Do pictures make a difference? I don't know.
My considered guess is that sales of cooking books and food magazines would crash overnight if there were no pictures of food. It wasn't always the way. A review of publishing over time would probably reveal a slow decline in food writing together with a steady increase in photography and food 'styling'. (Food photography quiz: what's the hardest food to shoot? My answer at bottom, but your opinion welcomed.)
What brought this to mind was a browse through a bunch of old recipes and food articles I keep in an old timber wine box in the back room. The older articles are mainly text, sometimes accompanied by a line drawing; for example, the excellent food column written by Steve Manfredi that used to be published in the Friday review section of the Australian Financial Review. The newer ones generally feature a prominent illustration or photograph. So if you want to make money in food, don't cook it or write about it - shoot it or style it instead.
A recipe from an old Launceston Examiner weekend magazine from 2001 caught my eye. Yes, the photograph was stunning. It was Guy Grossi's abbacchio all romana, a classic spring lamb dish infused with herbs and cooked in wine. Once you've tried it you'll never settle for ordinary roast lamb again.
Abbacchio alla Romana goes Greek.
What you'll need:
One kilogram lamb shoulder pieces.
Rosemary sprig, two sage leaves, handful of parsley, three cloves garlic, a red chilli (dry or fresh), half a cup olive oil.
Two chopped onions, half a can of diced tomatoes (or fresh ripe ones if you can obtain these), white wine, water.
Half a cup each of grated parmesan cheese and breadcrumbs; salt, pepper.
Place lamb in large bowl. Process herbs and oil. Pour over lamb. Marinate 12-24 hours. Place in baking dish with marinade. Sprinkle onions and tomatoes over. Add enough wine and water in your choice of proportions so that it comes halfway up the lamb pieces. Add salt and pepper.
This is where Guy Grossi stays in Italy and I go to Greece. He sprinkles the parmesan and breadcrumbs over the lamb; I omit the breadcrumbs and add crumbled fetta halfway through baking. Sorry, Guy. Mine is nicer.
Bake approximately 40 minutes. Ovens vary.
I add to the Greek flavour by cooking lemon potatoes to accompany: cut six old potatoes into 3cm pieces, place in bowl, add 30ml olive oil, 40ml lemon juice, a bare tablespoonful each of lemon zest, finely chopped rosemary and finely chopped fresh thyme - and a teaspoonful of cracked black peppercorns. Mix well and bake - very approximately - fifty minutes. So they will need to go in first, because the lamb will not take as long.
To drink? I already had open a bottle of Ulupna 2005 shiraz, although you would probably say this was far too heavy for spring lamb. In this case, the spring lamb had absolutely no objection.
Do you ever read wine labels? I love the way the wine tastes like something but the label thinks it tastes like something else. The Ulupna 2005 shiraz is described as 'rich in a variety of aromas of raspberries and slightly jammy fruit, persisting on the palate with a hint of blueberries and pepper.'
I didn't taste any blueberries at all. Instead, what struck my taste and olfactory senses was: the Athenaeum Club on a wet day. Just after lunch, which involved plum pudding for dessert. Cuban cigars. Leather chairs.
Why don't they ever write that on the bottle? Because people are hung up on food matching. The sommelier would not know what to say. "Rare beef sir? I suggest the Ulupna shiraz. It's all plum pudding and leather chairs." Diners would be dumbfounded.
Food photography quiz answer: ice-cream. It's extremely difficult to capture that fake ridge texture that never appears on real ice-cream, only photographed ice-cream. The lights melt the ice-cream in seconds. I was at an ice-cream shoot once where they used about seven hundred bowls of ice-cream before they got a decent textured ridge effect. They wasted enough ice-cream to feed a house of teenagers over summer.