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Prep Talk With 52 Chefs

Let’s just start this interview off with what everyone really wants to know… describe your perfect hot dog.

Bro, hot dogs are the BEST.

My perfect hot dog would be the Super Perro from Los Perros here in Miami, but the ones they used to make back in 2011 that cost like $4 bucks. Now the quality has gone down, it doesn't hit the same, and it's now at a stupid $9ish bucks.

When I'm on these streets, I get mayo, ketchup and mustard over my basic hot dog, NO relish because pickles are the worst thing ever - fight me. Cheese over the dog only when there's a bathroom close by, and chili over everything when you're actually consuming it on the John.

We're not done. I'm Brazilian (or Brasilian), and in Brazil street vendors sell X-Hot Dogs and X-Burgers (pronounced "sheez-hot dog” and “sheez-burger”, “sheez” is how you say the letter X), and when it's a X-whatever, they put MASHED POTATOES ON WHATEVER YOU ORDERED.

Fortunately, I have been able to sit down with you personally and hear about your come up. Will you tell us about your first photography jobs and how the technical aspects shaped what you’re doing today with food and beverage photography?

I had been a nightclub photographer since I was 14 at all-age parties in Miami (shout out to Gawdrock.com and Mad House), so I had the camera and flash thing down pat.  On New Years, I made out with a well-known food photographer in New York, and I was inspired to become one myself.

My desire was strong but I didn't know where to start. Luckily, one only needs to desire deeply before the opportunities come pouring in. I met someone that was willing to pay me to shoot on behalf of her IG account when she couldn't make it to events, and she eventually changed the name of that account to 52Chefs, had me make the logo and run the account. With time, I decided to buy the account outright from her on Black Friday 2016, and started featuring one chef per week in 2017.

The single most important factor out of all of this is that I had a day job, and could only shoot at night, and shooting at night meant I had to shoot with flash, and shooting with flash allows one to shoot 24 hours per day, anywhere, instead of only shooting from 4 to 7pm out of a north-facing window.

It was a blessing! But I had another problem... I was shooting with a bare flash and needed soft light from a soft box that fit in a kitchen, and the boxes I knew of were bulky and embarrassing. One day, I just skimming through food photography books on Amazon.com, and I came across an e-book cover of someone shooting on a very long exposure on a tripod, and popping the same flash with soft box in several places, ON THE SAME EXPOSURE, over food.

But that moment triggered me to look for thin soft boxes, and shoot with the camera on a tripod and do the same.  Anyways, my setup has barely changed since that day in December of 2016. If it works, it works!

A lot of my personal photography was shaped by watching what you and Jordan Hughes have shot in the past couple years but what I loved about your photography was it really captured the essence of being at the bar, almost guerilla-style photography. What’s your mentality going into a shoot with a group of bartenders and how do you always manage to keep people smiling in your photos?

I'm a clown on and off shoots, with whoever is in front of me, and people appreciate that. Cameras and lights stress people so you've gotta cut that edge right off if you're going to capture anything meaningful. I treat them like babies, squeezing a half empty water bottle if that's what it takes for them to loosen up. Having their co-workers make fun of them also helps a lot, specially when I walk into shoots where I know no-one.

That answers the second part of the question, but we're Tarantino'ing this one.

I took up a barback job in August 2018 at Driftway, at the Generator Miami to learn more about the bar culture behind the stick. I'd never worked behind the bar before that experience, and it was important to me to live through that hardship and glory. And so that experience definitely helped in my photography, but really, you gotta love people to get their essence. You don't have to love the person you're shooting, but you do have to be fascinated with how differently and alike all bartenders and chefs are. You have to love people. Bartenders in particular have their very own shaking style, bottle flair, pour cuts, whether they hold one jigger or two, if they taste from the spoon they stirred with or from a straw, everything.

Everything is different with each bartender and chef, yet they're making the same classics like Negronis and mid-rare steaks. It's nuts.

And that's when you get the ultra fine tweaks like expressing the orange through a flame for a charred effect, or a chef will add grated nutmeg to a pasta dish when they don't have vodka. And that's what the photographer has to naturally allure from the subject. You've gotta get so comfortable with the person that they're tell you their secrets so that you in turn can capture what makes them special to themselves. And that's beautiful, in a world with severely low self-images, people flexing for themselves.

52-chefs-night

I think a lot of people struggle with photography in a bar setting since most bars are dark and dingy, what tips can you offer for amateur photographers and those with a little more photography experience? 

Get over your stupid fear of using lights in your photography, or get out of the way, because there's a metric butt-ton of problems to overcome after you start using flash, and if you can't get over the initial hump of using flash, you're dead in the water... to say it nicely.

We are in the middle of our #gasupthehomies challenge right now on Instagram, who can you say has really helped shape your style behind the lens?

Now, there is one person I was following on Instagram that really, fundamentally inspired me to no end and showed me that it was okay and even beneficial to be my partly-ratchet self, and that's Freako Rico (@freakorico on IG). He's an artist out of Atlanta that did a lot of Action Bronson's mixtape covers. The guy is unapologetically hilarious and profane and raw with his captions. I remember reading his early work on Gucci Mane and saying to myself "You can say that?".

FRKO really unlocked me. There's really nothing I can say that he hasn't bested in a post 5 years ago. I've been in to Atlanta three times this year, but I haven't met him yet. We have almost nothing in common. I can't wait. 

What camera body are you shooting with? You can only take two lenses to a shoot, what are you grabbing?

My beast, the D700, preferably bought used on Craigslist and I'm only taking one lens out. It's the Nikkor 60mm f2.8 Micro. About 99% of everything food and drinks that I've ever shot and posted was on this setup.

Describe your dream photo session.

A production team once asked me to shoot Francis Mallman at Los Fuego in Miami; however they clearly had a budget and were offering me ZERO pay. Daddy doesn't play that game, BUT it's my one regret. I'd love to travel to Patagonia with him and spend a month in the sticks, shooting, eating and fending off frostbite.

A close second would be shooting Matty Matheson and Action Bronson making a something with lobster. Anything with lobster.

Which of your cocktail photoshoots has been the most memorable in 2019?

My most memorable shoot this year was in Valencia, Spain at a bar called Christopher Lee, owned by this mad scientist-like gentleman named Jorta. I was in Athens shooting The Clumsies with Tara from Thirsty back in May, and on my way back from there, I decided to visit my BOY Javier Polo, a documentary filmmaker I met when I worked at the Miami International Film Festival years and years ago, on my way back to the states. I really, really hate airplanes so I was doing everything I could before coming back.

Mysteriously, I was at Jumbo's Clown Room in LA the month before when I ran into Javier as he was finishing up a documentary on Flamingos. Our minds were blown in that we hadn't spoken in at least three years, and we happen to run into each other in La, me living in Miami and him in Valencia. Isn't that absurd?!

Anyways, we're out in Valencia being wild and he takes me to Christopher Lee, telling me his friend from film school's dad owns it. We walk in, and there is he was, the actual most interesting man in the world, Vidal Ruedas. The venue is coated in film nostalgia, including Christopher Lee, the best actor to play Dracula (apparently, what do I know about Dracula). It's a scene from Fear and Loathing in there, and the cocktails are ultra tropical with 3 or 4 fruit garnishes each. Vidal's invented his own way of making drinks too, pre-batching half Vodka and half cranberry juice in the same bottle, and bottles and bottles of half spirit and half fruit juice.

No jigger in sight, no pour spouts, and he even made some of them while looking directly at me while he poured. God, what a relief from uptight bars in general. I related most with this shoot because I myself am loose and jolly and dismissive of worries.

52-chefs-sprinkle

What’s next in an oversaturated world of bartenders and photographers?

Video. I hate video editing, but I have to overcome it. It's the future. As for bartenders, ya'll have to get over your insecurities because with videos come interviews. That's my two-cents.

What motivates you every morning?

The fact that I'm going to die gives me a sense of urgency, and currently the fact that I haven't gotten anyone pregnant and was able to move to New York is a blessing. These two and the fact that I'm going to be wealthy one day soon if I keep reading and writing and thinking every morning keeps me on my toes.

When you convince yourself of things, you naturally act that way.

You’ve shown me a few solid motivational speeches, which one can always dig you out of a hole? (Link us up) 

Getting Rich is Easy by Jim Rohn. It's ten minutes long, full of perspective.

Mostly, it’ll embarrass you in front of yourself, the highest form of shame. It will also remind you that because you did whatever you did to be in the situation you're in, you're in full command of bringing yourself to a better place. Self-blame is enlightening. If one blames outside circumstances, then one waits until they change. And things don't change. People do.

One night in Miami Beach, where are we going for Dinner, Drinks and after-hours Dive?

Dinner - Macchialina 

Drinks - Broken Shaker, Swizzle, Scape Goat, Taquiza

Dive - Purdy, Sweet Liberty, Mac's Club Duece or The Corner, both of which close at 8am

Miami is not complete without a place to eat after EVERYTHING, so there's Mary's Coin Laundry, Yambo, La Sandwicherie

52 Chefs Bar Hive Playlist:

  1. Gangsta Pat - Mo Murder
  2. Big Pun - Twins (Deep Cover 98)
  3. Chet Baker - I Fall In Love Too Easily
  4. Big L - Devil's Son
  5. The Eagles - Hotel California
  6. Dirt Nasty - Pussy Too Hot
  7. Kendrick Lamar - DNA
  8. 2Pac - God Bless the Dead
  9. 2Pac - Temptations
  10. Notorious B.I.G. - Party and Bullshit 
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