The exact moment Melanie shot Michael White on the Hudson River in New York.
We figured Thanksgiving — the American high holiday of food — would be the ideal day to feature photographer and Fathom contributor Melanie Dunea's just-released My Last Supper: The Next Course. The lush photography book, like her original My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals, features portraits, interviews, and recipes with the world's best chefs based on the question, "what would you eat for your last meal on Earth?"
Talk about I Travel for the Food: Melanie spent sixteen months hop-scotching the globe to capture the chefs. Since superstar chefs have peripatetic lives, she didn't always catch them in the obvious places. She shot Italian chef Massimiliano Alajmo not at Le Calandre, his three-Michelin-starred restaurant outside Padova, but rather at the Italian Culinary Institute in New York City (the day after Jeralyn and Pavia attended his cooking master class).
For our feature, we asked Melanie to give us a behind-the-scenes look at how she created her lavish and evocative images. We've also included two excerpts from the book, her interviews and portraits of Michael White, chef at Marea, Ai Fiori, and Osteria Morini in New York City, and Martha Ortiz, chef at Dulce Patria in Mexico City.
And because we were curious what her travel schedule looked like, we asked for her travelogue — the chefs, the locations, and the dates. She wins our prize for best passport.
What would be your last meal on Earth? It would probably be completely seafood based and a simple meal, because the hallmark of Italian cooking is simplicity. So something as simple as grilled langostinos from the Mediterranean, or aragosta, which is spiny lobster that is split and grilled with just a bit of oil and lemon. But I also love eggs, so there might be a quick frittata with glass eels or some sort of seafood inside, but not overcooked eggs. And pasta. I am an absolute pasta, so pasta would definitely be there — something like handmade garganelli. There would be great ciabatta that was lightly toasted. These are all the little things that I love to eat when I have the chance. If it was dessert, it would be something as simple as hazelnut gelato. I'm not a chocolate guy.
What would be the setting for the meal? It would definitely be on the Mediterranean on a boat. I'd probably start in Cannes, Cap Ferrat, and I'd sail my way down to Campagna and Salerno. We would constantly be eating the whole way on the boat, stopping in Monte Carlo, and then go to Portofino, Cinque Terre, maybe Reggio. You can throw my ashes in the Mediterranean Sea after that...it's my last meal.
What would you drink with your meal? I'm a Champagne guy. I would choose one from a small house of Champagne, like Gosset Grand Rosé. It reminds me of being a young person, going and eating on the weekends and drinking rosé out of a magnum. Best Champagne I've ever had.
What would be your last meal on Earth? For my last supper, I would love to taste and feel "day and night," the flavor of the sun and the flavour of the moon — that is, a fresh handmade tortillawith the magnanimous black mole. Tortillas remind me of the communion with the sun and black molerepresent the depth of the dark skies. That way, the flight through Mexico's history, which I love and am delighted by, would be complete — life and death, joy and sorrow, love and lack of sentiment, but always with the most important ingredient: passion.
What would be the setting for the meal? I would love to sit in a Mexican country chair painted in bright colors, to be reminde of how festive, beautiful, and profound my country is, at a simple wooden table mounted on a barge in Xochimilco, full of flowers. It would be at sunset, with the mystical aroma of my land, and I would observe the movement, the candlelight, the multi-colored skies imbibed with clouds.
What would you drink with your meal? Mexican elixir: Dragones white tequila with the mystical and elegant taste of the maguey's core. Sensuousness to be enjoyed in sips, giving away "winks" to the palate.
Would there be music? I would listen to the Oaxacan song "La Llorona" ("The Weeping Woman") repeatedly, with verses that have been added to it over time, reminding me that in this life, I was loved.
Who would be your dining companions? I would like to be alone with my unfathomable thoughts and a smile, thanking God for its benevolent presence in the world and existence through beautiful and sensitive things. I'd be grateful for the blessing of being able to taste beauty.
Who would prepare the meal? A traditional Mexican cook from a lineage of women who share our cuisine, to which I feel proudly connected. Anonymous heroines whose hands caress the ingredients and blend them with mastery and magic as they touch the stone, heating them by fire, together with the bountiful goodness of the wind and voluptuousness of water, always yielding the taste of the sun.
"My Last Supper" Travelogue: Part 1 Chef — Where — Shoot Location — Date
Cesare Casella — New York, NY — Industria Studios — 5/2/07
Shannon Bennett — Melbourne, Australia — Melbourne, Australia — 9/21/07