Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Edible Art: A Conversation with Edward Pond, Food Photographer

I remember noticing the book on a shopping trip a little while ago. I was instantly drawn to its bright turquoise cover. If you know me, you will know I have always had a long-standing love/hate relationship with the colour turquoise. This time it was love. The bright colours drew me in, and before long I was flipping through. At the time I didn't know who Jeff Crump or Bettina Schormann were, but I figured they had to be pretty great people since they wrote a book called Earth To Table: Seasonal Recipes from an Organic Farm. A seasonal cookbook with a focus on local farmers and real food, written by two Canadian chefs? What could be better? I have since been enlightened, as I am sure many of you have, and learned that Jeff and Bettina are essentially Slow Food pioneers, to put it lightly. They hold court as Chef & Pastry Chef at the Ancaster Old Mill, and their book, Earth to Table, has been applauded by none other than Michael Pollan himself. Now do you want to read the book? More info on Jeff and Bettina can be found here).

As I flipped through page by page, I was struck by the beauty and vibrancy of the photos inside. Each one allowed the natural beauty of the food to shine through, and compelled me to keep reading. I had to know who took these photos!

Edward Pond, that's who. So I set out to find out more about Edward Pond, Food Photographer. My quest lead me straight to Edward himself, who is as passionate about food as he is talented behind the camera. Edward agreed to share his story with After the Harvest.

After the Harvest (ATH): When did you know you wanted to be a photographer, and when/why did your focus turn to food?

Edward Pond (EP): It took me four years of journalism school to realize I didn't want to be a journalist. I preferred playing music and messing about with my camera. So I moved to Toronto to pursue both. In short order, I was assisting a food shooter and learning what it means to really eat. I met all these chefs and food suppliers and I was hooked.

ATH: You really manage to capture the vitality of the food in your photos, providing mouth-watering images. Has your experience thus far changed the way you look at food?

EP: I grew up eating on autopilot. Typical waspy boiled, bleached, boxed diet. And because I'm really thin, I never had any motivation to be careful about what I ate. It just didn't seem relevant. Then in my 20s, I stumbled into food photography and my food awareness exploded. Suddenly I was celebrating every meal and my whole life improved. I'm healthier, more focused and every meal is bliss, even if it's just a bowl of oatmeal. Since food is the foundation of our existence, why shouldn't our day pivot on smart, delicious eating? I know it's a cliché, but look at the French!

ATH: Are there certain foods that lend themselves better to being photographed? Are some more "photogenic" than others?

EP: Now that you mention it, I find the more natural and real the food is, the better it shoots. When you have something simple, made with fresh ingredients, it always looks great.

ATH: What was your experience like shooting the photos for Earth to Table? What did you learn from this experience with respect to local, seasonal cuisine?

EP: Awareness is important in life, especially when shopping and eating. Working with Jeff and Bettina, I learned to take the middle way -- a very Buddhist approach really -- where you do a bit of everything to make a better big picture. Local produce is great, but sometimes it won't have an organic certification. Whereas a big factory outfit might legally be Organic, but it's more industrial. So you need to navigate and stay aware. Every system gets complicated when it goes big. Organics, local eating, vegetarianism, are ideals that get turbulent on a large, commercial scale.

In fall 2008 I decide to go a year without eating meat. I would eat fish and eggs, but no carnage. It was an experiment to expand my food awareness.

But at the same time, I got mountain trail running and then an elite endurance training program. Well! I was starving to death, and all the tofu in the world wasn't going to save me. So I bailed in my 11th month and ordered some chicken soup. At the time, I was at a lunch meeting with a client and I could hardly contain my joy. The flavour of this simple chicken broth was so amazing after a year that I was almost in tears!

ATH: Your photos from India are beautiful. Are there any other culinary destinations that you are looking forward to shooting in the future?

EP: In the fall I'm spending a few weeks in Italy just cooking, eating and shooting. A bunch of us are renting a big house far from the city where we can buy super fresh ingredients and hang out with the people growing and making it. As for my camera, I always find people welcome my lens into the room when my interest is genuine. When we have a great experience, the photo will follow. Never the other way around.

ATH: Can you share some of your favourite places to eat in Canada?

EP: Faros is a Greek restaurant in Montreal that serves the best Greek salad I've ever eaten. Garde-Manger in Old Montreal is unbelievable too.
In Toronto, I love Foxley Bistro on Ossington, of course Terroni has the best pizza in the universe. I'm lobbying to shoot a book for them. And last week I got to hang out with the owners at Local Kitchen. They make their pasta every afternoon by hand and serve it up. The gnocchi is unreal!

ATH: When you're cooking at home, what are some of your signature dishes?

EP: My signature food is fiddleheads, picked from a secret Pond family patch we've gone to for 29 years now. My brother and I live in different cities, so we meet by the highway and walk deep into the woods by a river to forage these delicious green veggies. Every year, we haul home piles to clean, blanch and freeze. I eat them all year steamed and sprinkled with vinegar or even a bit of soy sauce. Sometimes I cook them into an omelette, but they're too precious to whizz into soup or some other horror!

Sunday for me means roasted chicken. It's delicious, the wonderful smell fills the house, and I get really nice birds from Rowe Farms near my house in Leslieville. I'll often cook one up with lemon roasted spuds and some brussels sprouts. It goes great with a Henry of Pelham Baco Noir and a few friends to help eat it.

Edward is often asked if the food he shoots is actually real! You can see him discussing the answer to this question, as well as describing other aspects of food photography here, in a spot from Bravo TV called "Behind the Camera".

If you would like to see more of Edward's work, please visit his website at He also holds real estate in the blogosphere at
To be clear, he doesn't just shoot food, as you will see on his blog. Edward records the world around him in all forms, including those that are edible.

Next time you see a gorgeous food photo in a cookbook or a magazine, take a look at the photo credit, it could be the work of Edward Pond. Many thanks, Edward, for allowing After the Harvest to peek through your lens.

All photos by Edward Pond.

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