The Artful Desperado showcases stunning, mouth-watering food photos
In 2013, Martha Stewart, the doyenne of domesticity, drew the ire of the Twittersphere with what The Daily Mail dubbed “unappetizing” (read “disgusting”) food photos. So unsavoury were Stewart’s culinary snaps that she made gourmet dishes from the likes of Michelin-starred restaurants Jean-Georges and Le Bernardin look like a petulant child perched on his high chair had viciously hacked at a pea and potato mash purée.
While food porn of the grotesque variety is celebrated in some corners of the web, one person whose feed has nary one bad photo is Gabriel Cabrera. The Vancouverite is the blogger behind The Artful Desperado, the popular online lifestyle platform showcasing stunning, mouth-watering food images that put the domestic goddess to shame, especially given that Cabrera is entirely self-taught in the art of food photography.
“I thought ‘Hey, I have to take pictures for my blog, so I better learn,’” says Cabrera. “I bought a camera and it was trial and error for many, many days. I didn’t have any days off for a year until I learned.”
Back when The Artful Desperado was mostly inspiring photographs of art and interiors, Cabrera posted a recipe to the blog. Illustrated with photos taken with the help of a friend, it drew an overwhelmingly positive response, and saw the Mexico native’s career come full circle.
Cabrera studied culinary arts at Vancouver Community College after moving to Vancouver to learn English, and subsequently worked in the kitchens of several restaurants, including Bistro Bistro and the erstwhile Pacific-French fusion eatery Suvai. But as a chef in the making, he didn’t take to the gruelling schedule and so began catering for Whole Foods in a last-ditch effort to carve a place for himself within the industry. “I thought, ‘Let’s change the environment, let’s see if I still like this,” says Cabrera. “No, I [still] hate it. I was denying that I wasn’t comfortable in the kitchen as a cook.”
Cabrera transitioned to social media marketing, and launched The Artful Desperado as a creative outlet.
The success of his first recipe post, however, saw him reconnect with his culinary roots, shifting his focus to healthful and decadent dishes, and developing more recipes, inspired by his travels and Vancouver’s eclectic Pacific Northwest fusion cuisine. Five years in, and not only has The Artful Desperado amassed a large following, it also helped launch Cabrera’s career in food styling and photography. The shutterbug has since collaborated with venerated lifestyle brands, including West Elm and frozen foods company Luvo Inc, with which he created a first-class menu for Delta Airlines.
“I love food and I love the whole creativity part of it, but [back] then, I was just in the wrong area of it,” says Cabrera.
Cooking, styling and photographing food, Cabrera has finally found his niche. So much so that earlier this year, he and fellow photographer Joann Pai launched “The Atelier Workshop,” a traveling food styling and photography workshop series, the first three of which were held in Paris, Puglia (Italy) and Vancouver. There, Cabrera imparts his knowledge on what makes for a good food photo.
“It doesn’t matter what camera you have,” says Cabrera. “We care that you develop an eye for styling and that you start seeing things a different way.”
These days, a quick look at Stewart’s social media reveals her photos have drastically improved. And though Cabrera welcomes the infinite culinary options made possible by amateur photographers in the Instagram age, for aspiring food photographers tempted to forgo basic photography principles for their next foodstagram, he cautions: “If you don’t have anything nice to share, don’t share anything at all.”