David Gallent (www.gumbogood.com) spends a lot of time behind the camera shooting Louisiana food. But as a "culinary media specialist" he also works as a food stylist, recipe editor and cooking instructor. The Baton Rouge native attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., which led to a job as a food stylist for Oxmoor House, the publisher of cookbooks for brands including Southern Living, Cooking Light and Weight Watchers. He shoots food for many Louisiana restaurants and he's contributed to cookbooks including chef John Folse's The Encyclopedia of Cajun and Creole Cuisine and After the Hunt.
Gambit icon: People might assume culinary school leads to a chef position, but you took a different path. What has guided your career?
Gallent: I went to culinary school not necessarily to learn how to work in a restaurant but to learn about food. I studied photography at LSU earlier and then being a food stylist inspired me to pick up the camera again. In the studio, we'd slave for hours over a single plate, and then the photographer would come over, spend 15 minutes and then go back to his world. I thought, "I can do both."
Gambit: What's the biggest challenge with this type of photography?
G: The fact that food dies. You have a short window to shoot everything, especially if you're looking for steam or a frozen element. Very few things you shoot will be the same 30 minutes after you set it up. Food styling work is like sculpting, and the photography is all about the light and trying to capture that moment when it looks its best.
Gambit: Do you ever eat the food after a shoot?
G: No, you never eat set food. You might brush it with oil to give it a wet look. Or I'm using tools, like this set of crookneck tweezers I have for making little adjustments, placing that last chive just so, and those tools are never sanitized. You use spit sometimes to highlight the inside of a steak. I set up one shot of a bowl of mussels and I had my hands all around in there positioning them in the bowl. So, no, you never want to eat set food, even when it looks really good.