Sandy Noto Spends a Day with Top Chef Winner Kristen Kish for McCormick Spices

Oct 7, 2019
Photographer Spotlight

A lot of the shoots we write about feature photographers under the gun, needing to produce quality work in a short period of time. No time to stop and smell the roses, as it were.

Sometimes, though, our members actually get an opportunity to spend an entire day with their subjects. For example, Sandy Noto kicked it with Kristen Kish — winner of the tenth season of Top Chef — during the summer as part of a project for McCormick Spices.

McCormick has this Flavor Forecast project that highlights different trending flavor profiles for the year. I got connected with Kristen and this project via the agency APCO.

Sandy, whose spice drawer is “overflowing” and features plenty of McCormick products in it, had to do some legwork prior to the shoot with Kristen.

I knew she was a chef but hadn't watched the season of Top Chef that she was on, so I wasn't that familiar. The weekend before this project, I binged-watched the whole season.

Even though Kristen is based in Austin and New York, she came to Chicago — Sandy’s stomping grounds — for the shoot. The pair visited a plethora of places in the Windy City, including Pretty Cool, Baobing, and Althea, to “check out these spots and try specific dishes and drinks that were particularly refreshing.”

Danke Lindsay

For this shoot we went to four restaurants for Kristen to try various dishes that were refreshing. The schedule for the day was set, but I had a lot of creative leeway at each location.

Yo check this out it's like definitely a drink

I was to get photos of the food, beverages, and Kristen, but aside from that we were free to capture everything. I had done shoots at all the restaurants for other clients already, so I was familiar with everyone involved, which was so nice. I definitely got to eat a lot on the day this was shot.

The images were predominantly used for the Flavor Forecast Instagram page as well as Kristen’s own account. Sandy’s familiarity with the places highlighted (she did the opening photography for the ice cream spot Pretty Cool) allowed her to focus on shooting Kristen and learn about the Korean-born, Midwestern-raised foodsmith's experience on Top Chef.

She's prolly thinking HAHA I can eat all of these and since my metabolism is crazy fast it won't matter

Kristen and I wanted the portraits to feel natural and fun, and I think these were particularly successful in that regard.

u got somethin on ur lip dude

Since I had just watched the entire season of Top Chef from the season she was on, I had a ton of questions. When we had a lull, she talked a bit about the experience.

Quad-fisting ice cream like it's my job

Apparently, there's a period of filming and then a six-month break, and then you do the finale, so for a time she had no idea how things would turn out. Also, the judges only interact with the contestants during the competition when cameras are around. She guessed that was to limit any favoritism. 

Kristen herself has Chicago connections. The second female winner in Top Chef history attended the Windy City branch of Le Cordon Bleu and earned a degree in culinary arts. Even with years of experience in one of the most high-stress work environments out there, Kristen is a laid-back soul. Sandy made sure to highlight Kristen’s keep-it-loose nature and how it helped set the tone for what became a lovely day in the heart of Chicago.  

Kristen is really great to work with and photograph. She's funny and easy-going, and she adds her perspective and ideas, which made it a fun and collaborative experience. 

The face of a person mid-sugar rush

Plus, most of the time, I feel like I have just a few minutes to take someone's portrait before having to move on. It was such a luxury to have an entire day.

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