Julie's Kitchen is an ongoing project in the study of plant design, exploration of color theory, and pure, unadulterated food-love. FDL caught up with Julie Lee for a chat:
What's the first taste you remember?
When I was two-years-old, my maternal grandmother from Hong Kong came to live with us in Stockton, California. She was a whirlwind in the kitchen and would whip up bowls of cooked beyond al dente elbow macaroni in chicken broth with a few slivers of meat or vegetables—a very traditional Hong Kong breakfast. She still makes this for me when I visit her in Hong Kong and I love the way it transports me back to my childhood.
Which is your favorite food subject?
As long as I have a good source of natural light, I love shooting any vegetable or fruit that’s in season. At this point, they are most delicious and photogenic. But if I had to choose one favorite subject, herbs that have bolted are particularly interesting to photograph. You have the sturdy leaves, the delicate flowers, and the seeds. Each element of the plant represents its life cycle and each element is interesting in its own way. The leaves are edible, the flowers are lovely, and the seeds are a promise of future life.
An anecdote about your collages with food?
My food collages started out as a way to highlight seasonal and local offerings from neighborhood farmers markets in Los Angeles. It’s evolved into an ongoing project in the study of plant design, exploration of color theory, and pure, unadulterated food-love. Let’s be real–I like to play with my food.
The most appetizing photo you've taken?
Bountiful spreads of food that tell a story are the most appetizing photos. I recently shot a tapas spread, brimming from edge to edge with food. It’s all about catching the blur of a hand snatching a cracker, pouring a glass of sangria, or scooping a spoonful of paella. There’s a playfulness and liveliness giving movement to the photograph. I’m also very drawn to any photos of runny egg yolks or melting cheese.
The dish to die for? Why?
It’s so hard to pick one. Can I pick three? I love simple, homey comfort food. My mom makes an incredible turkey congee using the Turkey carcass and meat leftover from Thanksgiving. It tastes like a bowlful of love. We eat it garnished with scallions, cilantro, and a few grinds of white pepper and dunk “you tiao” (Chinese donuts) in it to sop up the deliciousness. It’s my favorite use of leftovers and cleansing after a day of binging. My sisters and I always fight over it. The signature wok-fried lobster at Newport Seafood in San Gabriel is to die for. It’s bursting with flavor and smothered in chilis, scallions, and garlic. There’s something about sweet lobster covered in savory spice that makes you crave it. My friend, Jaime, mixes the leftover lobster and sauce with a scoop of XO sauce for killer fried rice. Does that mean I need to die twice for this dish? Another thing that comes to mind is Ludo Lefebvre’s uni crème brûlée. It delights every sense—it’s sweet and savory and creamy and crunchy at the same time. The uni custard is as smooth as silk, contrasted by the sweet crunch of the brûléed topping and the popping saltiness of the salmon roe.