It’s always a pleasure hearing Battman’s voice on the phone. “Heeeello, it’s Battman!” he’ll croon and immediately dive in to what’s going on next at The Chef’s Connection. This last time around, it was all about taking photos for the upcoming book Pies; the latest in his line of cookbooks that feature some of the greatest and most iconic chefs in the country. From Jean Georges, Daniel, and Eric Ripert to the “little guys”, each chef is given carte blanche to create any dish they like; as long as it’s within the realm of the theme given. Sometimes, as was the case with the book Colors of Dessert, they’re forced to literally pick out of a hat to see what they’ll be working with. But mostly they’re only gently guided toward what they’ll design; whether the dish should be petite, seasonal, pasta, pudding, or Pie. (Check out the full line of books here ) And they certainly don’t disappoint. Each volume is filled with vividly colored photos of dishes that are passionately created, uniquely representative of the chefs inside, and paired with simple recipes for anyone at home to recreate.
Now if you’ve ever been to a photo shoot, particularly a culinary one, you’ll know how labor intensive they usually are. There’s the recipe creator, a food stylist, the photographer, maybe a few assistants… and they’re long. And the lights start burning into your eyes. And of course nothing is what it seems. Crisco masquerades as a scoop of ice cream, paper towels push up a bowl of pasta for an ample look, and a collection of plates, wooden boards and table cloths help bring the food to life.
Battman throws all of that out the window. He’s not only the first photographer I’ve ever met who can set up and be ready to shoot within five minutes of arrival, but he’s the only one I’ve ever heard of who rides up with full camera and lighting equipment on a bicycle! He shoots real food. Steaming, melting or oozing, he catches it in its glory. A chef plates up a dish, and just as he wipes any last smudges off of the plate, the shoot begins. And ends.
“9 times out of 10 the best shot is the first,” Battman said. And he’s right. One shot and he transforms a beautifully plated dish into a stunning work of art. A simple white plate, two small lights, one click, and magic happens. He rarely cares about what the dish is made of or how expensive the ingredients are, although he finds it delightful when he’s invited to indulge in a dish of particularly rare ingredients (check out his truffle experience here). Instead, he looks at each plate’s architecture. Each swirl of sauce, tip of leaf, and billow of cream is delicately intensified until you feel you could almost just reach in and scoop up anything you’d like right off the page.
But he wasn’t always the culinary ambassador he is today, bringing great chefs across the country together to support Action Against Hunger. Back in Canarsie in…19 something or other, there was a young boy who hated school and dreamed of doing anything that didn’t involve working in his father’s sweater factory. Over the years he would jump from managing an auto body shop to being the #1 Salesman at Mattel Toys, to creating promotional items for Playboy. Later he’d come up with an ingenious greeting card idea. It was so creative & different that Hallmark Card Company sent a photographer to photograph it. Unfortunately and for some unknown reason it was not successful.. In 1980 he began publishing his New York City photos as greeting cards, maintaining a permanent exhibition of his work at The Empire State Building for 17 years. He also happens to be the highly unlikely photographer behind the ever sexy Firefighter’s Calendar for 25 years. Surprised? I was.
But one day he got sick of always photographing the city; and on that day, he went out to dinner. Lucky for us, it was a good meal. He realized that food photography was the next phase and went from restaurant to restaurant; having no idea how lucky he was to be able to walk into some of the top kitchens in New York City and freely photograph any dish he liked. For a man who always seemed to be one step ahead, jumping too fast and missing his great moment, it seems this time around he was right on schedule.
As the “Foodie” Era was born, Battman was there taking pictures. There’s no one else who can bring together such a collection of chefs; who can present their varied works as a cohesive compilation. Looking around at one of the “Great Gathering of Chef’s”, you’re stunned by the amount of famous faces in one room. And whether they’re chatting and shaking hands, or trying new dishes, they’re always having a great time.
“I like being in this industry, and I hope the website will keep me there,” he said.
Amen to that.