Blogger of the Month: Danielle Tsi
Food photographer and writer Danielle Tsi goes beyond the plate when she blogs. A cross-genre storytelling extraordinaire, Tsi writes in a fresh voice with a simple elegance that gives her online space a true feeling of home. As our food grows farther and farther away from our fingertips, Danielle allows us to reconnect. Beyond the Plate insists that our food has a soul and a story to tell.When and why did you decide to focus your professional and personal energy on food?
Coming from a food-obsessed culture, and having a mother and grandmother who are excellent cooks, food is a part of who I am. I’m always thinking about what the next meal is going to be, and I’m also accustomed to having something new on the table everyday – it’s a little like fashion; I believe you shouldn’t have the same dish two days in a row. In May 2009, I decided to start a food blog because I wanted to combine my writing and photography passions, and blogging was the best platform to do this. I chose to focus on food because it’s the perfect subject – it’s universal. You can never make enemies if you start with food. Well, not at the beginning anyway.
How does living in Northern California affect your food photography and blogging?
It’s a source of inspiration for recipe ideas, and the photography is just a medium that communicates that. I’ve lived on a tropical island all my life, so moving to a temperate climate and learning to live seasonally was a big adjustment, especially in the first two years. But it’s also a fantastic learning experience. Because we shop at Farmers’ Markets most of the time, it feels as if I’m finding my feet in a vastly different food universe from what I grew up with, learning about new ingredients, lentils, beans, whole grains, and new methods of preparation. I’m making new taste memories all the time, and it goes into my “memory bank” that I draw [from] when developing recipes for the blog. I like to feature recipes with unconventional flavor pairings; I like the rhubarb and fennel crumble or do something familiar in a different way such as a strawberry cheesecake ice-cream because it involves an element of surprise, and I want to share that with my readers.
Is there one of your images that sums up how you feel about food culture?
If I had to choose, it would be the image of the workers at Blue House Farm walking in the strawberry fields, after harvesting the day’s supply for their CSA. It’s a snapshot of what happens at most independent farms everyday – a fresh, hand-harvested produce to be boxed and shipped to customers or for the market. Living in an urban environment, we tend to have a romantic notion of what the agrarian life is like, when it’s anything but. It’s real, hard work. A good meal always begins with the quality of your ingredients, no matter the company you share it with, so I really respect the people who’ve chosen farming as a way of life, because it’s not easy.
What motivated you to include the journey that food takes before ending up on our plates for your blog?
There’s a lot of talk out there about what’s going wrong with the food system in this country. No one is talking about what’s going right. I wanted to add some positivity to that mix in my little corner of the Internet. Where I live, there’s a vibrant local food scene being driven by people who want to feed their communities in a way that’s good for the environment and our health. Apart from the occasional press release though, no one is telling their stories. And why not? While it’s important to shed light on factory farms and shady corporate maneuvers, I think it’s important to celebrate the successes too. There’s also a part of me that feels responsible, as a food blogger, to do my bit to honor not just the ideas and creations in my kitchen, but the people who produced [the food]. I would be one very hungry person if they didn’t do what they do.
The fact that more people recognize the importance of knowing where their food comes from and want to learn more about what’s going into their food, who’s producing it, etc. There hasn’t been a lot of transparency into the way the food system works in this country, and this lack of information has taken away the consumer’s power to choose the nutritional value of what they eat and how it’s produced. Consumer awareness is the key to dismantling this. The movement to eat local and to get to know your farmer is really beginning to take root all across the country and I think it can only grow from there. It’s really only when local food systems start to grow and succeed that this country can start to move away from poor quality food that’s bad for the environment and our health.
What aesthetic do you hope to achieve in your food photography?
My aesthetic is constantly evolving, depending on where I am in life and my inspirations. Right now, I’m gearing towards simplicity, less clutter, unnecessary detail, without losing the storytelling component of each image.
What is your most memorable meal?
It’s hard to boil it down to just one meal, so I’ll just narrow it down to a country: Turkey. I visited five years ago for two weeks and the memories are still vivid today. Istanbul was where I discovered what a real, sun-ripened tomato was supposed to taste like, had ‘pide’, or Turkish pizza at a random local joint in Cappadocia, and became firm friends with the hospitable owner of a kebab stall who kept feeding us on our last nights in the city. You don’t forget experiences like that. The food memories become something bigger than the dish – it’s about the place and its people.
What’s the most melt-in-your-mouth recipe you have featured on your site?
*Editor’s note: Hell yes.