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NEW YORK, Feb 1 - Celebrity photographer Darryl Estrine has been shooting movie actors and sports stars for 25 years but it was American chef Thomas Keller who finally managed to make him nervous.
"You know when you're around a really intense, creative genius." said Estrine, who co-wrote and photographed the new cookbook, "Harvest to Heat." "I don't use that word too often but I can apply it to him."
"Harvest to Heat" paired top American chefs with their favorite artisanal farmers, producing recipes designed for home cooks who enjoy using local farm offerings.
Estrine and co-author Kelly Kochendorfer traveled throughout the United States, often crammed in Estrine's 2000 Volvo Cross Country, snapping photos and interviewing the chefs as they worked side-by-side with their favorite meat, dairy, chocolate and spirits suppliers.
Estrine spoke to Reuters about the popularity of pork belly, the challenges of small-scale farming in America and why Portland, Oregon, is one of his favorite foodie destinations.
Q: Which chefs surprised you?
A: "One of the great shoots was with (chef) Daniel Boulud and (farmer) Tim Stark. Tim is a big personality and Daniel is a master showman. He takes a tomato and a knife that looks like you could use it to kill a wild boar... and he just peels the skin off this tomato. The skin is coming off in this beautiful circle and they're just having a blast. Daniel likes to play with food and there's a picture of them with tomatoes over their eyes. You just leave them with a big smile on your face."
Q: Did you turn down any recipes selected by the chefs?
A: "We said no to about 40 pork belly recipes. That was the hot item. David Chang (of New York's Momofuku) made it hot. But we wanted a mix."
Q: What region had the most exciting food?
A: "Portland. It's great. I love the vibe. It feels like a city but without being overwhelming. They love food and the Willamette Valley is an amazing place to grow.
"I love Gabe Rucker of Le Pigeon in Portland. I loved his cooking. There was an unapologetic use of foie gras, an unapologetic use of everything."
Q: Is the "farm to table" trend running out of steam?
A: "I don't think it's a trend. This started a long time ago. And as we get more E.coli and more bad stuff happening, unfortunately, the negative kind of drives (the focus on fresh, local food). To make it sustainable, we, as Americans, have to realize that good food is not cheap. It's expensive, no question about it."
Q: You can't ignore the fact that many can't afford high-quality specialty ingredients.
A: "It's really upsetting. Working on this book, I understand why high-quality ingredients cost what they do, mostly because of the low production rate ... It's tough and takes a lot of work. It's a craft. There are enough people to support this movement. But it's going to be hard to broaden it out unless people can get things to market less expensively. There's a point of diminishing returns."
Q: Did your focus on fresh ingredients change how you shop and cook?
A: "Oh, yes. But do I still buy junk? Absolutely ... I like living in the grey. I don't think you have to be black or white. You just can't. It's not how I want to operate."
Smoky Pork and Apple Soup with Mustard
By April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig in New York and Rob Thompson of Thanksgiving Farm in Harris, New York.
1-1/2 pounds ham hocks (about two)
2-3/4 C apple cider
1 red onion cut in half
1/2 C extra-virgin olive oil
5 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
7 medium parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice
3 onions, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1-1/2 pounds medium potatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1 medium head garlic, peeled around the outside but kept whole
3 apples, preferable Granny Smith, cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 tbsp mustard, preferably Dijon
1) In stockpot, combine ham hocks, 3 quarts water, cider and red onion halves. Simmer over medium heat for about 3-1/2 hours or until meat is tender and falling off the bone.
Pull the meat off bones and set aside. Discard bones, reserve the cooking liquid (should be about 2 quarts).
2) Heat olive oil in large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat; add the carrots, parsnips and onions, and cook until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the potatoes, garlic, apples, ham and reserved liquid. (If you don't have 2 quarts, add enough water to equal 2 quarts) and cook until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes.
Stir in mustard and season to taste with salt.
Reporting by Chelsea Emery; Editing by Patricia Reaney