A Thought for Food
Brian is a Boston-based food photographer, and on his blog, he shares a lot of vegetarian options, and considers his diet 98% pescetarian. A Thought for Food was started in 2009 and has been featured in Food and Wine, Food52 and Yahoo Food, just to name a few.
I am so happy to have Brian Samuels of A Thought for Food, here on the show today.
(*All images below are Brian’s.)
I think to have a successful food blog, you have to be pretty dedicated. It’s very time consuming, so I think maybe not crazy is the right word exactly, but definitely devotion, passion, maybe a little obsessive. Maybe that’s a better term. That’s really why I think a lot of people who end up writing food blogs have that type of personality.
I would say the most challenging would be the writing of it. I don’t find myself to be a natural writer. I don’t easily sit down and the words flow out. There’s a lot of editing involved. And sometimes I’ll write and write and write, and then delete a huge amount of it. Then, sometimes, I’ll just delete the whole thing and start over again. It takes a while.
There are other times, though, where I sit down and it does flow out a little bit more and I feel like I do have something to say and then it’s a little easier to say it. But for me, the most fun and definitely challenging element, but still the most fun and easy in a way, would be photography. It’s something that I’ve always connected to, just being able to capture my own experiences through the lens.
Back in 2009, when I started the blog, it was, I guess, the start of when food blogs became really big. There were definitely the big ones, like, 101 Cookbooks, Smitten Kitchen, and a few other big ones. I read frequently and I was always creating the recipes and commenting on those posts.
I felt like I also had a story to tell about food, and I was throwing a lot of dinner parties with my husband, or my now husband. I wanted to share those recipes and I wasn’t necessarily expecting people to read the blog. I was just sending it out to family members and friends who asked for the recipes. But I just really felt like I had a passion for food, and it was a way for me to get that story out there.
On His Curiosity for Food and Cooking:
I think ever since I was little, I was always passionate about cooking and showed an interest in it. I remember growing up and my mom making dinner every night. She was very much into making home cooked meals. We had take-out once in a while, but for the most part, she really wanted to make things from scratch and educated us about food.
She worked with a lot of cookbooks herself, in terms of making dinners for us, making meals for us. I just always took interest. As soon as I smelled something, I was always by her side asking questions and wanting to know how she was doing things. And eventually, she had me help her out.
On Getting Into Food Photography:
I went to film school at Emerson College in Boston. And there, I focused on documentary film-making, and I really fell in love with being able to tell stories, especially through film, but about the real world, about real people and not necessarily scripted.
I ended up working for a documentary production company in Boston for three years. And that’s actually when I started the blog, was during that time.
I did see it as a way to combine my love for documenting, not necessarily through photography but just documenting my love for food, recipe development, playing around with recipes, and educating people about food, all that. So it wasn’t necessarily about the photography specifically at the time, but definitely about documenting it.
I was shooting originally, if you go back to old posts, not that I necessarily promote that, I was using a Canon PowerShot, just point and shoot. Taking pictures of the final dishes and maybe a few processed shots along the way. But I wasn’t using great equipment; I was still learning about techniques about how to photograph food. My passion for food photography developed because of that experimentation.
On Being (98%) Pescetarian:
A pescetarian is someone who eats vegetarian and fish. Red meat is out, poultry is out. Basically any land animals are out.
When I was 15, just for health reasons, I decided that I really wanted to cut out red meat from my diet. And I was still eating chicken and turkey, but I really wanted to cut out red meat from my diet. From there, I took out chicken as well. But I could never give up fish or dairy, because I’m just in love with those two things. And I think it allows me to be a little bit more adventurous in my eating, in terms of dining out and experiencing things.
For me, that’s such a huge part of my life, is not passing up the opportunity to try something. So the 98% is really where I will usually have a bite of something if we’re dining out somewhere and it’s really special.
My husband eats meat, so he’ll most likely get a meat dish when we’re dining out. I’ll sometimes have a bite of that. And I still think meat is delicious. He loves making smoked brisket and I’ll have a bite when he’s done, just to try it out. Because I usually help him out a little bit too. So I feel like if I’m doing it, I want to know what it tastes like.
For me, it’s really about where you’re sourcing your ingredients. I make sure that what we’re cooking is locally sourced if at all possible. And I’m knowing the farmers that we’re sourcing it from and all of that. We don’t do it often. I can justify it.
On Cooking Fish:
I think salmon is hard to mess up. It’s fatty.
It’s funny because a lot of people stay away from salmon because they don’t like fishy fish. I never get that because I love fish, and I love it whether or not it has a fishy taste to it. I’m okay with that.
I think they’re getting that from the oils and the fats from the fish probably, and especially with salmon. But in terms of fish that’s hard to mess up, I think that salmon is really easy to work with. It also holds up when you add a lot of flavor to it, so you could do soy sauce, you could do a marinate with it and you’ll still have a really nice fish flavor with it.
I think that some other fish are more delicate obviously. White fish, you don’t want to mess around with that too much, so you have to be careful with that. I always think salmon is really easy to work with. I think sword fish as well. It holds up nicely. They’re both very meaty fish too.
I would not say I’m a pro at cooking fish at this point. I think I have learnt that overcooked fish is not merely as delicious as seared fish. And, so with salmon, I’m trying to make sure that the skin is crispy if it still has a skin on it. That it is cooked all the way through but not overdone. I think working with high heat is really key with fish because you just want that point where it just cooks all the way through and you’re not cooking any longer.
Starting off with high heat is really key. It really depends on the fish and what you’re doing with it and how you’re serving it. I also like to play around with other types of sea foods like scallops and shrimps and we’ll rotate that in our diet as well.
On Choosing Fish:
When I go to buy fish in the store I don’t necessarily care if it’s previously frozen or not, I really look at where it’s being sourced from. With anything I want to buy as local as possible. And coming from New England or, the Pacific Northwest, you can usually find local seafood in these areas but I know that people in the middle of the country struggle with that.
I’m really looking for stuff that, I can have a dialogue with the person at the fish counter and say, when did this come in? Where did it come from? Tell me about it? I think when it came in is usually a good sign of freshness, and yes, that’s pretty much my thought process behind it.
I think the frozen element really makes a difference because as soon as it hits the cold it’s obviously going to preserve it longer. It depends on the fish. Yes the previously frozen thing doesn’t bother me as much as the farmed versus wild caught. If it’s frozen and it tastes good then, great. I don’t think it matters either way necessarily. I don’t think it affects the flavor of it too much.
Here in New England I’ve had the luxury of being able to get fish that was caught that day and having it and there’s a deeper flavor in it. You’re tasting the ocean. It hasn’t lost that flavor. I think a fish that has probably been frozen, it sort of loses that depth.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
I think most people already know these sites but some of my favorites are Sprouted Kitchen and Happy Yolks is a favorite of mine as well, and Not Without Salt is one of my all times favorites. I think Ashley was on your show actually at one point.
Those are definitely some of my top three.
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, or Facebook that make you happy?
All those people definitely. Is it sad that West Elm makes me really happy when I see those pictures?
I’m a sucker for, we have a new house, I follow them just to see what they are posting about. So that always makes me happy. I would definitely say Ottolenghi’s Instagram feed always, I’m always unbored with that and Local Milk is a favorite as well.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
This is a tough one. It’s funny, the weird one that popped into my head is an egg slicer. I don’t know why and I don’t think I have a connection to it really but it just popped into my head.
I don’t think it’s one of those things that people have but I actually use it fairly frequently. Whenever I want to do a big salad for one of my big weeknight meals. If I want a hearty salad. I always put hard boiled egg on it and it’s just an egg slicer. So I’m saying the egg slicer.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Mushrooms. I think would be the one. I was such an adventurous eater growing up but mushrooms, I was disgusted by and now I’m obsessed with them.
I think for the most part we always had it with chicken, in a chicken dish. Or it was on top of pizza. My sister loved it and I think I just hated it because she loved it so much. But I’m obsessed with it now.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
For the most part I look at cookbooks for the pictures to give me inspiration. Recently, the ones would be definitely Plenty. All the Ottolenghi books, I’m always going back to them. Ashley’s book, Not Without Salt’s, Date Night In I’ve been going to too.
I think the same goes for magazines as well. I subscribe to a lot food magazines and usually I go through for the pictures. I love the new Sift magazine by King Arthur Flour. Great pictures and it just gets you thinking, because it’s so baking focused, it gets you thinking outside the box.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
On Keeping Posted with Brian:
Definitely through Instagram in terms of more day to day. It’s beyond just the food world. It’s also, I put up pictures of my dog, and where I am, and what’s going on in life. On Twitter as well. Those would be the top places. But I’m also on Facebook and all those wonderful sites.