In these times of lockdown and spending so much time in our homes, one thing we can entertain ourselves with is cooking.
Dappad is talking to food photographer Tim Atkins about his love for food, recipes for lockdown, the London food scene and his journey to becoming one of the best food photographers in the UK.
-How did your interest with food start?
I was always intrigued by the cuisine that was foreign to me. Growing up, my parents had busy lifestyles so we had a dish Monday to Friday that didn’t change for weeks.
We ate the same food and I think I got bored with that. But I learnt later on it had nothing to do with time but more about imagination. I started looking at the dishes that mum was making and started thinking about how can I make it better. Some succeeded and some failed but that was the whole fun of it, at least it wasn’t the same meal every night.
-How has growing up in Cape Town, South Africa influenced your taste and take on food?
Growing up in Cape Town the cuisine was more simple than today. We always had protein, vegetables and a starch like rice. There was quite a culture of always eating meat every day, the passion to BBQ and the idea that meat made you strong was very evident.
As we now have access to the internet there are endless recipes to cook, taste and try to perfect. I would say that Italian food was much loved in the home but as the years went by Asian food started influencing how supermarkets set new trends which influenced consumers.
We have a hot climate so we did on occasion in winter cook comforting stews, pasta & porridge for breakfast. Our produce back home is very seasonal so you can only get certain fruits & vegetables at different times of the year. This differs much from where I live now in the United Kingdom where we get produce all year round from imports. If there is anything I could take out of South African food is that cooking over fire is incredible for meats and vegetables.
-When did you know you wanted to be a food photographer?
It’s been a journey of falling in love with photography first & food after. When I was about 10 years old we went on a safari trip in Kenya on the open plains of the Serengeti.
We were flying on an 8 seater plane, a very bumpy ride without proper runways but as we were getting closer to our destination I saw a large heard of Wildebeest migrating and it was one of the most magnificent sights from the air.
I said to myself ‘I want to capture that!’ That’s where the photography passion began, but over the years as I grew to know food, the people involved with food and everything surrounding that, I knew that I wanted to dedicate my life to it.
-How did you begin the path of being a photographer?
I was so determined to become a photographer, I changed schools that offered a photography course & I then went on to study at Ruth Prowse School of Art in Cape Town. We learnt the basics in the darkroom with film & then went onto specialising in a photography genre in our 2nd & 3rd year. I chose to major in the Fine Arts of photography specialising in food. My final year project was on how Indian food made “You are what you eat” and how accessible the same spices were to buy in South Africa. Did this change the flavour of the food or did recipes change slightly over time? I found this food/documentary style of photography fascinating and once I started this journey I never looked back.
-What works so far in your career are you most proud of?
As a food photographer, I felt with the climate changing conditions and how the food industry contributes to waste. I wanted to highlight a particular subject of concern using my photography.
We came up with a concept to educate the public on single-use plastics and how it affects the ocean (freshwater too) with microplastics degrading into microparticles. The fish eat them and then we eat the fish and plastic.
We photographed a series of imagery with beautiful seafood dishes riddled with plastic but at your first glance it looks delicious, but looking at the image closer, you notice the imagery contains plastic particles. We exhibited with Project 0, Sky Ocean Rescue, WWF and Carnaby to raise 100% of profit to help educate and protect the oceans.
– Chefs that inspire you? and which ones to follow on Instagram?
There are too many heroes behind the kitchens to mention as there are so many talented women and men out there. I’ll give it a go….
Chantelle Nicholson for her vegetarian food & educating the next generation on food. Michael Caines who only cooks with one hand after a car accident but excels in exceptional food.
Ben Marks from Perilla who is just up the road is one of the youngest and most inspiring chefs of his generation. Rohit Ghai who I work with is the fastest Indian chef to be awarded a Michelin star in the United Kingdom. Jeremy Lee of Quo Vadis, one of the nicest chefs I have met & photographed and tried his food. Comforting British cuisine that he represents, excels and is well known in the food industry.
-What inspires you in life?
I am a visual person by heart, so I try to look at everything differently. As a photographer and owning a business, I try to slow down on how I see something in this very fast-paced London life. If I see a texture, I try to imagine it as a background for my next image, if I see a colour I try to imagine how it would complement with another and if I see any food that doesn’t look familiar, I want to photograph it. I love to surround myself with beautiful stimulating scenery, but beauty can be seen in many shapes and forms. Something that is discarded can also be beautiful, so I try to look in places most wouldn’t.
-How did moving to London affect your thoughts on food?
Moving to London was like tasting ice cream for the first time. That jolt of excitement of sweet creamy ice cream was the same with having access to all the different cuisines in the world. We are so spoilt here for choice with some of the best food in the world.
We have some of the best restaurants and chefs in the food world with constant food types being reintroduced or reimagined keeps you on your toes for the next food fix.
Which are your favourite restaurants in London?
Quod Vadis, Kricket, Bao, Le Bab, Padella, Dandy 2.0, Barrafina, Nobu, Dishoom, The Good Egg, Escocesa
-Cocktail bars in London you would recommend?
-What would you cook for a date?
I would start with some local oysters and champagne. I would serve buttery scallops with dill oil & dash of lemon.
Next some Norwegian salmon grilled with pearl potatoes, grilled leeks, grilled purple broccoli florets & finish off with a Beurre blanc sauce.
Dessert would be chocolate fondant with vanilla ice cream & nutty Frangelico to sip slowly.
-Do you have any ingredients you swear by/one should always have in one’s kitchen?
Yes, some good natural flaked salt for seasoning. It sounds boring but a good natural salt is so important to elevate your food.
Smoky Paprika goes down a treat with tomato dishes and Turmeric with its vibrant colour and subtle flavour with anti-inflammatory properties.
Soy Sauce for its salty nature can be a substitute but has so much depth and ‘umami’ flavour.
-What would you recommend making now during the lockdown?
A Smoky Aubergine Ragù with Pappardelle and Parmigiano.