The Gannet Q&A

Shantanu Starick

12th May 2016

Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

Shantanu Starick is an international photographer who focuses on projects that challenge social norms as well as food, architecture and editorial. Born in Australia, he has been travelling the world for the past three years for a project called The Pixel Trade, which he completed last November. “The idea was to get to every continent without spending a cent. I did that by trading my services as a photographer for food, accommodation and transport.” Shantanu will be speaking at the Ballymaloe Litfest in Co Cork, which runs from 20 to 22 May 2016.

1. If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

Living Dinners by the Irish chef Katie Sanderson. She put on a dinner in these beautiful gardens in Wicklow. I came directly from the airport – it was my first experience of Ireland – and was just blown away. I tried to take some photographs but stopped within 10 minutes because I was too overwhelmed by the experience – the atmosphere, the crowd, the music. Then we sat down and got fed the most phenomenal food. I’m not a sweet tooth but the dessert really stood out: she made this mindblowing coconut cashew tart.

A photo posted by Shantanu Starick (@shantanustarick) on

2. What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Käse Spätzle. It’s a very simple Bavarian dish, like a German version of macaroni and cheese with nicely fried onions. I grew up in Australia but came to Germany every two or three years – both my parents came from Baden-Württemberg – and I always looked forward to having this dish.

3. What’s your greatest talent in the kitchen?

Watching a chef work their magic and at some point reminding myself that I need to photograph what’s happening.

4. What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

Mushrooms stuffed with goat’s cheese and caramelised onion. I had it with a butternut squash salad from an Ottolenghi recipe. It was just a very straightforward, tasty dish – hard to screw up but I really enjoyed it.

5. What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

The album Blackbird by Fat Freddy’s Drop. They’re a Kiwi band and they just have a really good beat. This album is great for when you have people over and you want to keep things moving.

6. What ingredient or food product are you currently obsessed with?

At the moment it would be mushrooms. Every time I come across them, I want to become a mushroom farmer.

7. Describe a kitchen object you can’t live without.

A Fingal Ferguson knife. Fingal is one of the family that makes Gubbeen cheese in West Cork. Knife-making is a passion for him – there’s no real business intention behind it, and that’s part of what makes his knives really valuable for me. I’ve done some photo work with him and I got to see the whole process.

8. What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi. I like it because I know very little about Israeli cuisine, so everything I read in there is fascinating to me. The book has a good feel as well. There’s no arrogance, like you find in a lot of cookbooks.

9. Share a useful cooking tip.

If you want to show yourself as an emotionally sensitive person, cut many, many onions in front of your guests.

10. If you had to limit yourself to the cuisine of just one country, which would it be?

Italy. I love the flavours of that country and I could eat Italian food every day.

11. What food do you most dislike?

Food prepared by a chef who hates their job. There are very few things that I wouldn’t eat, but when food is done without any kind of passion, you can pick up on that very easily.

12. What’s your favourite food scene in the movies?

Many years later I still remember as a child when Lady and the Tramp (two dogs) eat spaghetti and slurp away at the same piece until they touch… noses.

13. Name a favourite restaurant in your neighbourhood.

My neighbourhood is not certain as I live in Europe and Australia but a place that comes to mind for many reasons is Pearl Cafe in Brisbane. The produce is high-quality and the interiors make you feel like you’re in the chef’s house with a bunch of interesting artists.

14. Describe the thing that most annoys you as a customer in a restaurant.

Looking over and seeing a table with four people on their phones.

15. What’s your biggest food extravagance?

In March I took a few people out to dinner at a sushi restaurant in Sydney, which I won’t name, and none of us held back. The sake bottles disappeared, the plates kept falling on our table for hours. Everything was phenomenal, but afterwards two of my friends had brutally bad food poisoning from a piece of fish which only they ate. It was like an exorcism: unbelievable. We wrote to them saying what happened and we never heard back.

16. Describe your average breakfast.

Fumbally eggs – scrambled eggs with Gubbeen cheddar and minced garlic as taught to me by the guys at the Fumbally Café in Dublin. Or really well-roasted muesli with macadamia nuts and a bit of fruit.

Photograph Zindzi Okenyo

Follow Shantanu: Instagram | Twitter

Posted 12th May 2016

In The Gannet Q&A


Interview: Killian Fox
Photographs: Yousef Eldin

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