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The building itself is an architectural masterpiece by Marcio Kogan, hidden behind walls of wood and concrete. When the huge gates open, it’s impossible not to be impressed. At the entrance is a ‘tropical Zen garden’ with native Brazilian trees of jabuticaba berries; indigenous plants complete the contemporary mise-en-scène, where a kitchen with ultra modern design and four stories of space make clear from the first moment – that this is an oasis for chefs! And inside, design furniture, cookbooks from the greatest names in the world, and a gallery of gigantic photos of famous dishes, are all spread over enormous rooms with minimalistic settings.
The man behind the idea (and the lens) is Sergio Coimbra, and his story is unusual indeed. Born into a family of coffee producers, he followed his father’s footsteps, but his great passion was photography. For many years, he accumulated experience during his holidays with great masters in Brazil and New York, building a studio inside his house. He used every single free moment of his life to photograph and improve his skills.
His interest in and love for food began, simply, as a regular customer in the world’s best restaurants. His wife and partner, Monica Coimbra, who shared his passion for food and travel, was not only a companion in his ‘culinary marathons’, but also an important part of his journey as food photographer: «These many years of my ‘hidden passion’ for photography were only possible because I had a partner who embraced the journey with me.»
Coimbra managed to combine his careers both as photographer and businessman for over 20 years with the dream of one day of building a studio where food would be the ultimate muse. Professionally, he began with a small space, photographing commercial food and products for supermarkets and companies such as Mark & Spenser. Publicity photos, product labelling, food catalogues and big campaigns related to food made his studio very successful and it grew to become an independent company; but this wasn’t Coimbra’s secret dream.
In 2010 he finally opened the doors of Studio SC, which not only had an art gallery space, but also an experimental kitchen next to the central shooting area. An impressive archive of dishes, cutlery, glasses and kitchen tools is available for the chefs to create their dishes and artistic compositions using wood, metal, porcelain, glass and other surfaces with different textures and backgrounds. But the most important element is the atmosphere: the ambience at Studio SC inspires chefs to create masterpieces.
I have witnessed many chefs working there, with marvellous dishes being created under Coimbra’s lens. Chef Yoshihiro Narisawa was speechless when he saw the facilities, deciding to create an edible installation with an underlying theme of social criticism regarding deforestation and modern food production. Marcus Wareing, the British chef, had an avant-garde moment with Brazilian ingredients, creating an abstract piece – something he had never done before. Massimo Bottura created a project wholly based on the tropical contamination (in the positive sense!), of his own body and soul, as it were. The photo session with Bottura was an amazing event, with an on-hand make-up artist helping the chef to come to his ‘Cirque du Soleil’ transformation.
The mobile studio – which troupe members call ‘Studio SC on the road’ - captured some very special moments at Osteria Francescana and in other of Bottura’s favourite locations in Emilia Romagna, and was also present when Bottura’s Modena restaurant was awarded 3 Michelin stars. «Sergio is a man who loves food,» explains Bottura. «This is an important feature of his work. His photos are taken from a food-lover’s perspective, and he allows the chefs to be creative during the shooting process – a very special experience!»
Also in Italy, the great master Gualtiero Marchesi prepared his iconic dishes in front of Coimbra, and commented: «Coimbra has managed to capture the spirit of my dishes. I am truly impressed with his work. I was happy and surprised to see how many of my dishes were finally understood by a photographer.» His first international book is homage to his muses – dishes and ingredients and it's just been published as a limited edition for chefs and food professionals only. Inside a wooden box, the two books transform into a composition of four sides. When both books are opened together, the pictorial narrative invites the reader to take part in a culinary journey. The book features dishes from international stars such as Heston Blumenthal & Ashley Palmer-Watts, Nuno Mendes, Massimiliano Alajmo,Gualtiero Marchesi, Marcus Wareing, and Brazilian chefs Alex Atala, Rodrigo Oliveira, Pier Paolo Picchi and Eudes Assis, alongside exotic Amazonian ingredients, street food shots and other exciting artistic images of food.