Kid Chef, and it is an Amazon bestseller. She is in the throes of working on her new cookbook that will come out next spring of 2022. I'm gonna talk a little bit about that, and she recently a new book came out called new cookbook called Simply Julia, with award winning cookbook author Julia Torshin, and she had incredible partnership photographing and styling images for that. This is all drool worthy food. If you love looking at food photography, you are in the right place, so please help me. Welcome. Hands on the desk. Clapping, clapping Molina, Hammer. Thank you so much, Malina. Thank you. Now, can I go take a nap? I mean, uh, you have done a lot, and I'm excited to to dive in. Um, and I'm just gonna I'm looking at the shout outs from people. We've got Marci CEO who's joining from Portugal. We have Juanita who is in Colorado. Um, I are coming in. Um, excuse me. So, first of all, I just want to say kudos to you on on the cookbook that you are working on because we've been going back and forth, and I know putting together well, I don't know personally, but putting together a cookbook spans so many different areas. I know it's like a labor of love. So you did a first cookbook. Tell me about the intention behind this new one and what it's all about. Thank you. Um, yeah, it is an incredible endeavor. And it is, uh, you know, if you visualize spinning plates and the craziness of that and coming back and forth and just keeping them going as you see one slow down and just really one step in front of the other, moving everything forward at a sort of giant slow piece. Um, I am writing it. I am developing the recipes. I am cooking it. I am styling it. And at this stage, I've been doing all of that for about eight months. Not quite. And I'm in the recipe testing phase and have been deep in that with many incredible people near and far, who with me for four months now are making sure that everything is as delicious as I declare it to be and catching all the little things are saying, Oh my goodness and and sometimes sight unseen. It's all sight unseen at this point, them having to articulate what I share via process, and it's incredible. So it's a seasonal cookbook driven by upstate New York seasonality ease. And that means, um, both from the wild landscape and from the kitchen garden that I tend here captured cottage. I am creating foods that highlight these gorgeous, often very ephemeral elements, and it is very layered, eating which means that it is deeply savory, deeply delicious, deeply everything. And, um, people who are the recipes are actually a culmination of foods that I have served our guests, um, as a destination bed and breakfast for over the course of the year. And we've been doing this for about two years, about 2.5, maybe years now. And it's exciting to see that our home has become such a destination for people and that I get to tempt them and seduce them with this incredible food. And now it's going to be a cook. Look, it's pretty amazing what a beautiful story. But also just, um, first of all, already makes me hungry thinking about thinking about, uh, about all these different recipes and just your the way that you talked about approaching that the your recipes and the work itself. Talk to me about this. You about your, um, love of foraging food. And before we get into even the photography part, um, I know you talked about, you know, sort of on your side or in your bio, um, about having, you know, realize that at a young age or so, take me back to your sort of Was it always was the food first or was the photography first? Hm? Um, I have always been an extremely visual person, and I've always made things. So from a young age, the medium was ceramics or drawing. And that evolved, actually, um into I was a metal smith in another life. Um, and that was my first career. And then it evolved into photography. I actually took a three month trip. Gosh, over 20 years ago now and because I couldn't bring my metal bench with me, I used my camera as a means to continue being creative throughout the days because I knew I would be highly inspired by what I would experience. So then the photography morphed into food photography, and I've always loved food. I love eating, but I don't think I had in any way a profound connection to foods and qualities of foods. I just had, uh, an incredible range of experiences because my both of my parents loved foods from around the world. I grew up in an international community. Um, we traveled. So food has always been something that I love. And because of that, when I changed careers. I thought, Why not? And the foraging has leased in in the last maybe 12 years or so, and it's really been. It's a way for me to slow down and really come into the present moment. And there's just infinite reasons to be occupied or distracted or multitasking. And when I'm out in nature, it allows me to just breathe. And there's this quieting. And there's a piece and its discovery, and not only discovery in a pure sense, but discovery that you can eat. So if you are paying attention, if you are using all of your sensory skills, you are likely to find something, especially the more that you do it. And some things aren't even elusive. So it's like, Oh, it's spring. In two weeks, I'm going to be outside cat gathering my garlic mustard or whatever and being able to eat it and knowing that it's free and nutritious. Lee, dense and fabulous and ephemeral. It's here and then it's gone. It's all like a piece of magic to me, and I love it. It sounds magical of, and I but I also I mean, I think again what I was thinking as you were describing. That is you have such a visual story to even talking about the foraging or, um, the connection with nature. So I'm then curious how that translates into sort of the visual when you're creating the images of these food. Because again, if you are not yet following Molina on instagram joined the 75,000 plus people who are, uh, with just amazing. I mean, who doesn't love food photography? But this is like award winning through photography. Um, with there's so many layers to it of that you are making these recipes and coming up with, um you know that just all all the different layers of creativity that goes into that. So how do you bring or do you bring that element of your actually like forging the food? Are some of it into the story that you're creating then of that say recipe or the image? Well, it's That's a complicated answer in a certain way because, um, for instance, on Instagram, there is more and more of this demand for like in your face food, right, and it's not. It's not as narrative, or at least the people who by and large, are my audience. They don't need the narrative there. They do want to get hungry. They wanna drool. I feel like, um at its foundation. If food photography isn't making you hungry, then it's not doing its job. So no matter what my images are, that's front and center. In my book, in the upcoming cookbook it is. There's much more freedom to tell that visual story and process. And you know, these beautiful things just came in from the great outdoors. And so there's that little scatter of dirt or the tool that I used to harvest them, or I've just shocked them in cold water. And those beautiful droplets are part of how light is being reflected. Or here's what it looks like raw. And here's what it looks like cooked. And there's many different ways that I have a greater freedom in that kind of medium. By instagram, it is absolutely about I want you at my table and the feeling of despite yourself, you're starting to salivate, and it's about feeling like you know what that food might taste like not having even yet tasted it yourself. So, to me, it's part and parcel with creating a beautiful image. Yeah, it's really interesting to think about again. What the what? The latitude that you have with the cookbook to elaborate, um, and tell more of the full process or story and yet still creating images. Um, that can stand alone and tell a story because the the the L um, do you think that that has to have sort of the element of human interacting for it to tell more of a story? Not necessarily because I think some of my favorite images and sometimes what I see people respond to most enthusiastically our images where you know the spoonful has been taken out of that dish already. Or there's a fork where the knife has just cut into something. And it's not the presence literal of a human right. But it's that implication of eating and process and getting into in the sensuality of it. And so, in a certain way, I don't know. Am I saying yes to that answer? No, it's the but that's a It's a distinction between the implied, um, like the implied story, which you are able to create with those elements, which I think when people are looking at you know, creating their own food photography is like, How do you How do you do that without the person? So that's really, um, that's really insightful as well. I'm curious as how you because you said like they're creating jewelry where the images creating these. Like, um, you said sensual. But like this emotion in food images, How what are you consciously thinking about that as you're creating? It really depends on how much time I have. Anyway, if I'm putting something together quickly for myself and I'm like, Oh, I should put this in stories before I eat it Let me just do that. It's very, very, very spontaneous when I'm doing stuff in stories. If I put my posts, however, there's a lot more thought put into that. And these days, a lot more of the pieces that I'm sharing in my posts are commissioned works that are actually recipes that actually people can go and make sure they want to, because what the greatest tease that is like this unrequited love is to see something delicious that you want to eat that then you don't like Where's the recipe? Right? Um, so I think that historically I have verged on feeling like my work would feel a little too tidy. And now I want it to not be messy, per se, because there's a fine line there, too. But a means of feeling natural and unforced over that gives it an authenticity that makes it even more delicious, because it feels really real right, and that's appealing to me. And to that, I mean, you are obviously going back to your intentional with fresh. You talked about their love language being fresh, whole wild foods. Um, that in your photography as well, you are not like it's not. There's no fakeness to it, right? Like it just it is. There is what it is. I think that that notion, Unfortunately, when people hear that I'm a food stylist or a food photographer, that notion of using motor oil or Crisco or all of these funny, dramatic things really is a holdover from the 19 nineties and video campaigns under hot lights where food food that dies because you cook it and it has a lifespan before herbs wilt or meat doesn't look glossy and delicious anymore. All of those elements would be sort of rectified by means that weren't authentic. And that has really changed certainly over the past 10 years, if not to 20 years and most food that you see, especially in editorial stories, any magazines, almost every advertisement for so it is real, real food. And for me, I think that it's sort of criminal to have something that's actually an edible thing be made inedible because there's just too much, um, food insecurity or starvation. And that's a responsibility I want to make sure to take to say, you know, plus most often it's it's my budget, and if it's my budget, I would like to be able to eat that later. So I'm not doing, you know, in a shenanigans to the food, and it's it's all what it is and that makes it even more. I don't know. I think like you said, authentic, beautiful, real and, um, and you get to eat it, too. Yes, that's the best talk to me about about, um, working for so, you know, working for New York Times and food 52 you were talking about, Um I think you're a resident there. What does that mean? And talk to us about you mentioned like you create recipes. That and then the images so that people can see them, share them, make them like talk to me about putting, putting all of that out into the world and what that means for you and what responses you get and and maybe starting with food 52. Well, if I'm a I'm going to start with The New York Times because you like that sort of set the tone for me. Perfect. I have worked with The New York Times for over a decade, and in my early days it was sort of trial by fire learning while doing because as a person who cooks, styles and shoots, I was taking on the role of learning new processes, new ingredients and foods from many different parts of the world because this is the kinds of things that they would just generally as a rule highlight, right, And that was really exciting. But it was also a right. I've just never done this before, and I'm going to do this and I have to deliver it on my deadline and no problem. You know, always I would have a backup just in case, but that was really an extended sort of proxy education as I was getting my footing and figuring out, um, the kinds of stylistic tweaks that I benefited from or felt great doing and developed my personal style, right, some fast forward to now. And, um, I've produced some, um, columns with food 52 over the years. And as they've tweaked their own format, um, we've always had this sort of reciprocal mutual admiration. And in the last six months or so, I was asked to be a resident because of my expertise, the gorgeous visuals. And now they're really using my specific location as a way to highlight regional amazing foods. And essentially each month I consider what might be a beautiful visually because I always think through the visual lens first, especially by Instagram, because if people are drawn to it, they're not gonna wanna take it further and be compelled to go and learn more, right, so they have to be compelled. They have to be seized, and if they're seized, then that's it. And I have them their mind, you know, it's like so, um, often I'm using either ingredients that I know will be available to people if they want to go forage for something or if there's a an ingredient. I'm growing our farmers that I love ingredients that they're growing and use that as a way to tease out, UH, two recipes and then a larger, broader story that features each month. So, um, I'm working on a story right now that is not yet out, but my editor and I are going back and forth on the finer details, and it's so delicious. And it's so versatile and it's so easy. And it's fun to dream something like that up over and over and over and then realize, Oh, my God, why did I think about this before? You know? So it's a lot of fun. It's a lot of work, but it also is extremely creative, and it's very fulfilling. Yeah, I mean, that that was a question that I have, um, is like, how do you continue to come up with new? Yeah. New new recipes, ideas, stories, ways of photographing, Um, and is there like, do you actually have a process? Um, that you, you know that you've developed for yourself versus like, oh, maybe it'll come to me like Is there a Is there something that you intentionally do? Or does it come to you in the shower? You know, Right, Right, right, right. I would not say that I have a linear. Here's this step. Here is this stuff. Here is the step process by any stretch, but it's always in the How do the colours relate? How does how can I make a gesture from that? That's sort of igniting the visual elements. And how can I make that delicious? How can I make people drool for it? Some foods are easier for sure than others, but by and large it is a, um, what makes sense ingredients wise and what makes sense beauty wise. And I think those are the drivers. And it's really fun to, um, sort of sort of let that marinate, whatever the process and the challenge. And the new idea is marinade. And sometimes I will feel stumped for a little while, but generally, and I'm so blessed and so grateful for this. I often have abundant ideas, and once I got an idea, I just run with it, and then all of the other elements just fall into place. So the visual nature of it will fall into place. I have an enormous prop collection, so that is sort of a very spontaneous last element. That's like, Oh, yeah, I think so, yeah, where is that? You know, and I'll just have this, like internal conversation of how that ends up being articulated. That is in no way a It's usually not a preplanned thing. It just becomes everything falls into place. And it's while I'm cooking something often the visual aspects will be marinating in the back of my mind. And, um, while I'm writing the everything's been done. But like I'm pulling from that sort of wonderfulness and then even if I need historical sort of, um, reinforcements or other elements that sort of, um, showcase as a sort of family of how this has been done elsewhere, that's always fun. But the writing, of course, is at the very end. And for me, the the huge creative output is the all the other stuff, even though the writing is also its own creative output. Truly, I think it's interesting when you mentioned, like thinking about the colour palette in and of itself because you did just kind of you did just go through like, what do I have to think about first? And then it simmers. And then it's the ingredients. So what ingredients are in that colour palette? Or and you also, you mentioned, some foods are harder to make jewel worthy than others like tell us about, like, what's easy to make drool worthy and what's hard to make jewelry. The So I think, distinct elements that people can easily identify, because if someone is familiar with it already, that they're they're right, you don't have to introduce them and acquaint them and then get familiarized. So I think that, um, certainly lots of vegetables are easy because of the color palette as a just a natural given, um, things that have shaped to them. So like beautiful basil leaves or asparagus spears or shrimp and their tails or things that have shaped naturally, right? But the sear on a scallop is to die for, and those who have eaten scalps like that will immediately, you know, I'd be like Yes, yes, yes, right. But I would say things that are more uniform in their appearance like casseroles. Very different. It is more in the taking it apart that makes a casserole or brown food in general more dynamic so that you can see the twirl of the sauce in the pasta, Um, and how it's being pulled in that sauce or a spoon in the great tan and how the cheese is melted and showing itself or the you know, the crumbs from the top of a Um, I was just gonna say, like a like a macaroni and cheese or something like that, that scattered and creating a little bit of mess. That then gives you like a route in place and experiential reality. And all of those things transform something from being like, Oh my God, what is this or being even turned off by it to being drawn in and wanting to know more. Herbs are also an excellent transformer, because if something is brown and you want to spruce it up, beautiful scatter of herbs changes. It all just kind of like automatically. Um, it's interesting to see that, and to realize that some work is not going to some food is not going to give itself over to you, and you've got to kind of like go through what I call amateur hour to then find the magic in what it has to deliver, and it just asks more of you in getting there. If that makes any sense, that's super interesting that amateur hour of and yeah, I know it's It does make sense, and it's a beautiful, uh, way. You just describe how the different elements come together and what you have to think about. Yeah, and no matter how many times you've done it, you're still going to go through amateur hour. So it's like there's not really consolation in that, except that, you know, you've done it. You've gotten through that before. You're like, right? Okay, yeah, here I am again. And then just keep working and moving through it and then being able to find ownership in it and then seizing it, you know, And that's the work in a certain regard as a creative professional. Well, I was going to say that resonates with sort of any creative pursuit Is that trust in the process is what I'm like taking away from everything you're saying, which is really hard to do. Uh, when you are beginning something or or in the middle of it you know when you're it's that Yeah, that trust in the process I struggle with often. Yeah. I mean, it's very he b g b like, Oh, this doesn't feel comfortable. And I don't know where I am and it's abstract and like, get me out of here. But then it's like, you know, just keep going, You're going to figure it out. And it doesn't sound so soothing as I'm saying it right now, but it is very much like an acceptance. And as you accept it, you can allow yourself into and through better than if you just get flustered, right? Absolutely, absolutely. Um, And again, it goes across life absolutely. To be applied for everything. Let's go back to your first cookbook, kid. Chef, how did you decide to tell us a little bit about the book? And then how you decided to focus on something for kids? Well, for me, I am in the process of becoming a food photographer. Um, everything, though visually oriented, um, was bringing me back to the food and because I was receiving my own kind of education. The more that I explored foods, the more that I uncovered what actually is a good version of an apple versus what I thought was a good version of an apple. The more it felt like I had this something to say. That would be really important for people to come, because I really have become a good food champion and I want people to eat well. And we all have food scars, right? Every single one of us has a food scar, and I say, My sweet husband has heard this a million times. It's like we can have a bad relationship and we can get over that bad relationship and love again. But if we experience a food that we hated, we have sworn it off and maybe, maybe, maybe somehow down the road, either because we trust someone and they encourage or urge us, or you somehow suspend disbelief. You could experience that food and maybe have a reversal and enjoy that food somehow. But because there is such a universe out there to enjoy and just dive into, I wanted to provide the means for kids who do like to eat, to explore that universe in every single direction. Whether it is, I really love avocados. And what about avocados or spices are really cool. And what is it about spices like, What's the story? Right? And and to understand that things ingredients, foods have been used in so many capacities, whether it's culturally, historically, regionally. Seasonally, you know, all of these things are activation points, and I just felt like because we have to eat every single day, why not make it so that we could fall in love with food so that even if there's a drudgery sometimes, um, that it could have joy implicitly, sort of as a built in aspect. So and it's it's exciting to see the kids that get, like, super motivated and then they're cooking for their parents. And then the parents are benefiting. And it just was like, It's bonding. It's all of these layers because food is everything. There's, I mean, there's so many things like you just said, food is everything in in, uh, talking about the cultural and travels. But this I've never heard somebody say, like there are everybody has a food scar. Um, but it's it's funny because it takes me back to like and I don't know if this is what you mean, but I had like a bad piece of string cheese when I was in grade school because, like you didn't put your I don't know. And like, I can't eat certain cheese, bingo foods, car eats, car diversion, texture um, memory association. These kinds of like surprises that you weren't expecting that are like, Oh, you know, And as a child they are so monumental and then it ruins us. I mean, imagine or think about right. So many moms, you know, this is sort of like this antiquated stereotypes, but so many moms in, like the seventies and eighties who would cook vegetables to oblivion, right? And then people kids would be like, I hate vegetables that just because they never had the right version of the thing and because we host people here captured cottage, I implicitly or, I guess not implicit. But, um, as inevitably, I'm dealing with what their food restrictions are, whether it's an allergy or preference. And those preferences are based on food scars. And I never, ever need to challenge someone's foods cards unless they want me to. But it's interesting to see that we all just have our baggage, and that's part of what it is, and I've shed most of mine. I still have maybe a couple, but I really have managed to get let go most of them. And I'm so happy because food's great. There's so much What? What? What was one that you got over mushrooms and you know why? Because they were spongy and I did not like the texture. But if you could sear them and you get them like, robustly caramelized right, then they're like, meaty and crispy and so wonderful. And God, I'm so glad that I got over that because that's like a universe just mushrooms and foraging mushrooms. It was like That's the best, so I mean, that was short lived. I think that I like mushrooms by the time I was in high school, and that's so fortuitous because mushrooms are fabulous. Well, it's kind of that when I think of foraging food, mushrooms is sort of the one thing. The first thing that I think about, um and and it's it is interesting, because again, I mean mushrooms. There's so many different kinds of many, and side note, like mushrooms can save the planet. But, um, the the the mycelium that is the mushrooms are the fruit of that. Yeah, I got starting to get further into that, and it's fascinating. Um, but incredible. Yeah. Um and what's the name of the movie? Oh, my gosh. Yes. Everybody out there if you haven't seen it, it's so good. Look it up. I think you have to rent it, like from their website. But it's so good, Um and and like, blows my mind. What is? Yeah, side note. How do you make mushrooms that aren't interesting visually, like, look interesting visually what mushrooms aren't? Visually, I guess I was just color. So, like the common button, mushroom has that wonderful cute shape, right? And the form factor already is a thing. And to me, it's more about how do you make unusual mushrooms not look weird and make them appetizing? Because certainly the lexicon of mushrooms for conventional sort of culture is like maybe three or four mushrooms, Right? But what about some of those more unusual ones? And I think, like, for instance, my talk, a mushroom hen of the woods mushroom is one that is a little more esoteric, but one that is broadly now, especially now available and like specialty grocers or, you know, health food stores, whatever. And it's a fantastic, earthy mushroom, but it sort of has this like sea creature. Maybe look to it, especially if you buy it. And it comes like in this sort of cultivated cluster, right? And what is the way that you find magic in it? Visually, and I have found two ways. One is like a wonderful meaty cross section, that is, then this, like, almost like coral, this beautiful shape that then gets burnished in a hot pan so that all of the edges are darkened and crispy, or another way is to have torn pieces that then get the same treatment. And then they're just this tangle in whatever it is that is being prepared, and the challenge then in that tangle is too draw out a few that show just enough of what they are. So that again the viewer can identify because as long as the viewers identifying with what it is, then you have them. And that's a little challenge because, you know, depending on what it is, um, it may be easier to do or less forthcoming. And that's the daily, like, Okay, right how to make this look good. Thanks. It sounds very meditative to me as well, Like not just the gathering part. And as you were describing earlier, the importance to you of of, um, you know, of the whole and fresh foods. But then, yeah, just the puzzle pieces and the creating part. Largely it is meditative. Sometimes the swear words part that comes through and that's not so meditative. But usually it's really, uh I'm very, very grateful that I can do what I love. And it is really meditative you you talk about or you mentioned that you spent a number of years in the Deep South where with family farmers who are doing it right and, um solidified foraging as a part of your daily life. Talk to us about about that experience or or what? That, um, yeah, how that talked to us about that. So I spent a little less than three years in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was a head trip in so many different ways. But this aspect of becoming friends with family farmers was an incredible and pivotal moment because for the first time, so prior to that, I lived in big cities where it was city block after city, block after city block and therefore very little familiarity with farms. Right, because it's urban. A lot of that's changing now in Alabama. I think nature is so because it is the South Nature is so lush and abundant no matter where you are, and in a hop and a skip, you can be from city to nature without, without any question, just a few minutes. So that proximity changed what my daily excursions would become. And that meant that I could travel 10 blocks with my bag of food scraps and initially go and think cool. I'm going to go and drop these off for the hens and gather some eggs and that's it. Great, Great. Why not? Great. But then it became, um, walking the rows of the different crops and getting to see Oh, that's how broccoli grows and what its leaves look like, and that the leaves are incredible and also edible but not commercially viable. Never sold in a grocery store or okra and the incredible flowers that okra produces as it's growing. Never mind, I mean potatoes. The fact that potatoes are such a gorgeous plant and seeing, yes, what their flowers look like and knowing that the magic of potatoes all happens in a place we don't get to see because they are tubers and you have to dig them up, right? So it was really starting to bridge a gap that had existed for me in my understanding of food, period. That grocery stores are this antiseptic, just very tidy, very orderly presentation of food without the connection to what it actually is as it grows or what it is as a whole thing. Brussel sprouts only, I think in the last seven years, maybe, are we seeing Brussels sprouts on their stocks and farmers markets right from before then, you'd only ever see Brussels sprouts broken off of their stocks, sold loosely or in bags or whatever. So I think it's that relationship to the whole ingredient that triggered more in me than and made me more curious about more foods made me want to tell the story of the process of that thing growing because you're never going to see what an okra flower looks like if you don't see the plant and come and revisit it at different times during its season, right or even how something grows. I mean that tomatoes need to be strung up. If they're an indeterminant variety of tomato plant, they will just grow and grow and grow and grow. As for as much as you give them room to grow, they will grow and understanding the thickness of the thing is sort of redundant, but that that was part of its beauty. That was part of its story that was part of its worth. And, um, and then connecting to different varietals within different species and understanding why heirloom varieties are so important both to culture, uh, and to flavor and that grocery stores almost always aren't going to carry a diversity and certainly not a diversity of heirlooms because they're more fragile or they're less shelf stable. And all of these details matter to me, and it really like I had some really jelling moments in Alabama, um, and then took that with me, and I was able to also forage on a regular basis there because nature was literally adjacent to the city, and that was my first time having it be so casual and experience to say okay, today, I'm just going to go and see if the Morales are out and not have to, like, plan to go to Central Park When I could spare two hours on that day and maybe the elderberry tree would be like fruiting or flowering and maybe not just much more like touch and go when I lived in big cities. So So that I mean, what what a beautiful It's really cool to hear you talk about how it just shifted everything for you. And it sounds like you're not just food in and of itself, but the way you spend your time and things like that, Different priorities. So So tell us about then, this evolution to creating this destination catbird cottage where people get to come and experience. Um, not just the beautiful location, but the what you create. So talk to us about this story and how how it all came about. Well, when we moved back north from the south, I realized that I didn't need New York City in the way that I used to, and I actually didn't even like it. Um, I just felt like there was such a depersonalization and, um, a lack of connection to humanity in the small moments as much as in the big moments. And I couldn't get over that even though many years previously I was so in it and loving all of that like big city daily battle energy. Right? And I just felt like I was going to have more joy in my life and that life was too short to not incorporate this way of living in a more regularized capacity because that was what was going to bring me joy and peace. And I deserve to have more of both of those. So, um, we started to consider how we could move out of the city. Um, my husband still has a studio in Brooklyn, and so we needed to retain a connection to the city. And what was that going to look like? You know, how is that actually going to work? And once we landed on our place and it was going to actually happen, I started to consider what Actually it was being built in in the whole process early on, So I was considering more as it was really becoming a reality that I was going to need to migrate my career because I wasn't interested in running down to photo sets back in the city on a regular basis and maintaining that kind of functionality. I wanted to use the beauty of the things I've collected over the years, Um, family heirlooms, the way I tell visual storytelling in spaces as well as by pictures to create a getaway and have people who at this point, you know, I been developing an instagram following and it was always like, Well, so yeah, you like my pictures? That's great. But to be to actually present to people If you really are in love with this food and you want to come sit at my table, then you can and I have one. It's over here come and visit. And pretty pandemic. It was, uh, pretty incredible. We've developed this incredible momentum, really became a destination. Uh, we are listed on Airbnb, but we took all of our dates down because we were getting overwhelmed and it would just it became by reservation request basis. And ever since, we basically stuck to that model because we want to be able to to fully be present for the people who come here because they're coming here for their special moments. It's an anniversary or friend's birthday, Um, someone's honeymoon. So these are really special moments, and we are on an entertaining and sharing ourselves with whoever comes here while I'm also making these incredible curated meals and they are curated to the individual's preferences, even though, like 99% of the time, I am given a broad, uh, freedom to just like we love this. We love this. We love this, have at it or we love everything you do and just go ahead Or, you know, um, so it's really special. And, um, I've been able to, um, flex a lot of creative muscle, using these people as guinea pigs, having all kinds of wonderful dishes that I'm just like, I think that's going to be really good combination. And then, of course, we will try and be like, Oh, damn, that's good. Like this is not fair. This is so good, you know, and and then they get to experience and everybody's just like then it's love, right? It's just Everybody falls in love because it's a special experience. Already the food frames that makes that special experience, and then that becomes their memory jelled for all the years to come. And it's incredible. It's so interesting because it's, you know, earlier we're talking about, you know, food scars. And this is like food the opposite of a food scar food, you know, glory moment or just, um but I think it's so interesting that you can create, you know, just such experience around that. But going back to like food is everything like you said, in terms of its when we go and travel, it's sort of the first thing that we experience about a new place. Um, and it's fascinating that you've, you know, you continue to take it a step deeper, like, Where did that come from? How do I learn more? What are these spices like? Just that, um, that knowing that then gets infused into the recipes the actual making of I mean, I think it's really it's interesting you talked about the ephemeral nature of it all. Like it's one thing to be somebody that's creating, um, something that is gonna be like permanent. Or is somebody is going to put up on their wall or and and as a metal smith, I used to love that it was going to last for forever, that I was going to make something from nothing, and it was going to be around for thousands of years, and I was going to have this legacy because it would last right. But it was sort of more magical because I get a more personal connection to everybody, even though it's consumed and it's gone, it's like you eat it, it's in you, it's part of you. It's going to be your memory. It's going to be like you're like, you know, when you got married, that was what you ate and you were so happy about it or when you graduated. This is what you want or when you went on vacation. Oh my God, that amazing place, right? So it's inevitable that are best memories are framed by the food that we eat, and I get to be in that position and like, that's the best thing. Was there any kind of I think that's super interesting, that when you were metal Smith Smith? Or is that how you say when you when you were metal, Smith, uh, that it was this, like I want somebody to hold on to something like permanently was there? Is that part of your do you think? Does that relate to who you are as a person as well? Or like what? Like again, like What's what's important to, you know, just like the shift. And now it being, um, about something different? I don't know. Can you mount to your own personal journey? I don't think that it was deliberate, that's for sure. And I do see that it's still very much still creating. And I'm using tangible elements that stay with me, that our props and physical, not ephemeral physical elements. Um, I think, you know, it's sort of not a direct thing, but very much metal. Smith thing is hard on the body. Making food is hard on the body in a very different way. Um, there is, you know, colors and forms and textures in either medium. But I think there's a it's very personal, like, yeah, to make something in metal and show someone and tell them to like it right. That is very subjective, and someone is going to either connect to it or not. And, um, yeah, that's a that's That's the sort of unknown and that's the sort of variability. But I think if something is prepared deliciously, there's an undeniable ability about that. And in a certain regard, I think that that's a greater win because, you know, I can convert somebody or I can connect deeply with somebody. It's like I can't tell you the numbers of times will receive people initially and it's like you never met them before And how is this going to work out? And we got them for a weekend and are we gonna like each other and because they're in your home? But then they get to eat my food and then we're like, Yes, everybody's having a great time And it's a very clear change in how relating happens and it's purely through it being delicious that I mean, there's storytelling to, and that's important. But the deliciousness is undeniable, and that's it's like it goes to the core. Yeah, absolutely. I I, um I'm excited for post pandemic would love to make my way. Yes. My God, I just like, see it and you know, watching seeing your you know, stories online or, you know, your BTS and it just even it just it's what a beautiful thing that you've created. Um, with your husband and I are just for yourself. And I think that's such an important message because it just it sounds like Oh, that's beautiful. But I can only imagine the work that has gone into creating this life. So are there, like, were there moments where you thought I don't know if this is gonna work out. And I mean, they've just gone through the pandemic and like, or were still in, Um, how do you keep going in, um, being an entrepreneur and, um and you know, it's it's a hard it's a hard path. It is a very hard path because there is no safety net and there is an aspect of limitless availability or perceived. Or, um, yeah, like you have to plan on being limitless Lee available because you need to be and all the social media or you need to be, uh, working on many different levels. I don't know that my situation is as common because I'm doing so many different aspects, but in a weird kind of way, it gives me more control. Um, but it also means that I'm really, really demanded of and I have to figure out as I age, what's that going to look like? And as I am writing more cookbooks and I really see this next cookbook coming out as a means to draw thread of what my life will be because I'm realizing there's just there's so many different ways to share stories and Duff, right? Like I knew this probably before. But I'm really seeing it for myself more clearly now. And I think that that tireless labor that goes into whatever it is like I need to start my seeds for my heirloom kitchen garden for this season's growing. Now that spring is actually arriving and my head hasn't been there at all because I've been working on my manuscript. But it's like, Oh, my God, right you got to do that. And I just placed a native plant order to um, supplement all kinds of native plants that we have installed and worked to create a really diverse habitat and healthy ecosystem immediate on our property. And so with every season we're broadening that and there's endless work to be done. But if we are looking at it and being methodical, there's a way to connect to it, tackle it, hopefully not feel too depleted. The trick is to have food waiting for me when I'm done with all of that, and it's like, all right, I'm the one who's cooking So it's like it's a little tricky, but, um, it is really great and it makes me feel like the labor isn't for nothing. It's a very clear, um, trade off. And, um, that's one of the real wonderful, priceless pieces of being an entrepreneur or freelancer is seeing that that work, that you put in that tenacity, that connection and refinement, that those layers are things that make all of the subsequent things more readily available and just more abundant. Um, and at this point, I've been doing all of these things for long enough that I can feel like I'm in my place, whereas probably for the first seven or 10 years, it felt much more like I'm trying this on, and I'm trying this on, and I'm trying this on and does it fit yet? And so you know, and I've over the years I really have secured an understanding of things, and now I get to be somebody that is an expert, and I'm certainly not an expert on everything but the things I'm an expert on. There's a reason for that, and I really like that. I can share that with other people and be like, Well, yeah, these oysters are incredible And you know why they're incredible or whatever it's like. It's just it's real because then you eat it and then you're like, Oh, then it ruins you for mediocre stuff. That's true. What, uh, just it's so wonderful to just hear your journey. It's inspiring. It's, um you know, again, you can just look at a picture and be like, Oh, that's Jewel worthy That's beautiful. But like there's understanding what goes into it, the passion behind it, and not just the image, but just the lifestyle. And like you said, it's it's It's by choice. It's, um, there there is an abundance, and it's, um, you put in you put in the hours and, um and so thank you for being able to to choose to share all of that with with the rest of the world, because again, that's that's an intentional choice and mission to not just be doing it, um, you're doing it, you know you're doing it. But then you're sharing it. It's not just an internal world thing. It's something that, like all of us, deserve to live better lives and eat better. And why not share those wonderful gems? Because then they can be pieces of joy for everybody. And that's that's amazing. That's what we're here for. That's that's the goal. Visas of joy every day. Uh, Julia, what a pleasure at Julia. I just called you Julia. I was thinking about the other book. Um, Julia Torshin was actually a guest on our other podcast. Again. We mentioned you worked on with her collaborating with her on her book. Um, so we can people can check that out as well on the Chase Service live show. Um, but and took out that book that is just released just now, I think. Juliet fresh on the scene. Awesome. Um, and of course, you can find kids. Chef, that sounds like an amazing gift. I'm thinking about my niece who is really getting into cooking, which is so fun and awesome to see uh And then, of course, we have a little bit of time to wait for your for your new book in the works. However, where can everybody find you? Follow you, um and and just stay in touch with the with everything that you're creating, including yes, right. Uh, the easiest place is instagram these days, and I'm at Molina Hammer on Instagram, and there's also a catbird cottage page which is at Copper Cottage and are captured cottage website. And if you want to get away, you know, just send us an email. And these days it's tricky because we've reduced how many people were hosting because the pandemic and, um, in the colder weather months, we weren't even feeding people. We weren't really hosting in the colder weather months. And now that it's going to be warm, we have this beautiful standalone deck that is like, perfectly poised in the middle of nature, and it's it's a fun seen to be out there and be able to bring delicious food to people. So that's that's there. And I have my website, but it's like I feel like the others are just as well, and you can find me on food 52. I've got my profile there and twice monthly drill where the recipes there. There's a couple that are going to come out this month. One, I think, is happening next week. So seasonal ingredients, of course. Lots of lots of good stuff happening, and it's it's fun to see. And this time of year, as more abundance is daily coming onto the scene right after eating sturdy foods and having to cook everything Well, because you can't eat a pumpkin raw, um, to have tender pea shoots or pull a radish out of the earth and just be like Okay, great. This is, like lighter and brighter and spontaneous feeling. That's what I'm excited about about your book is the seasonality aspects. Because that just adds again. It's the layer that's more real than anything that you can go. We go to the market and we get anything in a can. But, um but this is just bringing joy. Um, all around. So thank you so much, everybody Be sure to go follow Molina Hammer on Instagram, as we've been talking about, um, I wanted to give some final shoutouts to folks who have been tuning in. Uh, we had Catherine Lambert. We had um Oh, gosh. Where'd you go? Was coming in from Ireland. We have Texas. We have Norway. Um, Cincinnati. ST. Louis. Uh, Colorado. Very cool. Thank you for joining us. Everybody from all over. And, um, you can you'll be able to listen to this episode, Um, of we are photographers. Our podcast again. Where we talked to photographers, filmmakers and industry greats. You can subscribe to that anywhere you get your podcasts, or it's always right here on creativelive dot com slash podcast. And, of course, if you're watching this video now, we have many shows coming up here on creative live TV. You can scroll down if you're on creative life and check those out. R s v p, um, And just thank you again for joining us. Thank you, Molina. We will. We will see you all next time here on creativelive.

Class Description


Our weekly audio podcast We Are Photographers brings you true stories from behind the lens and behind the lives of your favorite photographers, filmmakers, and creative industry game-changers. From their struggles to their wins, host Kenna Klosterman discovers the real human stories about why they do what they do.

Listen to this and other audio episodes on our audio Podcast page.


Melina Hammer is an award-winning food photographer, book author, stylist, chef, and mastermind behind Catbird Cottage. After years working with the New York Times, Eating Well, Blue Apron, and others, she now curates and prepares seasonal menus for guests at the destination bed & breakfast she runs with her husband, located in New York’s Hudson Valley. At the Catbird, she grows an heirloom kitchen garden and forages wild foods, curating of-the-moment seasonal menus for guests. Her first cookbook, KID CHEF is an Amazon bestseller, and she is working on her new cookbook due out spring 2022.


In this episode, Melina shares her extensive process of writing a cookbook including framing the narrative, creating the recipes, styling, cooking, testing, and photographing. Hear about her first career as a metalsmith and evolution into food photography. Melina gives you tips on transforming foods that aren’t naturally visually appealing into gorgeous drool-worthy images that will make your audience hungry. Explore her early experiences working with the NYTimes, learning by doing in a trial-by-fire way. We dive into trusting both the creative and entrepreneurial process in this conversation that will leave you inspired.