If food is the new rock, then chefs are the new rocks stars. It only makes sense that someone would start to give Houston chefs the MTV Cribs treatment — providing a glimpse into their lives at home away from the kitchen.
Enter Ben Sassani and the Shoot My Chef photo series. A successful Houston wedding photographer by day, Sassani says that the original idea came from a friend of his who wanted a wedding present that consisted of pictures of chefs' home refrigerators. Sassani recalls being intrigued by the premise, "but I had no idea how to approach it."
A friend in Austin suggested two framing devices for the pictures. First, have the chefs cook at home. Second, find out who they hang out with and how they spend their time away from their jobs. Sassani had trouble making inroads with Houston chefs until he happened to meet Soma Sushi chef Gabriel Medina's sister, who is also a wedding photographer.
While diners might only think of Gruber as the man behind massive deli sandwiches and smoked fish platters, the chef has demonstrated he's got a few tricks up his sleeve.
Once Sassani explained the premise to Medina, the chef readily agreed to participate. The results, seen here, show Medina making burgers with a group of friends including Cloud 10 Creamery's Chris Leung.
"That's how I got more into the community," Sassani says. "I had no idea Gabe was so (connected) . . . Everything's been by word of mouth." Since Medina's shoot a year ago, Sassani has captured a wide variety of chefs over a dozen shoots — from James Beard Award finalist Hugo Ortega to rising star chef power couple Erin Smith and Patrick Feges.
Sassani's latest subject is Ziggy Gruber, the chef/owner of popular New York-style deli Kenny & Ziggy's. Joined by his wife Mimi, two friends (and me) at their stylish, contemporary home in Upper Kirby, Ziggy and Mimi prepared a meal that blended Gruber's classic Jewish recipes and French training (he worked for Albert Roux in England) with Mimi's Louisiana upbringing for a Texas/Jewish/Cajun feast.
For Ziggy, the decision to participate was easy. "I was asked to do it," he explains. "I saw the other ones . . . the photos are great. I mean, why not?"
Gruber cites Triniti pastry chef Samantha Mendoza's photos as his personal favorite. While diners might only think of Gruber as the man behind massive deli sandwiches and smoked fish platters, the chef has demonstrated he's got a few tricks up his sleeve.
"I've done the chef thing since I was 10 years old. I went to the Lower East Side school of culinary," he quipped.
The Sunday supper started with Mimi's cajun gumbo, but Ziggy gave it a "Yiddishe twist" in the form of matzah balls. For an entree, Ziggy prepared veal chops stuffed with pastrami and provolone topped with a mushroom and Manischewitz wine sauce. The meal concluded with homemade rugelach, a traditional Jewish cookie.
As for Shoot My Chef, Sassani is scheduling more chefs as quickly as possible. Eventually, he'd like to turn it into a coffee table book. In the meantime, enjoy the glimpse at chefs' lives and stay tuned for the upcoming participants.