Ilva Beretta, Blogger & photographer

Ilva Beretta at work

Ilva Beretta and I have been internet friends for some time.  She, together with another internet friend, well known blogger and photographer Meeta K Wolff and two ladies I actually have met and worked with Jeanne Horak Druiff [a Saffer in London] and Jamie Schler [an American in Nantes, France] run fabulous bloggers workshops in various European countries under the name PlatetoPage.

Les PlatetoPage Girls Ilva, Jeanne, Meeta & Jamie

I asked her to do a piece for my website, so here it is.

I am a professional food photographer who changed profession completely because of food blogging. I live in Tuscany with an Italian husband and three children in a tiny village. Living here in the countryside have taught me to follow the seasons when I cook and also to use local, genuine ingredients when possible – it is never difficult to find inspiration in a country where food is a big part of the national identity!

My food is obviously heavily influenced by Italian cooking but my Swedish origins obviously shines through, especially in the things I bake, I love Swedish cakes and desserts! The success of Lucullian Delights has made it possible for me to now work as a food photographer and recipe developer, something I never would have imagined before I set off on this adventure five years ago!

Some facts (easier this way):

– The name of my blog, LucullianDelights.com, is the ‘invention’ of my husband Marco.

– I was born in Uppsala but spent my childhood in Kiruna in the extreme north of Sweden. Then we moved south again.

– Food has always had a central position in my life, I always enjoyed baking and cooking and I have had the fortune to meet inspiring women who have taught me most of what I know. Sure, a lot of trial and error but the input has come from women who cooked a lot and well!

– I used to be a vegetarian but after 9 years my body suddenly started to crave meat so I started eating it again. I am a firm believer of my body knowing more about my needs than I do. But I still prefer to eat vegetables.

– I have a PhD in English Renaissance Garden poetry and I used to teach at the University of Siena but I have changed career completely.

– I had my first solo photo exhibition September 2008. I am working on my second.

If I come up with something else, I’ll update the list. Right now I’m stuck.

And because I often get mail asking me which camera I use. I have a Canon 5D MarkII

Ilva Beretta’s work

There are periods when I am surrounded by food from the time I get up to when it is time to go sleep. As a professional food photographer, my days are divided between thinking of food from a purely visual point of view, cooking food for styling and shooting; only when that is done, can I start thinking about food to put on the table for me and my family to eat. I regard the food that I photograph in a completely different way from how I look at food that I cook to be eaten; the food I encounter through my job is merchandise to be sold and therefore has to be presented as attractively as possible. Although we never use fake food, I very rarely eat the food that I take photos of, it is as if I disconnect in order to be able to make a good job of it, I need to take a step back and just look at the food as an object from an aesthetic point of view, concentrating on using only my visual sense.

When I work in my own studio on editorial photos, I do all the cooking, food & prop styling and shooting on my own, I am allowed to work on my own at my own speed and I depend only on myself and the directions the editor of the magazine has given me. When I am doing a commercial job I am part of a team that consists of art directors and other people from the advertising agency, one or more food stylists preparing the plates and a stylist selecting the props. I truly cherish having the opportunity to work in both ways and I learn a lot from both situations, be it the more hectic commercial shoots or the quieter editorial ones.

Studio in Milan

I often work in Milan where most of the more important commercial photography jobs are produced, and where the biggest advertising agencies are concentrated. When I have an assignment, I work in a photo studio called Cantiere Bovisa.  I love working in this studio, it is not only a great space to shoot in but the people working there are special:  Enrico the owner, Fumiko, his Japanese wife and all of the studio assistants are easy-going and always ready to second our wishes. Fumiko does most of the catering for the photo services which means that not only do we eat Italian but Japanese as well and we are never bored with the menus. She is a great cook and there is nothing better than hearing “Lunch is served” at the end of a busy morning of photographing! Eating in Milan is obviously different from eating where I live in the Tuscan province; not only is the regional cuisine different but there are so many nifty little catering services and restaurants, each with their own specialities. The cuisines from the whole world are represented throughout the city but unfortunately I rarely have the time or energy to eat out in the evenings. And to tell the truth, after a busy and long day of photographing food, food is the last thing that is on my mind!

The embarrassment of riches in Tuscany

Each month I shoot recipes for two Italian monthly food magazines in my own studio and it is a completely different way of working than how I work when in Milan; a slower pace is forced upon me as I take on the roles of both food stylist and photographer. I live in a small provincial town in the north of Tuscany, a beautiful, quiet place with few tourists and although this is a positive aspect on the whole, it also means that it is not uncommon to encounter problems with finding the right ingredients when I shop for the recipes I work on.  Magazine work requires shooting photos 2 to 3 months ahead of publication time and as Italian cuisine is very seasonal as well as local, finding both out-of-season and regional ingredients can pose enormous problems, especially in my provincial corner of Italy. For one of the magazines, I photograph a monthly feature with regional recipes from all over Italy and despite the problems with finding some of the ingredients, I really enjoy it as I learn to cook a lot of new regional dishes from places I never been to. One thing I have learnt working with food magazines is to more clearly define my role as a photographer and not to take on the role of recipe tester. When I first began shooting for magazines, I tended to give feedback on and proofread each recipe which held me back from giving my attention entirely to the photos; it was too time consuming and bothersome and in the end it wasn’t what I was hired to do. I now aim to photograph the outcome of a recipe as well as I can and only report back if there is a serious problem with the execution of the dish.

Pasta With Roasted Winter Squash, Pioppini Mushrooms and Baby Spinach

Everyone associates pasta with Italy and rightly so, it is the one common denominator between the different regional cuisines; you can go anywhere in Italy and still be sure to find pasta to eat. Another great aspect of it is that you can adapt pasta to every season and this recipe is a perfect illustration of pasta’s versatility. The winter squash and the mushrooms that you find in autumn and winter make this easy dish incomparably satisfying when it gets dark early and comfort is a necessity.

Pasta with roasted winter squash, pioppini mushrooms and baby spinach

serves 4

400-500g pasta
1 small winter squash
400 g pioppini mushrooms or some other interesting mushroom you like
a bunch of fresh baby spinach
rosemary
black pepper
salt
juice of half to one lime
extra-virgin olive oil

Peel and cut the winter squash into small cubes. Clean the mushrooms and put these together with the diced squash in an oven-proof form. Sprinkle rosemary over.

Mix lime juice, you decide how much, salt, pepper and olive oil and then drizzle the mixture over squash and mushrooms, stir well and put in a preheated 200°C oven for 15-20 minutes or as long as it takes for the squash to soften and turn golden. Stir now and then.

While the vegetables roast in the oven, cook the pasta. I suggest that you put the vegetables in the oven just before the water is about to boil. When you take out the form from of the oven, add the spinach leaves immediately and stir so they start wilting from the heat.  Drain the pasta and add it to the form, mix well and serve with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Oven-baked pears with dried cranberries and maple syrup
served with cardamom zabaione

One of the things I have carried with me from my native Sweden is my love of cardamom. Cardamom is an often-used ingredient in traditional Swedish baking and desserts but is rarely used in Italy, if ever. I bring new supply of this spice back to Tuscany every summer when we make our yearly visit to Uppsala. Cardamom pairs beautifully with fruit, especially pears and apples, the aroma of the spice enhancing the sweetness of the fruit and infusing with a gentle peppery warmth.

Oven-baked pears with dried cranberries and maple syrup served with cardamom zabaione

Serves 4

4 pears
dried cranberries
maple syrup
salted butter

Zabaione:
4 egg yolks
100 g sugar
150 ml white wine
2 largish pinches of ground cardamom

Cut the pears in halves, if you want you can peel them but it is not necessary; take out the core with a spoon or a small scoop.

Grease an oven-proof form. Melt a little butter and brush the cut surfaces of the pears with it and then put the pears in the form. Put 3-4 dried cranberries into each hole and fill with maple syrup.

Bake in a preheated 175°C oven for 15-20 minutes or until the pears are cooked and tender.

While the pears are in the oven, prepare the zabaione: Mix egg yolks, cardamom and sugar and whisk  until the mixture is palest yellow tending towards white, then beat in the white wine and continue to beat in a bain marie/double boiler over simmering water. Do not let the cream boil; as soon as it thickens, remove it from the heat and let it cool down a bit.

Serve the pears with the zabaione, either warm or cold.

Ilva’s website is – www.ilvaberetta.com

You might also like to visit

Jeanne Horak Druiff – www.cooksister.com

Meeta K Woolf – www.whatsforlunchhoney.net

Jamie Schler-Dagneaux – lifesafeast.blogspot.com

PlatetoPage – www.platetopage.com

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November 18th, 2012|Categories: Michael's Writings|Tags: |