Le Fooding's Poster Designers Talk About Cooks, Illustrated
While the focus of this weekend's Le Fooding d'Amour is, obviously, le food, the event's posters are arguably as attention-grabbing as the prospect of the trans-continental gastro-orgy itself. The posters's designers were charged with the task of giving bold visual expression to the food and attitude of each participating restaurant; the resulting variety of designs demonstrate the singularity of both the restaurants and the designers themselves. Fork in the Road spoke with four of Le Fooding's designers about how one translates someone like David Chang or Julie Farias into a two-dimensional design, smashed peaches, severed pig's heads and all.
Jeanne Verdoux, the General Greene
Verdoux had never been to the General Greene or met its chef, Julie Farias, when she was asked to design her poster, so she went to the restaurant to learn more about Farias and her food. "The way I work usually is to research my subjects," Verdoux says. "My ideas are always based on some information."
Over the course of her 30-minute tour of the restaurant, Verdoux asked Farias numerous questions about her background and her inspiration for becoming a chef. "What came out quite strong," Verdoux says, was "Tex-Mex and a lot of food going on in her family life, particularly an emphasis on meat." Farias showed her her favorite tools, which included various spoons and knives, and also allowed her to peek in at a head of beef cooking in the restaurant's oven. "I'm not sure if this applies to every other chef," Verdoux says, "but this person has a very strong personality that came through in a very brief exchange." So her design reflected that, with Farias standing impassively with her arms crossed, cleaver in hand, over a severed and bloody pig's head. "The blood is actually pink because she uses pink salt in her food," Verdoux notes.
Farias was "very surprised" when she saw the poster, Verdoux recalls. "I think it may have gone a bit further than she wanted it to go. Everybody agreed that it was a great image, but I think she was a bit surprised at how I perceived her. I think [other viewers] find some violence in it, but for me it's to be taken with humor." While Verdoux created a second, less visceral image (it features a tomato rather than a pig's head), the original reflects "the point of the assignment: everybody's competing with each other and you want to stand out. You would not go past this woman without noticing her...it's a punch in the face."
Paul Sahre, Momofuku
Putting David Chang into poster form was a fairly straightforward process for Sahre, who met with Chang and ate at Momofuku a number of times -- "sometimes we do these things and these are the perks," he says with a dry laugh. Sahre was struck by how grounded Chang seemed to be: "For someone as well-known as he is or becoming as well-known, he's very unassuming. He seems a little conflicted about putting himself out there." Chang didn't want his face on the poster. "He was like, no, man," recalls Sahre. The chef also pointed to the John McEnroe posters on Momofuku's walls. "He said, 'that's the kind of stuff I like; I have no connection to John McEnroe,'" says Sahre. "That's kind of what we were following."
With that in mind, and with the liberty to do pretty much whatever they wanted to do, Sahre and photographer Michael Schmelling threw a peach -- the Momofuku namesake and logo -- against an East Village wall and immortalized the result. Sahre e-mailed the finished design to Chang. "He wrote back, 'Sick,'" says Sahre. "I think he liked it."
Tim Tomkinson, Minetta Tavern
Tomkinson didn't get a chance to speak with Minetta chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr or Pat LaFreida before setting to work on his design. He was able to go to the restaurant to try the food -- "the Black Label burger in particular." In addition to loving its burger, he appreciated Minetta's decor. "I particularly love that they kept the murals and the framed photos and portraits intact from its previous incarnation, and didn't opt for an aesthetic overhaul," he says over e-mail. He chose to incorporate the wall-of-frames look into his design, which proved a fitting way to include portraits of Hanson, Nasr, and LaFrieda. The restaurant's old-fashioned ambiance and "the pastiche feel of the decor" also influenced the poster's background collage of aging paper. And while the Black Label burger was an undeniable inspiration, Tomkinson "didn't want to be too obvious about it. They seem to be pretty well-known for that burger by now, so I thought a subtle Beef Chart could be a more interesting way to hint that that's what they'd be serving (or at least that it would be beef-related)."
Nicholas Blechman, Knickerbocker Design, Diner
"My process was to meet the chef and have a good dinner at Diner and do lots of drawings and drink lots of beer," says Blechman. He talked with Diner's chef, Sean Rembold, about his cooking philosophy, and was struck by the way the restaurant juxtaposed "really sophisticated food and grubby surroundings." He was also inspired by the fact that Rembold gets his basil from Greenpoint's Rooftop Farms, where herbs sprout amid unlikely urban surroundings. Initially, Blechman's sketches focused on the imagery that's typically associated with diner culture, but he ultimately found more inspiration at sidewalk level. Of the finished product, Rembold, Blechman says, "didn't say he liked it and didn't say he didn't like it." But the chef's friends, unsurprisingly, had more pronounced opinions: "they said they thought it was the best of all of them."
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