“Taking great photos of Vietnamese dishes is a great way to attract foreigners to Vietnam to enjoy the nation’s traditional dishes, so food styling and photography are effective ways to promote tourism in the country,” said chef Nguyen Thanh Nam, a 28-year-old Hanoian with a dream of popularizing Vietnamese cuisine on the world stage.
After graduating from Hanoi Tourism College with a degree in food processing management, Nam embarked on a career as a chef at some of the most famous restaurants in both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
After a few years, however, Nam felt that working as a chef did not give him the creative outlet he needed so he quit his job in 2017 to pursue a passion for food styling and photography.
At the time, there were only two food stylists working in Vietnam, so Nam was forced to learn the skill himself.
“I am not good at English, so I searched for YouTube videos related to food using some simple keywords like ‘UK and US food stylist,'" he added.
“Luckily, my chef’s training made it easy for me to recognize the food processing and cutting techniques [in the videos]."
Eventually, Nam realized he could not only learn from YouTube videos and decided to travel the country exploring local cultures and specialties.
“Photographing dishes is easy, but taking great photographs of food that spread the spirit of the local culture and cuisine isn’t easy at all," Nam said.
"Therefore, food stylists and photographers must have in-depth knowledge about the cultures and cuisines of different provinces and cities.”
|Nguyen Thanh Nam spends much of his time traveling around Vietnam to explore the cultures and cuisines in every corner of the country. Photo: Supplied
Nam’s cultural knowledge from traveling experience has turned him into a self-proclaimed 'food magician' and have allowed him to make a name for himself in the food photography community.
“I have photographed the traditional dishes of many nations but, in my eyes, Vietnamese dishes are the best," he said.
"They inspire me a lot. Among my various photo albums of dishes, I am really proud of the photos I took at three restaurants: Viet Plus Restaurant in Russia, Golden Delights in California, and TOKIN Vietnamese in Germany.
“What I want to spread through my photos is not only food, but also Vietnam’s culinary culture."
|Food stylists should have broad knowledge of dishes to ensure they are attractive and look tasty. Photo: Nguyen Thanh Nam
Though the Vietnamese dishes Nam photographed for the three restaurants abroad were fairly typical of Vietnamese cuisine, making them appear lively and attractive to foreigners was truly an art.
“To elevate Vietnamese dishes and bring Vietnamese cuisine to the global market, it is essential to grasp different opportunities. Photos of food must be attractive, eye-catching and tempting,” Nam said.
|Mouthwatering spring rolls photographed by Nguyen Thanh Nam
|Fishcake rice noodles decorated simply but attractively. Photo: Nguyen Thanh Nam
|A stone bowl of beef pho looks very tempting. Photo: Nguyen Thanh Nam
Food stylists play the role of a 'make-up artist' for food. They ensure each photo has a great layout, good coloring, and is clear.
“My job requires meticulousness, ingenuity, and in-depth knowledge of food, as well as cutting and processing techniques," he said.
"Food stylists and photographers should also have a broad understanding of the culture where the dishes they capture originate so that the photos can be produced in the style of each food photographer.”
|Food stylists should have a deep understanding of different dishes and cultures. Photo: Supplied
|A bowl of 'hu tieu mi' (white and golden rice noodles) full of toppings. Photo: Nguyen Thanh Nam