Does anyone else have a hard time writing down their own biography? Of course, I am sure of it. It’s so much easier to write about everything and anything else under the sun. So here’s my crack at telling my story. It’s a bit of a draft at this point, but this will be published in the CSN Photography 101 textbook where my food photography and art are featured.
I’ve always believed in the process of invention and reinvention. When you feel the push to do something, no matter what it is, you just simply lean on it and see where it takes you. This is exactly how I found my niche, and it was a joyous process to do so because it opened a lot of doors and gave my career, both as a chef and a food photographer, a heightened passion and new meaning.
I began my culinary career at the age of 19 when I graduated with a Hotel and Restaurant Management degree and I moved to San Francisco from Manila. The first job I had was a sous chef at the San Francisco Zoo. I was far from being a pedigreed culinarian and was nicknamed “Zoo Sous”, but it was a fun job that allowed me to bring smiles to so many people’s faces. After that, I worked as a kitchen manager and corporate trainer for Boudin, San Francisco’s oldest Sourdough Bakery.
Being an immigrant, I struggled a lot with having to establish myself in such an expensive city. We all know that foodservice jobs usually don’t have stellar pay. At the time, I thought of two things: either pursue my formal culinary training at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, or try my luck and move to Las Vegas. I leaned in on the latter option just because I believe in pushing the bar as well as taking risks. I also didn’t want to take out a massive student loan to graduate and be called a “chef” without paying my dues. I was young, I was healthy, and cooking was my passion so I moved to Las Vegas and became a cook.
Thankfully, Sin City was kind to me and the people here saw my drive and my passion for food. I worked for various outlets at the Venetian, Mandalay Bay, and the Wynn. My culinary career was on track and it was a dream come true because I learned from amazing professionals that taught me a lot of things that culinary school probably wouldn’t have taught me. But then, the economy took a dive and the recession hit. A lot of businesses, including restaurants, closed down, and it was too risky to switch jobs. I had a union job at the time that offered tuition reimbursement even though it wasn’t directly related to my job as a cook, and I decided to make the most of that. So, I enrolled for a videography and commercial photography degree at CSN. Why Videography and Photography? Because I loved communicating ideas and wanted to see whether I could be a great storyteller outside of the kitchen.
While I was in school, I didn’t really jump into food photography right away. I just started taking pictures of people, landscapes, things, etc etc. I also traveled extensively around that time, as well as made short films and documentaries. But somehow, food kept calling me back. When I graduated, I had the option to move to Los Angeles to pursue my filmmaking career, but decided to stick around Las Vegas and see what opportunity brings. Then, as fate would have it, I took a food photography class under Professor Charles Lohman. I knew from the first shoot in the class that I found the one craft that married both my professional worlds and passions. And so they say, the rest is history.
I wouldn’t be the food photographer that I am today without all those experiences under my belt. Being a professional chef taught me to prep my “mise en place”. Literally translated, that just means everything in it’s place. Photography also requires that kind of acuity. Cooking professionally is much like photography in a sense - it’s the details that matter, and everything should be executed perfectly either as a dish or in camera. The work becomes easier and more intuitive the more you love the images you are creating. It’s like your second nature kicks in, and it just becomes the most natural process. In short, when I style and shoot food, I usually already known what I am looking for because I’ve been a chef for so many years. So that gives me a creative edge where I can plug in either more detail or give a dish more “star quality” and “appetite appeal”. I’m also a big fan of things that have never been done or seen, so I drive my work towards creating food images that definitely have that “wow factor”.
So going back to finding your niche, when you feel the push to do something creative, definitely lean on it. You’ll never know where it brings you. Focus on the things that make you happy and follow your creative heart. Enjoy your journey and grow into your craft. Never stop expressing yourself creatively in other avenues even if your current profession doesn’t demand it. Keep working on your craft until you have that edge. Always aim to give the world the gift of your amazing vision through your photographs, whatever subject matter they may be. Never be afraid to tell your story through your images. The world is a much better place when artists such as yourself create beautiful things that others can look at and be moved and inspired. That’s your goal and your calling.
Lean on it.