Sweat Sock: The Other White
by Chris Colin
I WAS GRILLING A JOHN LE CARRÉ NOVEL
the other day when it occurred to me that the chauvinists of
the world have been misunderstood: Treating someone like a
piece of meat is a painstaking, attentive thing to do.
learned this under the tutelage of Kim Konecny, a veteran food
stylist who’s prepared and arranged edibles
for everyone from Dreyer’s to the New York Times
I had invited Konecny into my kitchen to work her magic on
a pork chop, and to learn some of that magic myself. Could
it be applied to some non-meaty, everyday objects, I wondered?
Is meat intrinsically photogenic, or can anything be made to
I had a clown nose, a sweat sock, a plush
toy, and a spy novel that otherwise did little to water the
Is meat intrinsically photogenic, or can
anything be made to look appetizing?
First, Konecny and my pork chop. Meat styling
leans on a few fundamentals, she explained: Grill marks. A
glistening sear. A tight depth of field when you take the photo.
She trimmed the fat — evenly, or you’ll see cut
marks after you cook the thing — then used a grill pan,
one way then another, to achieve that familiar grid of black
lines. (Typically she applies the lines with an electric charcoal
starter — more
control that way — but I don’t have one of those.)
Having grilled and browned the thing, she
commenced plating. Oil, herbs, a series of miniscule adjustments
and the chop was ready for its close-up. I focused and shot.
Later, after Konecny had left, I threw the meat in the oven,
to fully cook it. Great quantities of food are wasted in the
food-styling sessions, she’d informed me. I solemnly
repeated this to myself as I made my way through the late-night
snack, though I’d already eaten dinner.
Clown noses and
so on don’t go to waste in the same way.
It would be hard to say what wasting a clown nose would entail,
exactly. Still, I made sure all my ingredients had enjoyed
a healthy life before pressing them into service:
witnessed the nose fall, in the chaos of a neighborhood fair,
from the pocket of Tom Ammiano, a member of San Francisco’s
Board of Supervisors.
The plush toy — Piglet, the least
likable of the Pooh characters — had belonged to a friend’s
baby, who will now think twice before leaving belongings at
A gloomy thrift store had put the le Carré novel
in its 25-cent bin, after a couple had emptied out their attic
to make room for the husband’s expanding model train
set-up, which he considered minorly embarrassing, but which
also took him back to days of watching freights rumble past
on summer evenings with his parents back in Maryland on a patchy
grass hill by the elementary school, in a town now busier with
pasta restaurants and glassware stores than he remembered — or
so I imagine.
The sock was left under my futon by my friend
Having painted my non-meats with assorted
cooking oils, I fired up the Weber. Noses, socks, stuffed animals,
contemporary fiction — these
things smell terrible when you barbecue them, I discovered.
No matter, my mind was already wandering to all the other non-meats
that could be grilled: an alarm clock, an antique eye chart,
a miniseries on VHS or DVD. You could even grill this article.
Once my inedibles had developed a respectable sear, I stopped
thinking about things and moved on to the plating phase.
plating phase is where you step into a Baudrillard essay you
vaguely remember from college, when having more hair led you
to think about things like the precession of simulacra, viz:
In an effort to make food look more like food, non-food is
used instead. Glue regularly substitutes for milk in photo
shoots — looks richer, and cereal doesn’t absorb
so much of it. With beverages, acrylic ice cubes are swapped
for real ones; no melting, and they refract light better. Cardboard
is inserted under hamburger buns to keep them from sinking
into the patties beneath. (Meanwhile, all those sesame seeds
are affixed by hand, lest an imperfect constellation of white
dots be formed.)
For the food stylist, Piglet et al. are uncharted
territory, but I muddled through. As instructed, I glossed
them up with canola oil rather than extra virgin olive, which
can give food a greenish tint. In a bit of food-styling irreverence,
I used blue plates — far less appetizing than red or
green, my mentor had warned. (I went for a cooking-in-progress
shot with the book, though — an artist’s impulse,
I like to think.)
Finally, I maneuvered the items negligibly
amongst their garnishes. Does the thyme work with or against
the pig? How might the squeezed lemon comment on the sock?
Photo time! I snapped away with a tight focus and under multiple
lights, the better to minimize shadows.
I have my own theories
about whether a person would want to eat these items, but at
a certain age, a person tries to keep his theories to himself
more. So you be the judge. I’ll
just remind you that none of these items is fully cooked — they’re
just made to appear so from the outside. If that sounds like
a metaphor for something meatier, you’ve probably been
reading too much Baudrillard, which incidentally would look
good with strawberries maybe?
This article originally appeared in
Meatpaper Issue Three.