My first food photography gig was in early 2015 in Honolulu, Hawai’i. It was about 3 & a 1/2 years since I had first started my business (originally in Germany) & working as a photographer & it was just several months after I had made the shift to veganism. In those early months of adjusting to a different way of grocery shopping, eating & viewing many lifestyle choices, I had also been putting the call out to do portraits & interviews with fellow vegans on the island. At some point, someone mentioned I had to of course meet & talk with Sylvia Thompson, chef & owner of Greens & Vines Raw Vegan Gourmet Restaurant in Honolulu.
So one day I headed to Greens & Vines for my first dining experience & also with the hope to meet & chat with Chef Sylvia for the first time. My son was just over a year old at the time & dining out was usually a challenge so I timed my visit with his early nap which also happened to be right when they opened & before lunch rush.
I recall the dining experience fondly & well. I ordered coffee & when I requested creamer, momentarily forgot where I was, requesting non dairy. As a vegan restaurant, not only was their coffee creamer of course non dairy but also housemade. I then ordered one of their very popular signature dishes- Living Lasagna. I’d heard rave reviews about this dish & was eager to try it.
I have to mention that if you asked me a year earlier if I was interested in going to a “raw vegan” restaurant, my response would have probably been less than enthusiastic or at best ambivalent. Though I had been on & off vegetarian for years, I didn’t understand veganism or what vegan food meant at all really until I made the shift. Throw raw & vegan together & it would have just seemed too unfamiliar to me.
But going vegan for me meant also being ready to look at food & ingredients in an extraordinarily different way. My first exposure to “raw vegan” food could not have showcased plant based ingredients & preparation in a more magnificent light. There was something magnetic about the dishes at Greens & Vines- they were delicious, filling but light & with a freshness & tang I came to quickly savor & crave.
While I enjoyed the Living Lasagna, Chef Sylvia came out of the kitchen & sat at the table beside me & we got to chatting, talking story through the entirety of lunch. I immediately loved hearing her talk about food, the creation of her dishes, the history of her restaurant, her travels & just life in general. Shortly after that first visit we decided to collaborate & I was soon photographing all the dishes on her menu. Not only were the dishes a treat to photograph as they were visually compelling & rich with color, but of course I enjoyed trying all the food too!! My husband hadn’t gone vegan but he shared in this pleasure as well as I brought home dishes (at the time Greens & Vines also provided a weekly meal service) & we both experienced this introduction to a wide range of raw vegan gourmet dishes together.
For Valentines Day that year we contemplated what to do. Going out to dinner was out of the question with our son so my husband generously offered to get me some take out from Greens & Vines that day to enjoy at home. He didn’t choose anything to-go for himself which disappointed me but I was also just glad for the sweet treat. At home I dug into my take out which included the Living Lasagna & some of Greens & Vines desserts. I noticed him looking at my food & finally decided to offer him a taste. His eyes lit up when he tried the Living Lasagna. I could tell he was impressed & could easily eat more. It was a real dilemma- Valentines Day after all, I should probably share right?!!
Chef Sylvia has since sold Greens & Vines & moved onto new chapters but I thrill in both keeping in touch with her & staying tuned on cookbook endeavors as well as cherishing the memory of my introduction to raw vegan gourmet food, my first food photography gig & also one of my first experiences in the versatility & creativity of plant based cuisine.
The Living Lasagna at Greens & Vines Raw Vegan Gourmet Restaurant
Layers of seasoned Zucchini, Basil Pesto, Sun-Dried Tomato Marinara, Mac Nut “Ricotta” (Big Island Macadamia Nuts, Lemon Juice, Nutritional Yeast & Sea Salt)
My first published piece after going vegan combined 3 things I love- food, travel & the Big Island.
Enjoying Tofu Scramble for breakfast on the balcony with my son (briefly) in my lap at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui, where we stayed as I covered & photographed their vegan menu options.
My interest in covering food & pursuing food photography with a focus on vegan & plant based cuisine quickly intensified. I loved the detail required for food photography, relying on my own traditional use of natural light & also the accompanying research- learning about the use of ingredients, history of dining establishments, development of food ethos on the menu as well as the timeline of introduction & inclusion of vegan dishes at various restaurants & cafes.
The gorgeous & delicious Tofu Scramble at Fairmont Kea Lani.
Produce throughout the hotel’s dishes are sourced locally from Maui & Big Island farms.
My coverage of & food photos at the Fairmont Kea Lani on Maui & Fairmont Orchid on the Big Island here
Cashew based coffee creamer at Hungry Ghost Guesthouse (a vegan bed & breakfast active retreat), where we stayed as I covered vegan eating highlights in New Paltz, NY. View more of my coverage of Hungry Ghost & New Paltz here (’24 hours in New Paltz’ article) & here (Hungry Ghost Guesthouse photos)
My husband behind the lens, photographing our son & I at Leilani Animal Farm Sanctuary on Maui in Spring 2015
It was no coincidence that I became vegan during the first year of my child’s life as I was enjoying the practical as well as bonding aspects of breastfeeding with my child. I consumed dairy throughout my life until that point without ever considering the fact that I was consuming another animal’s mother’s milk.
I stopped drinking animal milk when I was young because I didn’t like the taste. I started drinking soy milk & this was at a time when there were often only one or two brands of soy milk on grocery store shelves! But I continued to eat cheeses, ice cream etc. Quite suddenly, during my shift to veganism, the idea of consuming another species mother’s milk, needlessly & typically with devastating effect on the mother – calf bond, was no longer something I could support. I knew from this moment forward that becoming a mother myself had really changed my perspective of consumption as well. How could I deny another creature exactly that which I cherished in my life so much- a beautiful bond with my child & the ability to feed him at will, protect & care for him.
Above- part of the introduction to my Vegan Parents interview series in Vegan Health & Fitness magazine.
I also worked with Vegan Italy magazine for an interview series with vegan mothers around the globe, published over a year of monthly magazine issues.
The interviews focused on issues such as nutrition during pregnancy & breastfeeding years, advocacy, interacting with pediatricians & schools & of course things like family favorite meals!
One of the most memorable pieces I created was a several page article for Vegan Italy magazine (first page of the article above) featuring a number of New York City based vegan mothers who I interviewed & photographed with their children in Central Park.
Learning about plant based & vegan ‘analogs’ to traditional dairy dishes has been an eye opening experience to ingredient use. Above is the incredible ‘Chevre-esque cheese’ (cashew based) at Divine Treasures in Connecticut. I loved being a patron of this all vegan chocolatier & cheese shop & also had a photo gig with owner Diane to photograph a number of her chocolates. I would sometimes bring home a couple of the Chevre-esque samplers & my husband & I would rather quickly demolish them while relaxing in the evening!
Delicious Chocolate at Divine Treasures
I loved exploring, photographing & covering vegan spots in NYC when we lived on the East Coast- always with my son in company!
Above- sandwich photography at Terri NYC
Jivamuktea Cafe (adjacent to Jivamukti Yoga NYC) quickly became one of my favorite spots in Manhattan to grab a bite to eat. I loved their atmosphere & menu range (the above pictured Tempeh Salad sandwich was one of my go-to favorites) & also enjoyed later interviewing their head chef & photographing multiple menu items for publication.
View more of my food photography at Jivamuktea here.
Exploring & covering plant based & vegan options in NYC provided a pretty amazing look at the creativity & growing diversity of vegan food- from cafe options to gourmet fare. Above, my coverage of another favorite spot- Peacefood Cafe (more photos here) & below, coverage from my visit to the sublime & unique Hangawi restaurant- all vegan, Korean, gourmet cuisine (more photos here)
Getting some photos at the Sweet Beet in Connecticut for later article including an interview with the chef & owner.
I quickly found out that I needed to not only go to all vegan establishments, but also explore the vegan options at historically non-vegan establishments. Interestingly, some of the most delicious & exciting meals I have had include at restaurants with not a single vegan dish on the menu. Sometimes you find yourself in a restaurant with friends or family & discover a lack (or total absence) of vegan options on the menu. But on some very memorable occasions, due to the professionalism & creativity of the chef & staff in the kitchen, the dishes they develop on the spot when I request vegan has led to some impressive results (note: this of course does not work at all restaurants & really depends on a savvy, professional & quality minded chef & kitchen crew).
Above was one such dish at a restaurant we spontaneously decided to dine in in Mystic, Connecticut. Not a single vegan dish on the menu but the wait staff took in my request for a plant based meal without complaint or raised eyebrow & I left it completely open for the chef to create what they wanted to. The result was this fantastic Crispy Tofu & Thai Green Curry with Black Radish, Celery, Rainbow Carrot, Red Onion, Lime, Sesame & Cilantro.
Below is an off menu creation I enjoyed at the Fairmont Hotel in Washington D.C. where my family & I stayed on one visit & whose vegan menu options I covered (see more photos here).
The dish photographed below at the hotel’s Juniper Restaurant (Asparagus Broccolini, Tempura Carrots, Green Beans fried with Shallots & Quinoa) was not on the menu but was a spontaneous creation by the chef that afternoon when I asked him to surprise me. Another example of talent in the kitchen having the adaptability & knowledge to prepare creative, nutritious plant based creations upon request.
Above- my Tofu Caprese with slices of tomato, firm tofu, olive oil, crema balsamico & herb salt
This entire transition in my life has also deepened my love of cooking & food photography right at home (some images above & below).
View more including some recipes here
One of my simplest & greatest pleasures is heading to a local Farmer’s Market & coming home with a bounty of local, fresh produce, researching ingredients & planning out meals for the week that will showcase the rich flavors of vegetables & also allow me to explore new dimensions of plant based cooking.
Above: The diversity of seeds in our pantry has grown in the past few months to include many different types which I use for cooking, baking or simply sprinkling on meals. Hemp, Sesame, Chia, Pumpkin, Sunflower & more!
As time has passed, my interest in whole foods plant-based nutrition has grown, definitely as an extension of my interest in veganism & as a natural development to an increased curiosity about nutrition, health & food. Late last year I began the Plant-Based Nutrition Certificate program offered by the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies which provides an in depth & sound introduction to the relationship of health, disease & nutrition & brings focus to the benefits of a Whole Foods Plant Based diet for optimal health. At this post here I share a bit more about the program & how it has impacted both my view of advocacy as well as my personal consumption patterns & lifestyle.