I first learned of Canal House Cooking while browsing through a bookstore in Soho two years ago. In the cooking and food writing section I noticed a series of five thin books, each a numbered volume categorized by season, sandwiched between the much thicker, bulky cookbooks on the shelf. Size wasn’t the only thing that set these cookbooks apart; authors Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton cook, write, style, photograph and design all volumes out of their Lambertville, NJ studio kitchen.  Today, those self-published cookbooks are a staple in my kitchen (and often in my purse while on holiday vacations and weekend trips to Cape Cod), where they continue to inspire my cooking.

Last week—much to my excitement—Christopher and Melissa packed their car full with fresh green herbs and vegetables, local strawberries, and roasting chickens from a nearby farm and headed up to New York City to teach The Art of Food Photography here at ICE. Recreational students showed up, cameras in hand, anxious to pick up a few tips from legendary food photographer, Christopher, and former food editor, Melissa. After weeks of rain and overcast gloom here in the city, the sun was bright in a blue sky from our kitchen windows. With the camera flashes turned off (Christopher is known for photographing entirely in natural light), Melissa began by preparing the two chickens for shooting. She spatchcocked one bird by cutting out the backbone, and trussed the second while stuffing the cavity with fragrant thyme. These were not the chickens you see in magazine photographs with crisp, golden skin, but Christopher emphasized that there is still beauty in food that is not yet cooked. I focused my lens over the drumsticks of the trussed bird, paying close attention to the simplicity in the knot of butcher’s twine that crossed the legs, and the contrast in color between the pale skin and bright green herbs.  After rubbing both birds with butter and seasoning with salt (and taking a few more shots!), the spatchcocked chicken cooked directly on an oven rack over a pan of new potatoes, and the trussed bird went simply into a roasting pan.

Once the chickens finished cooking, we picked up our cameras again to shoot now a completely different image; appetizing, buttery roasted chicken. We continued this process—preparing and cooking the food, while shooting every step along the way, with a lemon-cured salmon crudo appetizer, and sides of buttered asparagus, English peas, and fava beans. The meal finished off with an escarole salad and classic vinaigrette, and what food photography session would not be complete with colorful berries? Bright red New Jersey strawberries stole the show served next to cream biscuits with soft whipped cream.

I have admired Christopher and Melissa’s straightforward approach to seasonal food since I first picked up a copy of Canal House Cooking. Spending a day in the kitchen with them, seeing how they make food beautiful, was a real treat. Want to see more of Christopher and Melissa’s food and photography? Check out Canal House Cooking!

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