Jorja Boon-Kriesel and Jessica Johnson are the creative and hungry women behind Gal Dente. They're working together to style food in bold new ways and create their own recipes too. The friends met at Dinosaur Designs, where they both work, and today they share how they squeeze truffle hunting road trips and intricate photo shoots into their busy working lives.
I'd love to know how Gal Dente got started and how you came up with the awesome name?
Jorja: Gal Dente came together when we realised that Jess, myself and our friend, photographer Alex Reznick, had a range of skills we all wanted to pursue that we weren’t able to maximise in our everyday jobs. In my spare time I had been assisting on food shoots in prop styling and Jess always had a pot of something delicious on the go. We realised we had a similar vision and a crossover of skills due to our beginnings in jewellery - so Gal Dente was born.
Jess: The name we unfortunately cannot take full credit for. One afternoon over a glass of wine a brainstorming session commenced, various puns were thrown around, but our mutual (hilarious) friend Sophie was the one who nailed that one - thanks Soph!
Was it a big leap to go from jewellery and homewares design to working with food?
Jess: It does sound like a bit of a leap – they are both very different industries. But I have always really wanted to work with food and styling has been a creative way for me to do so. Plus with my background being a jeweller I’m a bit of a stickler for fine details, so it’s great as I get to apply the same principle to both.
Jorja: Working in a jewellery and design company such as Dinosaur Designs has certainly taught me a lot about colour, form and balancing all of these components for an aesthetic that leaps out and pulls you in! Working with food and art directing our projects from beginning to end has given us many more layers to work, from coming up with a strong concept with substance, to recipe development and executing the story. The business of a stylist is usually to sell an object or brand. We want to sell an idea and a new perspective to explore food from.
Your food photos and recipes are so different to what I see online, on Instagram and in magazines. How would you describe your approach to cooking and styling?
Jorja: I’m not interested in subscribing to ‘food porn’ for food porn’s sake and don’t feel comfortable with contributing to an unmindful, consumerist throwaway culture, so we like to create work with value and staying power. We do a lot of research and reading before starting a project so that our projects are grounded in ethical and inspiring dialogue around food.
Jess: Being such good friends we laugh a lot together so naturally we try to bring that light-heartedness into our work. As a result I think our style is quite playful; we try to create things that are fun and unique. In terms of cooking and recipe writing our approach is much the same, we like to experiment a lot and try to explore a variety of ingredients.
Is it a full-time gig? Or are you fitting in farm visits and roadside cook ups in with other work?
Jorja: It’s very tough to break into, especially since what we are creating is very niche but hopefully in time this will mean that we will stand out from the crowd. We are both still working full-time and Jess is a busy lady still doing custom jewellery work and working at an organic veggie stand at Eveleigh markets on Saturdays! We fit in all our freelance work in annual leave days and meetings over home cooked meals on each other’s couches.
I've always wanted to know what happens at a food shoot and how much of what is photographed is really food - can you share a recent shoot that you worked on?
Jorja: All of our food is real and edible!! We couldn’t bear to waste any edibles!!! I was reluctant to enter food styling at first because I'd heard of all the chemicals used on the foods rendering it inedible. After assisting on Gourmet Traveller and the SBS Food website I realised that in these publications the food is always left natural and edible! I was in!
Jess: Everything we photograph is real food, but of course there are tricks to getting things looking their best for photographing. Firstly and simply it comes with understanding the ingredients you’re using and how they react in the kitchen - there is a lot of timing involved - and there is also the overuse of tweezers, spray bottles, and other tools.
On shoots though there is often more smoke and mirrors going on underneath the food like foam wedges and occasionally small pins to hold things in place. On one of our last shoots we photographed the meals inside fish tanks; there was a pretty intricate designed toothpick scaffold that we used to give the illusion that a sandwich was floating!
Any ingredients you're especially excited about working with this season?
Jess: We’re on our way towards Autumn, which is quite exciting as that’s when persimmons and pine mushrooms come into season - I think I’ll try and sneak them into just about everything!
Jorja: Seaweeds because they are such a sustainable and underused food source, they also make a fantastic substitute for leafy greens and are exceptionally good for you! I am also experimenting with vegan dishes, my creativity seems to flourish when I give myself strong limitations, vegan cooking is not bogged down in tradition and 'cheffy' styles of cooking so I feel like I can get extra experimental!
Thank you Jorja and Jess! You can see more of their work here, and follow them on Instagram too. Their photos and recipes can also be found in very lovely looking The Plant Hunter online mag. Gal Dente recently did Art Bar at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney with artist Rosie Deacon. The theme was Koala Nutbush and Jorja and Jess gave out balloons with native Australia snacks hidden inside!
Behind-the-scenes photos by Bronte Wilson, food photos by Alex Reznick and other snaps by Gal Dente.