A celebrity photographer discovers what chefs would eat on their way out.
It's easy to imagine that when chefs get together, they ask each other things like,"So where do you source your Patagonian toothfish?" Melanie Dunea knows better. A Manhattan-based freelance photographer who has shot for everyone from Vanity Fair to Gourmet to Inc., she spent months finding out what chefs really talk to each other about.
As it turns out, there's a parlor game - a conversation-enabling query - that goes something along the lines of, "What would you have for your last meal?"
For her just-released photo book, My Last Supper (Bloomsbury, $40), Dunea went one question further. She got 50 of the world's best-known chefs - Ferrán Adrià, Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsay, and Nancy Silverton among them - to elaborate on not only what they would eat but also on who would prepare the meal, where it would be consumed, and who would be present. For fans of these chefs' work, the answers are enlightening. Iron Chef Mario Batali, whose Babbo Ristorante has single-handedly changed the face of Italian cooking in the United States, would dine before his demise at a "small beachside trattoria on the Amalfi coast." Things would kick off with raw radishes with extra-virgin olive oil and salt, and would finish with sponge cake in rum syrup, with lots of shellfish in between. Oh, and R.E.M. would be there, playing a set with U2. Sounds nice. Too bad he'd get to have it only once.
The book also includes recipes from each of the chefs, as well as impressive, whimsical portraits of the world's kitchen masters. PBS's Lidia Bastianich wore a hat made of garlic and dried pasta. Giorgio Locatelli, an Italian who runs Locanda Locatelli in London, posed with a 600-pound mackerel behind him. "It was quite smelly," Dunea says diplomatically.
Since we knew where to find her (in the interest of full disclosure, Dunea's work has also appeared in American Way), we asked Dunea to tell us more about the making of My Last Supper.
On the difference between photographing chefs and photographing other celebrities (Dunea has shot Harrison Ford, Michael Stipe, Johnny Depp, Jon Bon Jovi, and Kirsten Dunst, among others): "Chefs are a touch less guarded and are willing to do unusual things. Since their job is more behind-the-scenes than most celebrities, they don't have to be too protective of their image."
On what she, uh, gained from being around top chefs: "I gained 10 pounds as I went along. Now whenever someone comes over for dinner, I'll make something from the book. We've had Gordon Ramsay's 'Last Supper,' and we had Alain Ducasse's apple slices for dessert the other night."
On her own "Last Supper": "I would like many different bites to be laid out on a big table. Surrounding the table would be all my favorite people. I could swan around and mingle and taste. There would be some Vacheron cheese and a good English cheddar, many pieces of Thornton's Chocolate Smothered Toffee, Balthazar bread with English butter, a few pieces of sushi, a sparerib or two, some foie gras, some caviar on blini. The list is interminable. It would all be washed down with a beautiful red wine and port."