Food photographer Francesco Tonelli took a tour of the Jean-Georges restaurants in New York City, shooting on location for a comprehensive overhaul of their online image library. He was asked to capture the “unique essence” of Mercer Kitchen, Jo-Jo, Perry St., Nougatine and Jean-Georges. “Each restaurant is quite different from each other,” Tonelli says. “From extremely modern glass and stainless steel, to rustic brick and iron, to romantic stucco and velvet.” Jean-Georges Group President Lois Freedman also asked him to photograph portraits of the chefs, action shots of the working staff, and of course, the food, all with a “clean and sleek” approach that emphasized the quality and attention to detail of each restaurant concept.
© Francesco Tonelli
Freedman contacted Tonelli because she was familiar with Tonelli’s work in other restaurants, including his extensive work for Eleven Madison Park. Tonelli has collaborated on several projects for the esteemed New York City restaurant, including two cookbooks featuring engaging, vibrant imagery all shot by Tonelli himself. Tonelli has become widely recognized as a top food photographer who truly understands food as a medium, from his background as a master chef, professor of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America, and food stylist for La Cucina Italiana in Milan.
© Francesco Tonelli
At each location, Tonelli brought with him his Canon 1Ds Mk3 and Canon 1Dx and set up Profoto D1 Air lights. For food dishes, he modified the light using a softbox and reflectors, for the interior shots he utilized honeycomb grids, and for the portraits, he used a beauty dish.
Freedman and Jean-Georges Vongerichten were on set with Tonelli, Jean-Georges in charge of all the food preparation and Freedman assisting in pointing out all critical areas and activities in each restaurant. Both lent their help as guides, but were trusting of his vision. Tonelli says the shoot was both a pleasure to work on and insightful. “It was amazing for me to see the details of the operations of so many successful restaurants,” he explains. Freedman and Jean-Georges were also accommodating, offering lunch to Tonelli and his crew at each location so they had the chance to experience the food. “I love what I am doing and feel extremely fortunate to have clients who find my vision appealing and entrust me to capture the essence of what their companies have to offer,” he comments.
Jean-Georges was thrilled to have a photographer on the project who had a deep understanding of his clients and his craft. "Francesco's meticulous detail-oriented approach to photography captures the beauty of each dish turning each shot into a masterpiece,” he says. “Through his extensive culinary background, Franceso's knowledge and respect for food enhances his vision and skill for the art. It was an honor to work with someone who appreciates food as much as I do."
For more of Francesco Tonelli’s work, visit his Web site.