We’ve interviewed Mariana Peláez, a Food Storyteller through Photography, who established herself in NYC after owning restaurants in her natal Mexico. Mariana went through the tough times of the 2017 Earthquake that destroyed many lives and businesses, while she was a restaurateur. She tells us a bit about her experiences, those tough times, her professional work now, and some tips for those starting to take their food pictures…
A&B: You came from owning restaurants in Mexico to a very hectic NYC’ food scene, what could you share with us from that “jump”? How did it feel to you?
Getting into NYC has been a real boost for my career, I have understood the good, the bad, and the ugly from both Mexico and NYC. In Mexico, customers can be demanding cause they’re used to long menus with so many options. They expect to be treated in a certain “righteous” way, and food is simply affordable. They love restaurants that show consistency with their brand values, but once you get into their hearts it’s easy to have them as faithful customers for a long time.
On the other hand, I’ve seen New Yorkers don’t look for a big brand, or a big promise, or even affordable prices when they come to a food venue. They crave authenticity, real stories, they want to learn more about ingredients and processes, the story behind the food. Considering myself a Food Storyteller, that´s gold!
A&B: What did you learn from your time as restaurants-owner, that went under stress and eventually disappear? What was your biggest personal take/as a professional?
Owning restaurants in Mexico turned me into a certain kind of person to succeed as a restaurant owner. I needed to be practical but kind, cold minded but humanitarian, and empathetic. There, you needed to take part in the “party culture” but also show discipline, flexibility going together with organizational skills. One becomes passionate but grounded.
My biggest lesson in a phrase could go like: Not everybody is born to be a restaurateur, and Food not always “sells” as many might think…
The worst moment for me as a restaurateur came with the 2017 earthquake. Finding myself in front of my staff (20 people) with months ahead of total uncertainty and having all bills to pay. This was the reason to close one of my restaurants for good.
I try to stick with what I love the most. Do my work out of love and passion, professionally I try to become the right hand for my clients.
A&B: When you decided to offer Food Photography for restaurant/Café owners? How you got there? What pushed you?
I was already a photographer while I owned those restaurants for 7 years. I never had the time to tell my own story through pictures, although I knew the importance of storytelling. I took very few pictures during those years, a couple here and there until finally decided to get into that niche as a professional.
It was very hard to do both: running a restaurant and tell the story at the same time using other mediums beyond food.
A&B: What do you miss the most from the Mexican food scene, and what do you love the most about NYC?
I miss to speak my mother language, missing the Mexican ingredients… but on the other hand, I truly love NYC and it’s vibe… I am conscious that these are very hard times for the food industry, but also a great moment to see this city coming back to life. Interesting times for sure, to see what comes, and to tell new stories…
A&B: If you’d give a quick tip to home bakers or even Café owners, in terms of Photography and Art Direction…what would you say?
Get close to a window! Use natural light and show not only your food and beverages but also your vibe, your atmosphere, your processes, keep in mind that your clients need and want to know how does it feel to be at your place.
Also consider this: the best camera is the one you carry with you. But my biggest advice would be to trust professional photographers, especially those who know the industry, those who have been in your shoes. And the last tip: Take shots that help to boost your sales, not only for your aesthetic purposes.
A&B: Do you have a favorite sweet/bake/dessert recipe?
I love bagels! They’re perfect for any occasion and pair with almost anything…but if I had to choose I would go with “Ojaldra – Pan de Muertos”, the “Day of the Deaths Bread”, a special Mexican bread that’s only baked during the day of the deaths’ season. It takes orange blossom and it’s covered with sesame seeds or sugar.
Will publish the REcipe for Ojaldra next Friday July 31, 2020
*You can find Mariana Peláez Photography at/