Chef Charles Kassels, El Chorro Restaurant

Back in January I photographed El Chorro's executive chef Charles Kassels in his Paradise Valley restaurant.

For the assignment I needed a cover shot in Chef Charles' newly renovated kitchen at El Chorro, as well as portraits for the inside feature.

There were a lot of issues setting up a cover shot in the kitchen. Not only was there a lot of activity going on between cleaning and preparation for that day's cooking, but the kitchen offered very little space to move and work in. I had about 45 minutes to choose a place for the cover shoot as well as the interior portraits, which sounds like a long time, but I spent the majority of that time stressing about the kitchen shots. I looked for a large stainless steel cabinet or refrigerator, for a contextual but clean and simple background, but struck out. Then I thought maybe a rack with large pots or equipment would be great, but unfortunately I couldn't find anything along those lines either. My last resort was shooting in front of the stove, It didn't leave much room for posing or lighting, not to mention it's the most commonly done kitchen shot there is, but it had to do.

To complicate the already tight shot in such a small space, Charles would be accompanied in the cover shot by sous chef Sacha Levine, from Quiessence at The Farm at South Mountain. The assignment called for a cliché portrait of the two chefs, side-by-side in the kitchen, so my hands were tied with options. The kitchen set would need to be quick, as Sacha needed to get to her own kitchen to start work and I still needed individual portraits of Charles before his own work routine began. The cover shot portion lasted maybe 15 minutes in total. After I felt like I had exhausted my limited angles and framing options, I thanked Sacha for her time and Charles and I moved on to other sets.

While the lights were still set-up in the kitchen I decided Charles and I would begin right there with his individual shots. I kept the same lighting format from the cover set-up. Basically, I had a main light bouncing off a large white wall behind me for a large, even, light source. I wanted something more directional, and with a sharper edge to it, but the ceiling was too low for any sort of modifiers to fit on my light. I placed a couple of speedlights in the back of the kitchen to give some depth to the background and for a rim light on Charles. I was much happier with the individual shot than I was with the exact same lighting and location for the cover shot. I felt like it just worked better for this shot.

Being a little disappointed with how limited my lighting needed to be with the kitchen set, I was excited about moving into other areas of the restaurant for more individual portraits of Charles. El Chorro is such a beautiful restaurant, I had several locations mapped out for the next sets.

The first set post-kitchen was going to be a natural light set in the main dining room. It was a quick transition because I could leave the lights behind in the kitchen while we shot next door.

I spent maybe five minutes in the main dining room with Charles, the light was great with the large wrap around window banks. We knocked out about 30 frames with Charles seated at various tables throughout the room.

After that set, I asked Charles to give me five minutes to move the lights from the kitchen into a smaller dining room I spotted during the scouting I did before the shoot. This particular room had a beautiful blue wall and elegant blue curtain that I thought would make a great contrast with his pure white chef coat.

I had been toying with an image in my head while I was driving to the restaurant, and I knew this wall would be my chance to play with it. I wanted to do an edgy portrait with Charles on that blue wall with some colorful vegetables on the tip of a knife. I tried it on the blue wall first, but something was missing. It wasn't until I switched places with him and saw him against the blue curtain that everything fell into place.

The opening photo in this post, against the blue curtain, was the final frame I took that day. It was an easy favorite.


About six weeks after the shoot, less than 24 hours before the printing deadline, I received an email from the editor and a phone call from the publisher regarding the cover image. At the last minute they decided to change the cover image from the kitchen shot of the two chefs to the opening shot of this post and needed the high-resolution files. That image wasn't part of the shot list, just something I wanted to do, so the takeaway from this is to always shoot what you want to shoot. Below is the final cover version.


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