Dennis The Prescott
Dennis cooks, photographs and writes all the time. His food photography is incredible, and I have to confess I get instant cravings when I see his beautifully made, styled and photographed food on Instagram and on his blog. You can also find Dennis on Food and Wine’s FWx.com where he’s also got some really cool videos up.
I am so excited to have Dennis Prescott of Dennis the Prescott here on the show today.
(*All photos below are Dennis’s.)
On Learning to Cook:
I lived in Nashville for a while, being down there as a guitar player. And being a musician was a wonderful experience, as a full-time musician. Got to do a ton of things and travel and everything else, but I did not get paid very well, because that’s the musician’s lifestyle. But I had come to really enjoy all of these different foods, traveling, and so I kind of decided, well, I can either eat pasta with butter on it, eat at the dollar menu at McDonald’s essentially, or I could learn how to cook. And it was one of those three.
So I went to the Nashville public library, I got a library card, which was probably the first library card I’ve ever had in my entire life, and took out three cookbooks. And then just started working through them, and I became absolutely just obsessed with needing to know everything about everything about food, and how to make every dish. So that’s kind of where it started for me, honestly. Just innocently I just really wanted to learn how to cook some dishes so that I didn’t have to eat junk food anymore.
The people around me encouraged it for sure, because they liked to try it. My friends seem to call me “All or Nothing Guy.” If I’m really passionate about something or if I’m into it, I’m really into it and I want to know everything. It was the same when I was a kid and I wanted to learn how to play guitar, it’s the same. I really like history, it’s the same with that for me, and food was the same thing. And now food and photography are the same thing with me, I just want to know everything about everything.
I’ve never gotten bored of it probably because there are so many things to learn. I don’t know 4% of all of the foods that can be cooked in the world. It’s amazing and I find that really exciting, honestly.
On His Blog:
Initially I started taking pictures of the food dishes that I was cooking just to remember them. I was making so many, working through all of these books and I thought, “I want to be able to remember the dishes that I really like,” so I started taking photos. And then this thing called Instagram kind of popped up, so I started an account. I think initially I started an account for my band actually, and then I started a personal one. And I started posting these photos, honestly horrible, horrible photos, on Instagram. You can just scroll through a few years ago and check it out if you need. But really that’s where it started for me.
And then all of a sudden I started to realize, I was like, “Wait a second, these photos, if you catch the light a certain way or if you do this.” I started to have these glimpses of what a pretty good food photo could be, and then I was like, “Oh wait a second, there’s something more to this here, right?” But initially it was all iPhone shots for honestly probably about two years, so just on my phone snapping photos for documentation.
I only had an Instagram account for quite a while, and probably just because my friends drove me crazy saying like, “You need to write your recipes down, you need to start doing this.” I was like, “Okay, I’ll do it.” And honestly it was quite a scary thing for me initially because writing those recipes or writing that blog I found to be a pretty vulnerable thing. And so jumping in I had a really hard time.
On Honing His Photography:
There’s been some mentors in my life. Some of them I know and some of them don’t know me at all, but I just really love their work. I’ve tried to find people along that way that I find really inspiring, both from a styling standpoint and from a photography standpoint. And then meeting people personally and saying, “I love your craft, can we sit down and have a coffee?,” something like that along the way.
The Internet’s an amazing thing where you can really go online and see all of this amazing work and put that into your own perspective and take that and say, “I’m not going to do it like that, but I love how this is lit.” Lighting is the biggest thing in photography. You can’t really recreate that necessarily unless you practice it. I took hundreds, if not thousands, of really bad shots to get some pretty good shots. And there’s still days where I struggle, because I shoot in natural light. So there’s some days where it’s really dark on the East Coast and you’re just like, “Okay, it’s not working today. It’s just not working for me.” But I really think it’s just this journey where you constantly try to get better and you look back.
The other thing that I try to do often is take a look at shots that I did maybe six months ago or something along those lines and go, “Okay, so what was I doing here? What am I doing now? And how did I get from A to B?,” so I can realize what I’ve learned along the way and keep learning that way. But aside from that, it’s just shooting, constantly shooting. My Instagram is only food for sure, but I shoot people all the time. When I’m lucky enough to travel, I probably take 1,000 shots in Philadelphia or New York City or Toronto or wherever that are just for me, but all of that helps you practice on how to capture composition and lighting and everything else. Which can then cross over into how you do food photography and how you do styling.
On His Photography Inspirations:
David Loftus is fantastic; he shoots most, if not all, of Jamie Oliver’s stuff. Daniel Krieger is a great friend of mine. He shoots cookbooks and for the New York Times and everything. So those two guys for sure for me are probably the ones who I gravitate towards their work. But there is Alice Gao, who has a great account on Instagram, who does some food but she does a lot of lifestyle shots, too. I try to follow a lot of those people, as well, who do travel and do everything, and just be able to constantly be inspired. But in terms of food, those two guys for sure are the ones that I initially fell in love with what they do.
On His Work on Food and Wine’s FWx.com:
Food and Wine, they’re wonderful. I’m not on staff, but I’ve been working with them for over a year. Some of their staff reached out to me through Twitter and sent me a message, said that they really enjoyed my stuff and wanted to see what we could do to collaborate. I was just going to do a project for them, or I didn’t even really know. I honestly freaked out because it was a huge deal for me, and still is, to be able to work with them. It’s a magazine that I read long before we had anything to do with them. So then we just had creative meetings along the way, and then eventually decided how could we kind of take this.
And a videography friend of mine, who’s my partner in the videos, we made a video together with no plan, aside from we thought it was a really great idea. And then that turned into the series. And there’s more of them coming along the way.
I don’t know why I started doing the stacking things, but I did. I don’t want to sound weird, but it did happen organically. I really just enjoyed it. And with that Twitter reach-out, we just decided that that made the most sense. It seemed like I was stacking things and we could go from there. I still do that a little bit, but the column’s branched out a little bit beyond that where I will do other things now, but definitely I guess its main focus is like let’s pick the biggest, boldest, craziest comfort food possible, whatever that is. It could be stacked in a huge burger, it could be ice cream sandwiches, it could polenta fries with some dipping sauce, whatever. But it just has to be over the top.
On Which Creative Outlet He Enjoys the Most:
I definitely enjoy Instagram the most, for sure. Because, as far as the social media world, it’s my first love. It’s the thing I gravitate towards. It’s the thing that I personally go on when I am looking at other people’s social media accounts and what they’re doing. But I really do enjoy Snapchat and I started doing Snapchat with my friends because living in Nashville for a while it was just a really easy way to connect back and forth with them. And then some people were asking me some questions about, this was before I did any videos at all, they were saying, “How do we cook X, Y and Z?” So I was thinking, “Well, how can I do this, and do this cost-effectively and quickly and just get this out there?”
So one day I posted on an Instagram picture, I said, “Follow me on Snapchat, I’m going to show how to make a steak this afternoon, like a restaurant-style steak.” And I had, I don’t know how many hundreds or thousands of people that added me on Snapchat, it was crazy. So then I thought, “Well, I better start using this now.”
I really enjoy it, to be perfectly honest. It’s something where I’m still trying to figure out where I fit in to that world and how best to use that medium for me. But I really like it and I love being able to connect with people. I feel like it’s a different way to connect with people. And I’m able to Snapchat things about my daily life, which I try to do, too. And it’s not necessarily food. Like I was dressed up in a suit and tie yesterday, so I took a selfie of myself. I wouldn’t put that on my Instagram account, but I’ll put that on there. So it’s a cool way, I think, for other people.
And I follow other accounts that do that, too. It’s a way to get a background scene of what that person is actually doing at the time and what’s going on in their daily life, which I think is really cool. I always thought, when I was a kid I was a big Radiohead fan, and I was like, “What are they doing today? What are they eating? Are they at a record store? Are they at the mall?” I just wanted to know that stuff.
I think that’s really cool that we live in a world today where we can get a glimpse into what those people are actually doing. Because they’re probably not making a movie that day or recording a record, they might just be out with their kids. But I think that stuff’s really interesting and it helps you to develop this relationship with the person because you’re like, “Oh, I actually know you, you’re a real human and I appreciate you even more.”
That’s why I like that, as well. So it’s more for me to get that investment in what those people are doing in their lives. And if I can be a part of that, that’s really cool.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
That’s hard. Any of the Jamie Oliver stuff.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
Definitely my friend Daniel Krieger is great, Alice Gao is great, Stephanie from i am a food blog is great. Diala, her name is Diala’s Kitchen, is great. She’s from Toronto and posts a lot of Toronto shots. If you’re Canadian it’s specifically great.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
I collect antiques all the time. So I’ve got an antique citrus…like a juicer, and an ice cream scooper from 1880, 1870, and I absolutely love them.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Dates. I hated them. When I was a kid I hated dates. And my dad would eat date squares growing up and just try to force feed them on me. I was like, “No,” I was not having it at all. And now I think they’re the most delicious thing in the world.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
When I started cooking I started cooking to the Jamie Oliver cookbooks. As a little plug for a guy I don’t know at all obviously, they’re great, they’re fast, they’re easy. Anyone can make all of those recipes, and it’s really great to build your confidence and learn basic, easy steps that then you can take from there. So for me that’s initially how I started doing it.
I love older cookbooks, so kind of collecting ones. I actually just was looking at one the other day that it was a White House cookbook from the early 1900s and all the recipes that the White House made for the President.
I like a lot of those weird and wacky ones for sure, too. But reading through newer ones, as well, at the same time. So it’s kind of hard to pin exactly one. But if I could say ones that helped me out, for sure initially it was definitely the Jamie Oliver books.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I love alt-J; I cook a lot to the alt-J records. Foals is a British band that I really love. Anything kind of atmospheric. Anything with a really great drum beat, a little bit of atmosphere. I actually cook to a lot of hip-hop, too, surprisingly. So I love listening to Jay-Z and Kanye and stuff. I’m not nearly cool enough to actually say that I’m a fan of theirs, but I really actually love that when I’m cooking.
On Keeping Posted with Dennis:
On Instagram for sure, on my website, Twitter, Facebook, it’s all @dennistheprescott. If you want to check out FWx, I’m on there, as well. And then if you just google “Dennis the Prescott,” that will come up with different…because I’m very fortunate enough to work with other companies and that kind of thing, like Reynolds and Frigidaire and stuff, so a lot of different recipes are on there that I’ve been able to do for them. Dependent upon what they are, if you’re looking for chicken wings, if you’re looking for whatever, you’ll find it somewhere out there.