Having collaborated with recipe developer and food photographer Jenny Huang on numerous EyeSwoon projects, we knew it was only a matter of time before we profiled this bold-flavor-loving culinary talent on the site. So when EyeSwoon recently nabbed a 2016 Saveur Blog Award alongside none other than Jenny’s swoony site Hello My Dumpling, we figured now was the perfect opportunity.
Jenny’s mix of Sichuan and Southern background is evident in her recipes, and this unexpected combination of flavor influences alone intrigues us. But add to that the fact that Jenny is a career changer who transitioned into food from a past life in fashion PR and we knew we had a lot to talk about! Read all about Jenny’s inspiring career switch and varied culinary roots, and get the recipe for her Spicy Sichuan BLT, right here.
NAME: Jenny Huang
PROFESSION: Food photographer, recipe developer and creator of Hello My Dumpling
PHILOSOPHY ON FOOD? Cooking and eating should always be both a beautiful and deeply personal adventure.
A LITTLE ABOUT THE RECIPE YOU’RE SHARING WITH US? This recipe is a take on the classic BLT that combines my Sichuan roots and deep American South background.
HOW DOES THIS RECIPE AND IMAGERY REPRESENT YOUR STYLE? Big flavors with unapologetic images.
CONGRATS ON YOUR SAVEUR AWARD! WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU ALONG THIS JOURNEY? Thank you so much! I remember thinking several years ago, when Saveur first started these awards, that if I start my own blog at some point it would be cool just to be nominated. So to be nominated and then to win in the photography category is just unbelievable. It’s only going to push me to keep learning and improving.
BRIEFLY, HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR STYLE OF COOKING? Bold comfort food with an international flair.
QUIRKY FOOD HABITS? If I’m cutting multiples of something, I always count in Chinese.
THREE INGREDIENTS YOU COULDN’T LIVE WITHOUT? Chilis, my extensive spice collection (can this count as 1?), mushrooms.
YOU ARE A SELF-TAUGHT FOOD PHOTOGRAPHER. CAN YOU SPEAK TO YOUR LEARNING CURVE? I did some photography while at university as a part of my studies, but it wasn’t food or still life, so there was a bit of a learning curve when I first started. Before starting my blog Hello My Dumpling I practiced for a year and a half before launching. I have a background in art, so composition and color theory comes pretty naturally to me. But I had absolutely no idea what to use for backdrops and props. I was still using dishware from my college days! I also had to learn what type of light was best and how to bounce light to create depth and mystery.
MOST DIFFICULT FOOD TO PHOTOGRAPH? Brown foods.
GOLDEN RULE WHEN YOU ARE PHOTOGRAPHING FOOD? Simplify, simplify, simplify. I definitely think that props are important, but the food should always be the center of attention.
ESSENTIAL FOOD STYLING TOOLS? Oil to make things shine, old baking trays for backdrops.
CAN YOU SHARE A BIT ABOUT YOUR TRANSITION TO THE FOOD WORLD? When I graduated with a business degree from Carnegie Mellon University, I moved to New York City hoping to pursue a career in the fashion industry. I had always loved photography, but it just never really dawned on me that it could be something that I could do as a career. So I bounced around working in fashion PR and basically feeling like I was going nowhere for five years. Then at the beginning of last year, right before launching Hello My Dumpling, I made the much needed change from fashion to food.
HOW HAVE YOU DEVELOPED YOUR OWN AESTHETIC POINT OF VIEW? I knew that I was drawn to images with deep tones and rich saturation, so that is what I went for when I first started. I am very inspired by the colors and textures created by oil paints; those are the tones that I strive to create in my photography. I also love spending time shooting individual ingredients using the bare minimum in props. Nature doesn’t need much embellishment.
BIGGEST BREAK IN YOUR CAREER? Taking the plunge and actually deciding to do food photography full-time. In a crazy-short amount of time, I have made leaps and bounds in progress compared to the five years I spent working in fashion PR, feeling stuck.
TIPS FOR OTHER SELF-TAUGHT PHOTOGRAPHERS? Practice every moment you have. Go to the farmers’ market, find ingredients that intrigue you visually, bring them home and practice shooting them. Use Pinterest to pin photo inspiration and then create your own visions of these images. Take what you observe and make it your own.
BEST SOURCE FOR FOOD AND RECIPE INSPIRATION? Moms and grandmas.
BIGGEST SINGLE INFLUENCE ON YOUR COOKING STYLE? I was born in Sichuan, China and then spent my formative years in New Orleans. Both these places have deeply entrenched histories where human culture evolved around and along with food. The importance that food plays for people from these two regions is the biggest influence for me. My favorite foods to eat and cook always have long histories of being passed from one generation to another.
MOST SWOON-WORTHY RESTAURANT? I don’t have anything specific, but my favorite places to eat are the hole-in-the-wall noodles shops of my hometown, Yibin, in Sichuan Province.
ANY FUN PROJECTS IN THE WORKS? This is a bit premature, but I have been talking to a good blogger friend about possibly doing photography workshops next year. It would most likely involve one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen, making jams and preserves.