The Selby is On Your Plate: Q&A With Todd Selby

When photographer Todd Selby came out with his first book of photos and text, The Selby Is in Your Place, I coveted it. Imagine my glee when I heard he was doing his second tome all about food. In Edible Selby, coming out in October, the photographer has captured over 40 different aspects of the culinary world, from the magic of red velvet cake with Brooklyn’s Cake Man Raven, to innovative cooking with Grant Achatz at Next, to the perfect paella at Sa Foradada in Mallorca. I chatted with the Brooklyn-based Selby about his book, his inspiration, and where he likes to eat.

What made you decide to focus on food for your second book? 
It came out of thinking what my second book would be. Was it going to be sequel to my first, or did I want to try something different. My passion has always been about food, more than interiors or homes. I am food obsessive and it’s good when people focus on what they are passionate about. I thought I could apply what I did with the home book and put it in the world of food, plus it would be fun challenge.
Had you done food photography before?
I had done none. It was a daunting thing and a big challenge, but also a good learning experience. I wanted to do more of a food documentary. Plus, I did all the illustrations and writing. 
How did you pick your subjects?
It was a very organic. Most were friends of friends and asking them about who was doing cool things. 
What started the project? 
It started with Ignacio Mattos when he was at Il Buco. He introduced me to some different people, like from Chez Panisse and people in South America and Europe. He was the big part of my getting the people I shot.  
Did you try to have a wide variety of culinary talents?
I definitely tried to have a mixture of popular people you would know, but show another side of them. I also picked people you won’t think or know about. Like with Noma, I shot the Nordic food lab, which gives you get a deeper look into that place. The paella master also isn’t in the mainstream.
So you actually got to go to all those places, like Noma, to shoot, and, I hope eat? 
It was more incredible and unusual than I thought it would be. It was a totally different experience from what going to a restaurant is. All of these people are challenging what a top restaurant is and how we go to a restaurant. Whether it’s Grant Achatz or René Redzepi, it’s very challenging.
What place surprised you the most?
You know Fergus [Henderson] from St. John’s, I thought it would be all about meat and nose-to-tail eating because that’s what he is famous for. His chapter isn’t about that so much; it’s about lunch. We had a giant lunch together and he was talking to me about how the most important meal of the day is lunch. You could eat for four hours, and do who knows what. 
Do you have a favorite chapter? 
I feel like the book is compendium of all my favorites. These are the places I want to share with people and I am really excited about.
What did you take away from doing this project? 
It’s funny, I am a beginner-level cook, and I would say I am a bad cook. I love cooking, but I don’t have the natural skill. I have been in so many kitchens and have the best chefs in the world showing and teaching me, but it’s lost on me. It’s kind of embarrassing. Each chef gave recipes, so I am hoping the readers will be better at it than I am. So hopefully they can learn something. On that note, take pictures and tweet them at me. It will be fun to see how people interact with the book that I spent two years working on.
What’s your favorite places to eat around home?
Four & Twenty Blackbirds, for the salty caramel apple and the buttermilk chess pie. Mast Brothers Chocolate, they have a shop now and they sell cookies, bon bons, and their chocolates. I love Saltie, Mission Chinese, and Robataya in the East Village. But, because I travel so much and eat out so much, when I come home I love to eat at home. 
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