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The Food that Blogger Beth Kirby Won’t Take a Photo Of

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Hooray! Thanks to the help of their cardmembers, Citi has reached its goal and will donate $2 million to No Kid Hungry, which is enough to provide 20 million meals to kids in need. But you can still help! For more info, visit: NoKidHungry.org/Citi.

All month, we'll be sharing stories about eating at restaurants; today, newly-minted Parisian Beth Kirby on the question du jour: "To Instagram or not to Instagram?"

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When you travel around the world, eating and photographing as much as Beth Kirby of Local Milk does (current location: Paris), you develop a knack. A knack for picking unforgettable restaurants, for capturing food photos without being annoying, for asking the questions to better understand what you're eating and how it reflects the soul of a city, and for taking it back home to enjoy at other restaurants—or make yourself.

Grab an overhead photo of it before you dig in.
Grab an overhead photo of it before you dig in. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Read on for where Beth Kirby is eating these days, the dishes that inspire her (a bowl of white rice is all it takes sometimes!), and when it's time to put the camera away:

You travel a lot, like an enviable amount. What is your favorite city to eat in?

Beth Kirby: Paris, Tokyo, Kyoto, and New York are my favorite cities to eat in. Kind of predictable answers! I don't spend a lot of time on the West coast, but I'm guessing I could really get down with San Francisco, Seattle, and Portland, too. And Nashville for Prince's Hot Chicken alone. Okay. So you basically asked me my favorite child!

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I’ve recently been inspired by the Japanese food I’ve been eating: My friend Chikae recently introduced me to the Japanese food scene in Paris, and it's amazing—authentic and impeccable.  Dinner at Shu is like traveling to Japan without leaving home. I've also had some amazing Japanese food in New York, especially breakfast at Okonomi

Japanese breakfast in Brooklyn at @okonomibk, a welcome dose of familiar after being in Japan for 6 weeks. We met our friends & talented photographers @edocerruti & @stephdraime (follow them both, they're amazing!) here for breakfast yesterday. I originally met them in Venice at one of my retreats, and it's been so wonderful to watch their careers blossom. This entire weekend was full of inspiring people. I surround myself with diverse creatives and entrepreneurs that challenge me, that make me better. I want people in my life that are more successful, wiser, braver, kinder. Because that's how I grow. The people you surround yourself with matter. Negativity, meanness, victim mentalities (I'm not referring to actual victims here, that's a different thing), gossip—that stuff is poison. And conversely big hearted, passionate, ambitious people are contagious. I'm grateful to have such an abundance of people like that in my life and zero of the other. Mindful friendships are the making of a happy life. #theartofslowliving

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Our friend Yoshi has one of our favorite restaurants in the world in Kyoto; it’s called Monk. He prepares seasonal small plates with whatever he forages and finds at local markets that morning, then finishes the meal with these gorgeous flatbreads that he cooks in a hand built wood fire oven. His fire-roasted bamboo is my favorite!

What Japanese dishes have you had recently that you can't stop thinking about? How have you or do you plan to incorporate some of their ideas into your own cooking?

Beth Kirby: I've long been obsessed with chawanmushi, onigiri, hot pot (a pretty big category!), and rice soup. I love sushi and tempura, but I don't have much interest in making those at home—I prefer them left to the professionals.

The beautiful thing to me about Japanese home cooking is that it's so simple and generally quick. It supports excellent ingredients, condiments, and simple technique over lots of ingredients or complicated cooking. The fresh ingredients really shine. And nothing is better to me than a proper bowl of white rice.

The cloud factory. A "kamado-san" donabe we picked up in Tokyo, and a ziplock baggie of rice we bought from a woman in Magome—she grew it in her back yard. Most people use rice cookers these days to make Japanese rice, but I swear up and down by this pot. It makes perfect rice: sticky but not mushy with pearlescent individual grains. And the best part is the little crispy bits of "okoge" at the bottom of the pot—a delicacy that only occurs in ceramic cookware. The secret to perfect rice? Rinse until the water runs clear (as clear as can be—4 or 5 rinses), and soak the rice for at least half an hour. Ideally an hour. Or up to overnight. For morning rice soak at night; for dinner rice soak during the day. #theartofslowliving

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All of the machiya—traditional wooden townhouses—I've stayed in don't even have ovens. A cooktop and a rice cooker or pot is enough to make most anything. Lots of food is served raw or fermented or very simply steamed or (lightly) fried with beautiful, bright dipping sauces. In my own cooking, this manifests as a very Japanese-influenced pantry, lots of rice, prolific use of a donabe, homemade Japanese or Japanese-inspired sauces, and not messing with fresh veggies or seafood very much: fire, steam, ferment, raw, or a quick kiss in a hot pan. 

Have you seen any vegetable preparations at restaurants that've really inspired you?

Beth Kirby: Seasonal gems suspended in chawanmushi, cold soup (4evah), or bowls (ditto). Or izakaya-style (fried on a stick served with lemon, salt, and dipping sauce). There's more: cooked in fire, fermented, simply steamed and served with dipping sauce, cooked like meat (hello cauliflower steak), and roasted and served with infused yogurt (or some soured dairy or tangy dairy-esque creaminess) and nuts (dukkah is a fave). 

Pistachio Dukkah

Pistachio Dukkah by eva @myfrontburner

Yogurt and Beet Salad in the Persian Manner

Yogurt and Beet Salad in the Persian Manner by shayma

I know, I know, we all have talked about ramen so much. But where is your favorite bowl from, and what's in it? I was recently tickled by a vegetarian one I had in St. Louis that used coconut schmaltz as the fat.

Beth Kirby: Spicy (and I mean spicy) miso ramen in Shibuya, tonkatsu in Fukuoka, and the ramen my husband and I make at home (pork and chicken broth with a miso tare). All involve bone broth. I love the idea of a great veggie ramen, but to be honest, I haven't met one I absolutely adore. I have blueprints for one (generously) enriched with butter or ghee and miso, and I secretly have a belief that for all my love of vegetables, if there aren't bones, it isn't ramen ramen. It's veggie and ramen-noodle soup. Collagen is a hard fat to replace.

When restaurant food isn't quite as naturally photo-ready—or the restaurant is dim—how do you get a good shot of the food? For instance, at our food styling class, we suggest creating a strong directional light (like sitting by a window or, if it's nighttime, pulling a candle closer to your plate).

Beth Kirby: I only shoot food with excellent natural light. If I particularly want to shoot a restaurant, I make plans to go during the day or very early evening. I show up early or call ahead and ask for a table by the window.

A brunch without a care at @marlowandsons with my heart & heartina, @matthewlud & #EulalieWilla. In times of high stress, moments like these remind me why I even bother. Because the truth is it was always an option to be alone, to do nothing but play video games, and let the chips of my life fall where they may. That may sound unfathomably depressing, but in the words of Janis Joplin "freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose". I am fortunate enough to have everything to lose, and it may seem ungrateful to say that comes with a wild amount of pressure, but it does. But I disagree with Ms. Joplin. Nothing to lose is a prison of your own making, cowardice. It takes courage to try to make anything at all of your life and courage to hang on to it. My freedom comes from all of my beautiful responsibilities. From work, my family, my home. Freedom to love, do meaningful work, and eat well. At the end of the day, why I do it is as simple as that. And because at this point I couldn't do it any other way. Whatever you do, remember why you chose it because it's all a choice. #theartofslowliving

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If I'm in a restaurant with lousy light or I didn't nail down a table by the window, I put the camera away and just enjoy my meal and the moment. I know it may be weird to say as a food photographer, but I try to be mindful and avoid obsessively documenting every meal we eat. If the shot is there, you can be sure I'll take it. I make sure to get all my camera settings correct before the food comes, so when it does, it's just a quick shot. I am as quick as possible more out of respect for the chef, who made this food first and foremost to be eaten.

Otherwise, if the shot’s not there, I relax—it's actually kind of a relief when the light is bad because I can just sit back and eat. Okay, maybe I discreetly post an Instagram story, which is a great way to share cool moments that don't really make good photographs. And it only takes two seconds! 

Hooray! Thanks to the help of their cardmembers, Citi has reached its goal and will donate $2 million to No Kid Hungry, which is enough to provide 20 million meals to kids in need. But you can still help! For more info, visit: NoKidHungry.org/Citi.

Tags: citi, dine and do good program, no kid hungry