Phaidon published “Mexico: The Cookbook by Margarita Carrillo,” a bible of Mexican cuisine with over 700 pages and 600 recipes. It is an enthusiastic and uncomplicated approach to regional plates and indigenous ingredients and spices. The book is a wealth of tangible dishes for a novice in the kitchen from 40 salsa recipes and extensive egg dishes to street food staples.
Along with Carillo’s simple instructions, the book is a beautiful display of culture through its graphic layout and photographs. The pictures of the plates of food held within the pages of the book uphold a sincere veneration for authenticity and tradition.
It is food as art through elegant food portraits taken by photographer, Fiamma Piacentini. As she is one of our featured creative’s in our Racial Profiling series, we asked her some questions about having the honor to develop the book with Margarita and Phaidon. The book, for us, represents a wonderful new access point into Mexican culture.
M&TC: The cookbook is a beautiful collection of recipes and culture, how did you decide to document the recipes themselves?
FP: A lot of Mexican cookbooks have a heavy approach when photographing food, that is to say, the photographs tend to be overly styled to make them look more "Mexican." I wanted to approach the recipes in a clear way, making sure that the food was the main event, not the lighting or the props.
How long does such a project take?
It was about a month of just photographing recipes (10 a day for three weeks plus post production) and then two weeks of traveling around Mexico for the atmospheric shots.
The photos you took are nuanced and detailed from regional ceramics to localized specialties, tell us about that process of sourcing and research.
I was lucky enough to know from growing up in Mexico that the best ceramics in Mexico come from two specific places, Dolores Hidalgo and Puebla, so I went to both places to look for plates. It was a bit of a hunt because the plates couldn't be too busy, and some Mexican talavera tends to be very ornate, so I had to find the simplest designs so that they wouldn't detract from the food. The chef Margarita Carrillo also had her own collection of plates, one that she has been accumulating over years and years of traveling around Mexico and cooking in different regions. We put our collections together and had a great selection to work with. Margarita was also a big help in knowing how things should be served according to their region.
Did you learn something new from working with Margarita Carrillo or from shooting for the book?
Margarita has such an immense knowledge of Mexican cooking traditions, and it all lives in her head, she can talk about it so confidently and with such ease and passion. I think the most valuable thing I learned from her was pride in our own food and culture. She is so passionate about Mexico and what it has to offer to the world, it was very inspiring to work with someone like that. On a smaller note, I learned how to make some very delicious chile lime potatoes.
What can we learn about Mexican cuisine from your photographs?
The most important thing to be taken away from the book, through the recipes and photographs, is that Mexican food doesn't have to fall into an unhealthy or unsophisticated category, and that its not just tacos and enchiladas. There is so much to choose from and it encompasses so many different areas of cuisine, but also carries such a rich history and culture behind it. It is full of cultures that have passed through Mexico throughout centuries. I hope that from my photographs you can find a new approach to Mexican cooking, more refined and less complicated, simple but delicious.