Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Food Lust 2012 - A Benefit for Cascade Harvest Coalition

To say I love food does not give my true feelings for it justice. For as long as I can remember, eating has not only been a necessity but a sensorial, memory-inducing experience from which I am drawn into fits of extreme nostalgia. It could be due to my early exposure to baguette and fine cheeses as a child when I went to visit my maternal grandmother and her husband, Mario, who was Italian and taught me how to eat like a true European. That is, to experience food for pleasure. It most definitely stems from my visit to Paris when I was 16 (courtesy of the same maternal grandmother), where, on Mondays, the boulangerie was closed so the week's baking of bread could be done. I remember early morning strolls down the rue, the smell of baking baguette filling the street. On Tuesday, we'd go in and order a sandwich au jambon et gruyère on warm baguette. The butter, unsalted, offset the saltiness of the jambon and the moisture played off of the density and pungence of the cheese. It is as vivid today as it was when I was 16.

So you see, I have a heavy respect for the food experience. Being behind the camera to translate my sentiments is something I am becoming increasingly passionate about. The question is: how does my food end up on my table? It's an important part of the process that often gets overlooked. But, Cascade Harvest Coalition is an organization invested in bringing more attention to it. And educating consumers and farmers alike on how to best execute it so that everyone benefits.

When I was presented with the opportunity to shoot CHC's annual benefit event, Food Lust, I, of course, jumped at the chance. Where else would I have the opportunity to get my foot in the door with professionals in the business of food who come from such diverse backgrounds? Or to see and document the farm-to-table concept in action?

The backdrop for the evening's events was Willie Green's Organic Farm, nestled in a quiet corner of rural Monroe, Washington. When I arrived, I had just enough time to tour the grounds to discover a gorgeous, well-tended produce operation that would put even the best home gardener to shame.

Vegetable starts flourish in one of the many huge greenhouses at Willie Green's Organic Farm.

Chefs and volunteers were hard at work prepping food, desserts for the famous Dessert Dash (an event where tables bid and the highest bidder gets to choose dessert for their table first), and items for the silent auction (which included items contributed by the likes of Whole Foods, Pike Brewing Co., Piccola Cellars, and some of the areas leading farmers' markets, to name just a few.)

LEFT: Slicing artisan loaves for bread plates. RIGHT: Chopping nuts for salads, chive blossoms waiting in the wings.

As guests began filtering in, the dessert table became of particular focus. The skill of the contributors shined through their confections and drew the attention of many a camera lens, including my own. The smell of marzipan, salted caramel, cinnamon, fruits, vanilla buttercream, and of course, chocolate hovered over the table like a cloud of delectably sweet smoke.

The dessert table captivated guests and volunteers alike. Even "Oyster Bill" Whitbeck.

With everything and everyone in their places, the silent auction was underway. However, it was anything but silent. It was an upbeat social hour that included music from local mandolinist, Matt Sircely and his band, New Forge, who offered up an eclectic fusion of bluegrass, funk, rock grooves and vocal harmonies that complimented the environment perfectly. Wine on tap from Piccola Cellars (yes, on tap!), soda from Dry Soda Co. and an oyster bar provided by Taylor Shellfish Farms, plus tons of incredible appetizers from some of the area's leading chefs.

Helping hands were essential to making Food Lust 2012 a success.

Eventually, the party moved to the large event greenhouse where the light was perfect for all intents and purposes. It was like a giant light box with perfectly diffused, white light. The tables were set, salads served and as guests filtered into the green house, Sheryl Wiser and Mary Embleton of Cascade Harvest Coalition took a pause to take in what they had worked so hard to create. In the wake of the shootings at Cafe Racer only days before that had devastated this tightly-knit community, emotions were running high and moments were frequently taken to give hugs, offer condolences and just take in the view of our beautiful surroundings.

Sheryl and Mary of Cascade Harvest Coalition take a brief pause during the hustle and bustle.

Outside the green house, chefs toiled over grills and bunsen burners, making use of every inch of the folding tables each were given to prep their portion of the feast. I had the extreme privilege of watching them prep and cook farm fresh ingredients in the open air. To say the least, I was awestruck. I even got a little black pepper in my eye getting down close to the grill being manned by Copperleaf Restaurant's culinary director, Roy Breiman, and executive chef, Mark Bodinet, who were busy working over their incredible entrée, grilled baby lamb, glazed sunchokes, with farro, porcini and thyme flowers. 

The progression of a gourmet, farm-to-table entrée. This is the kind of evolutionary food photography I live for.

Because any type of event photography keeps me on my feet and moving about 98% of the time, I was only able to taste one glorious entrée, prepared by Chef Seth Caswell of Queen Anne noshery, emmer&rye. It was my first experience with pork belly. And my new favorite grain, farro, which has a chewy hull on the outside but when you bite into it, delightful pop to release the soft innards of the grain. Almost like a wheat berry. I was skeptical about the whole pork belly thing but I'm a sucker for anything bacon so I was quickly converted while watching it snap, crackle and pop as it fried on the grittle. It was expertly plated just for me, two neat slices over farro tossed with seasonal green vegetables with a sort of au jus over all of it. At the risk of sounding totally cliché, the fat literally melted in my mouth. I am all about textures when I eat and this dish was a perfect balance of firmness, chewiness, crunch, and soft, tender protein.


Dinner progressed and the line for the buffet stayed long as the light began to change from early evening to dusk. Eventually, everyone was seated again and enjoying their meals, socializing and taking in the scenery. A buzz began again as dinner wound down and as plates were cleared and the night continued with the live auction and the Dessert Dash, two of the liveliest portions of an event I've ever shot. It was so fun trying to keep up with the auctioneer and who was bidding what where, I was exhausted when it was over. The Dessert Dash was hilarious and the following shot literally takes the cake. Can you imagine a barrage of foodies racing to grab gourmet treats?

Post-cake collision. The cake escaped with minimal damage. (Note: Chocolate horn on cake in background.) 

The light faded to dusk and so I made a quiet exit as the party continued in the greenhouse. Walking out to my car, I stopped to enjoy the distance. Laughter and merrymaking carried across the field. I felt good about this event. I knew I was in the right place at the right time. I have a bigger respect for farming and the value of taking advantage of your local food system. There were so many people there who are passionate about this cause and making our communities better by providing resources to everyone. Next time you go grocery shopping or even go to your local farmers' market, consider where your food is coming from. Consider the countless hours it takes to cultivate, harvest and ultimately distribute your food so that you can buy it, bring it home and feed your family.

The greenhouse at dusk.

For more information on Cascade Harvest Coalition and the resources they provide, visit their website at

For venue information, visit

I am in search of other avenues for gaining exposure for my work, mainly publication. If you are a volunteer or contributor from Food Lust and are interested in obtaining photos from the event or if you are interested in my work, please email me. I'd love to hear from you!

I need to give special thanks to Chef Kristen Schumacher, my beautiful, talented friend, who allowed me to use her involvement in this event to capture these images. Without her string-pulling, you wouldn't be reading this post. For more information about her, go here.


  1. Great write up, and gorgeous photography (as always)!

  2. On behalf of Cascade Harvest Coalition, we can't thank you enough for your generosity and your gorgeous talent. What an amazing post - you captured the spirit of all things.