For photographer Daniel Sponiar, it was a chance encounter with restaurant royalty a year and a half ago that prompted the genesis of his star-studded photography exhibit debuting next month at the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.
“My next door neighbour at the time had been Tetsuya’s (Wakuda, of Sydney’s famed Tetsuya’s restaurant) landlord in the 80’s and they were still friends,” Sponiar explains. “When I told her I was a photographer she said ‘Oh, you should photograph Tets!'”
Unfortunately, due to work commitments Wakuda never posed for Sponiar, but the seed had been planted.
“I’d seen plenty of photos of chefs but they were all PR shots. I wanted to do something completely different.”
And so Yes Chef! was born; a series of photographs designed to reveal the quirks and personalities of Melbourne’s food rockstars, from famous faces Pete Evans and George Calombaris, to living legends Jacques Reymond and Guy Grossi.
Sydney-based Sponiar took the shots over three trips to Melbourne and met with each chef prior to their session so he could understand who they were as a person.
A particular standout is a photo of a very rugged Jacques Reymond, the recently retired mastermind behind the eponymously named Malvern stalwart, sitting atop a motorbike. Reymond wears a singlet and jeans and flashes a very colourful, very real tattoo – a contrast to the pressed uniform professionalism the French restaurateur is usually known for.
“I didn’t know he was into motorbikes at all!” Sponiar admits. “He has a Ducati and a classic Honda Supersport. When I rocked up at his house he answered the door in a singlet with messed up hair. It was awesome. His look is definitely indicative of someone who has just retired…Way chilled out.”
Other highlights were a playful George Calombaris, who Sponiar describes as “a natural in front of the camera” and Guy Grossi, whose photograph is Sponiar’s favourite.
“Everyone I’ve shown it to who knows Guy says it’s so him. Everything just fell into place.”
Yes Chef! will open on March 6 at the Edmund Pearce Gallery as part of the Melbourne Food and Wine Festival.