Spaghettini restaurant and lounge has been mixing Italian cooking and contemporary jazz in the greater Los Angeles area for the last 34 years. To celebrate its 35th anniversary, the restaurant commissioned a new cookbook to bring the iconic Spaghettini experience from its home to yours. Spaghettini at Home is an innovative cookbook, which – in addition to Executive Chef Victor Avila’s signature recipes – pairs photos of the establishment’s food, drink, and musical guests. The cookbook also includes a curated series of jazz performances, accessible through QR codes linked to Apple Music and Spotify playlists. To help get the home cooks grooving, Spaghettini reached out to Seal Beach, California-based food/drink and music/performing arts photographer Eric Hameister.
Eric has worked with the Spaghettini brand since 2013. Local to the Seal Beach restaurant, he first connected with the client as a fellow parent at his son’s school.
My son and the son of Spaghettini Marketing Director, Joy Hardwick, met at middle school. Joy is married to Cary Hardwick, the co-owner of the restaurant. When Joy first found out I was a photographer, she sought out my website and called to ask if I shot food. At that point, I had not had many food assignments, mostly commercial product work. But Joy said she would love to work with me and offered an initial introductory project, which included a chef portrait, a couple of restaurant interiors, and a few plated food shots for their website. Shortly after, [in 2017] I shot a 110-page cookbook for them.
Eric’s ability to capture light is utterly brilliant. He is one of the most talented photographers I have worked with. Working on set with Eric is always inspiring and collaborative. His detail-oriented approach to photography turns every shot into a masterpiece.– Joy Hardwick, Spaghettini Marketing Director
To celebrate each component of the Spaghettini brand, the cookbook called for several photography specialties, including music/performing arts and food/drink. Eric shared an insight into his dynamic approach to this multifaceted project.
I treat each and every project similarly, seeking the right lens and angle effect, and creating the feel and the mood of the light. This project fits my photographic style as it had many elements mixed together. Moving from a plated food shot to a cocktail shot to a musician action shot requires a different approach to the camera equipment needed and the lighting. It keeps photography exciting for me, and demands a high level of creativity and improvisation, which I enjoy!
I think whatever I am photographing, there is something innate in me that knows what lensing and angle just “feels” right — I chase this. I don’t know how best to explain this process, perhaps it’s the years of the effects of lens perspective. I think my forte is the effects of the lighting combined with the right angles to draw the focus on the subject. I go the extra mile to ensure the lighting provides and creates a “feel/ mood” to the image.
The common location for both Eric and the client allowed the preplanning for the project to be conducted in person.
I met with the Creative Director Dave Gath to discuss the photo and lighting style. Dave and I have worked together on many other projects for Spaghettini and other clients in years past. We met in person over lunch to discuss all the elements with the clients and stylist on how we would approach the different aspects of the shoot, i.e., jazz portraits, plated food shots, cocktails, and the cover.
The goal of the visual content was twofold: it was intended for use in the Spaghettini at Home cookbook and for the restaurant’s website and social media. Heading into the project, Eric and the creative director had a good sense of which shots were needed, as the images were paired with recipes and Spaghettini’s lineup of jazz musicians.
Dave had a very clear idea on the overall aesthetic of the book. The idea was to have an older school jazz-inspired type of look and feel.
The project took place over the course of a few months, from January to March 2023. The primary location for the photoshoots was the Spaghettini restaurant and performance stage.
We’d shoot a couple days each week, starting early before doors opened, around 8 am. We’d begin with bar/cocktail shots, then move to private rooms to shoot plated food shots, once service started. The jazz portraits were taken during sound check before a night’s show. We were able to spend 30 mins with each artist to get what we wanted. We shot these on the Spaghettini sound stage. We concluded daily by 6-7 pm most days.
We had a certain time per day to get our shots done. We also had to work with the chef’s preparation time too. There really weren’t many constraints. This is dream team-type work! We had ample time on each scenario to “get it right.” I don’t think any corners were cut.
Eric was joined on set by his photo assistant, the art director, the stylist, and the social media director. The musical talent and the Spaghettini staff occasionally joined as well.
It was a wonderful experience. The entire shoot was filled with great music and outstanding food. The staff and crew at Spaghettini are all uber-friendly. They pride themselves on that. When we photographed the musicians, there was a lot of creative energy in the air.
I think I am an approachable person. I try to be helpful and genuinely grateful for them helping us get what we need. I’d like to think that others sense that with me and are more willing in turn to extend their talents to help. I view projects as a “team” effort, in a sort of it-takes-a-village frame of mind.
Capturing the image for the cookbook’s cover required planning, with special consideration for the varied subjects and categories.
The cover shot was a big deal. It had so many moving pieces. The producer, marketing director, and art director handled most of that. I had visited the location prior to the day of shooting. In terms of scheduling, to get all of our talent together required us to shoot midday. I had to shoot a few needed background plates afterwards to help the retoucher produce the more evening “dinner” feel that the shot required.
The biggest challenge Eric encountered on set was pairing the appropriate camera system to the various, and sometimes moving, components of the project.
I originally envisioned shooting the jazz portraits on stage with my medium format system, but that type of low light, high-speed movements from the artist performing, needed my faster focusing full frame camera system. This an adjustment that was easily made on the fly as I own and operate multiple camera systems — both Hasselblad medium format, and Canon full frame.
Each time I shoot there are new technological advancements in equipment. This creates an exciting challenge! Creatively, I always learn. I am always inspired by each photograph and learn new ways of approaching the next shot. “If I am not growing, then I’m going.”
Eric left us with a takeaway from the Spaghettini at Home project with his repeat client.
When I look at the finished cookbook, I can still hear the preparation of the food and the clinking of glasses. I can still taste and smell the food. I got so lost behind the lens hearing the jazz musicians as I photographed them. Just about all my senses were evoked on this project, and that doesn’t always happen on all my shoots.
…And the parting slice of a delicious industry surprise:
Not to make the reader jealous, but we got to sample the various dishes! The food shots were the real thing prepared by the chef — no artificial artifacts were added to make it look good. So we got to try a lot of it… and dang did it taste amazing! I did put on a few pounds though on this shoot. Ha ha.
See more of Eric’s work on his website.
Read more articles about Music/Performing Arts photography.