My Vegetarian Bar Takeover
By Daphne Cheng
Originally published on VICE from the column 'Canon Day Diaries '
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 18mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/60 sec, f/5, ISO 1600, autofocus.
I got my start as a chef in New York hosting underground dinner parties in a Tribeca loft space in 2013. On New Year's Day this year, Ravi DeRossi, a prolific restaurateur, asked me to help him transition most if not all of his 15 restaurants and bars to a fully plant-based model. Of course I accepted the challenge. We started first with his newest, Mother of Pearl, a Polynesian restaurant and cocktail bar. In a month and a half, I developed an entirely new menu and we launched on Valentine's Day to much success (but not without the occasional naysayer and death threat). To our delight, sales have since doubled and the restaurant is busier than ever.
Our next project was Ladybird, which was envisioned as a globally inspired tapas restaurant. The food would showcase the ingredients and flavors of the world, served with a hint of Spanish flair. Five weeks out Ravi decided he wanted to get it done in July. That meant having our heads down working 120+ hours a week to develop the recipes, refit the tiny closet into kitchen that can handle the style of food we would be serving, and hire and train staff in just over a month. Making people happy through the food that I cook makes all the hard work worth it.
After a month of long nights and busy weekends, we finally celebrated our grand opening on July 22! Leading up to opening day, I was able to document our preparations with the Canon EOS 80D DSLR which enabled me to give my friends and peers a sneak peak of my new recipes and dishes. So far customers have been raving about the food and the space!
Using the autofocus feature I was able to capture every detail of our beet salad here at Ladybird - from it's blood orange jelly, lemon ricotta, dukkah, and guajillo chili oil.
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 35mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/60 sec, f/5, ISO 1600, autofocus.
Drying sage so we can light it on fire for our seared peach Caprese dish.
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 18mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/40 sec, f/3.5, ISO 500, autofocus.
Ladybird is a fantastical place - a place with elegant whimsy. Our gazpacho trio (watermelon, honeydew, and sweet corn) say "drink me".
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 42mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/40 sec, f/4.5, ISO 6400, autofocus.
The life of a chef may seem glamorous these days with the rise of celebrity chefs, but working in the kitchen remains as it always was, physically taxing, dangerous, and exhausting. I've stopped counting my burns, bruises, and scars. So why do I do it? Food is the love of my life.
Cooking is my meditation. If I remember to take the time to find the beauty in simple things like patterns in piles of produce, rows upon rows of churros, gorgeous designs in a cross section of red cabbage, the vibrant colors of nature. There is beauty in the mundane, the repetition, the quotidien. Using the internal time-lapse function I was able to document what was a long and tedious process, and made it seem like a breeze.
Naked churros waiting for their cinnamon sugar coats.
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 18mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/30 sec, f/3.5, ISO 125, autofocus.
Garnishing a churros dessert with pretty little flowers from the farmer's market.
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 18mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/30 sec, f/4.5, ISO 125, autofocus.
One of the main things I do love about New York is it's incredible dining scene. You could eat out every day and experience something new and amazing every time, and never exhaust all the options. I dine out as much as I can to be able to experience new flavors, ingredients and am inspired by the many styles of top chefs. Photography also plays a big role in what I'm inspired by - as it allows me to capture the cuisines that I love the most or even shows me cuisines I must try next!
I'm so lucky to be where I am, surrounded by so many talented and inspiring people. It wasn't long ago that I was hosting underground parties to showcase my own cooking. Now, to think that a young chef could stumble into one of the restaurants I've helped create and be inspired to do something for his or herself fills me with immense joy. That's what's so great about the food scene in New York. There's inspiration everywhere, all you have to do is walk down the block, find a restaurant and ask the waiter to bring you something good.
We're lucky the restaurant is right by Washington Square Park. I took a mini escape and found some bees working as hard as we do.
Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM. Shot at 135mm. Canon EOS 80D: 1/640 sec, f/5.6, ISO 250, autofocus.