(By Kelly James)
There is a common thread that runs through all creative individuals. They have an appreciation for the dedication, discipline, and unique thought that all various forms possess. Until the recent ubiquity of Instagram posting foodies, most of the public took for granted the connection between the visual and the culinary arts. It might be because the film and television capitol is in Los Angeles but LA based The New School of Cooking has always been aware of in-person presentation as well as the impact of imagery overall. Working with celebrated photographer Natalie Chen, The New School of Cooking continues to up their game with photography (courtesy of Chen) that displays not only their visually stimulating artistry but also the romanticism of the culinary arts and profession. The benefits of this professional relationship enrich both entities but benevolently create an intrigue and anticipation on the part of those who peruse these moments captured in time.
The New School of Cooking (Pasadena, California) is the training ground for state-approved culinary & pastry diplomas and series of classes for ambitious cooks. As consummate professionals and purveyors of the culinary arts, this school presents the many layered components of a fine dining experience, which includes presentation with a focus on aesthetics. Chen followed students preparing and plating meals and through to the dining experience of the guests. Documenting each stage along the way, she not only displayed the evolution of the cuisine but also the struggles and accomplishments of the students as they refine their skill set.
For many of the students at The New School of Cooking, their education in this art is more than becoming a highly skilled chef, it’s a socially expanding experience. As with many of us, the food they are familiar with is based on the country and culture in which they grew up. The New School of Cooking educates these future chefs in such eclectic areas as French bistro, cannabis cuisine, kid’s cooking, Greek cooking, and others. It’s not hyperbolic to say that food is often the beginning to seeking an understanding of other cultures and people. At the same time, there is always something comforting about the cooking we already know. Chen herself states, “I grew up in Taiwan. My mom loves cooking and used to cook every night for the family. I grew up watching her cook. When I travel and when times are tough, it’s that cooking that puts me at ease and calms me. Food can remind you of home and it can also inspire you to seek out new and exciting places. Food is not just about perfecting the taste and presentation, it’s the bridge that connects different cultures.”
The photographs taken by Natalie Chen of The New School of Cooking, the students, the process, the enjoyment of the guests…these images all communicate the desire of people to find a way to connect, to give their best to others. For the chefs, their tools are a brush or tweezers or a whisk; for Natalie Chen it’s a camera and her artistic eye. They say that talent recognizes talent; it’s the very fact that Chen is such an exceptional photographer that allows her the insight to know what to focus her lens on. The taste, the smells, the visuals, all of these are rooted in the undefinable part of the human experience that somehow manages to become elevated when all these factors work in unison.