One Last Bite: Photographer Melanie Dunea on new book "My Last Supper: The Next Course"

Constructing a menu to herald the end of our corporeal existence is not a task that most of us are often faced with. For chefs who spend their day-to-day in a dreamy culinary realm filled with dishes heaped with shaved truffle--and those same dishes piled in a dish pit--the last supper is many things: humble, elaborate, somber, joyous, rustic and for most, simple. Celebrity photographer Melanie Dunea first captured these musings, paired with intimate portraits of the chefs, in My Last Supper, released in 2007. Four years later, My Last Supper: The Next Course, has hit bookshelves.

Keeping to a format of six questions—the meal, the setting, the drinks, the music, dining companions, and who would prepare it— Dunea elicits some pretty interesting stuff out of the 50 chefs featured in volume two. Some kitchen titans keep it short and simple, while some wax poetic about their final hours.

PHOTOS:  Images from "My Last Supper: The Next Course"

The book itself is a glossy, heavy and gorgeous ode to those that feed others for a living; the pictures are honest and creative, often revealing more to the reader than the accompanying answers. Following the profiles, Dunea has included recipes drawn from each chefs chosen last meal, making for an all-purpose coffee table book you can more than easily take into the kitchen. That’s where the chefs would want it, after all.

I spoke with Dunea over the phone from her home in New York about the launch of her newest book and what she’d like to see on her last plate.

What was it about your first experience with My Last Supper that made you want to do it again?
I’m greedy. (laughs) No, I’m kidding. There were so many chefs left out the first time, that when I sat down four years later and I thought to myself, ‘Wait, there was no Robuchon, there was no Pierre White, no Bocuse! Bobby Flay is really relevant now...’ I just had a revelation. In 2007, we all kind of wondered if the chef’s world was at it’s pinnacle and I think it was really just beginning. Plus, this all was an excuse to do another book. This is my hobby and my passion, and I’m super into it, so I was excited that I was humored and allowed to do a second one.

How did you choose which chefs to feature?
I made a master list. I thought it would be easier this time, to actually get chefs—it wasn’t. The world has changed. I used to pick up the phone and call them, and now it’s a little bit more elaborate. There are more people involved and it’s more of a business than it was. I basically started again, and became a bona fide stalker. A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do.

Who was the most fun or interesting to talk to? Who surprised you?
I had a big laugh when I was interviewing Morimoto, and he said that for his last supper he would be with his family—his wife and his dog. I thought that was hilarious. I loved that David Chang said that he would just get drunk on Bud Light, because I expected him to say something a little bit fancier. There was a lot more interesting music this time, like Daniel Humm is obsessed with The Rolling Stones. Those little tidbits, when they reveal those kinds of things, are what I’m really interested in. That’s why I ask everybody the exact same questions. How they choose to answer it is how they reveal themselves.

Where did the idea of My Last Supper come from?
I’m a celebrity portrait photographer, and then I started to photograph chefs and became very interested in them. The more I saw what they ate, how they acted, I just became more and more interested and I thought if I gave them an ultimatum—not a morbid ultimatum, just, “You have one last bite, what are you going to have?” I love that somebody like Albert Àdria, of the famous Àdria family wants French fries and pizza margarita. I think that’s awesome.

My last meal is not something I’ve given a lot of thought to. Have you thought about yours?
My last supper keeps changing, and I think that’s what’s interesting about the whole concept. I think every time I taste something new or something is introduced to me and I really like it, well then I want it in my last supper. Originally when I started this, I was interested in sweets. But more and more, it’s becoming more about the savory. Daniel Boulud, when we shot at Versailles, served me the most incredible charcuterie plate I’ve ever had, and I was like, “This has to be my last meal!” Then I was at Bocuse, and I had the famous dish with the fish and potato scales, and I thought, maybe I want a bite of this in my last supper. Simple is good, and that’s really one theme that runs through the book. A quarter of them do want champagne and truffles and foie gras, but there are also hot dogs, scrambled eggs, and fried chicken that appear as well.

How philosophical did you find these conversations getting?
It depended. Some of them wanted to write out their answers, like Paul Bartolotta, and we had to cut some of his out even though it was so beautiful! Some people really got into it.

What’s your favorite shot of the book?
I have had people go crazy over the Paul Liebrandt picture. I love it, but of course, when I look at the photograph, all I go back to is the memory of the shoot. I’m clad in an apron and a white coat and a hardhat, it’s freezing in the meat locker, it’s intense because they were killing the cows in the next I just remember how I felt during the shoot!

How much input does each chef give you?
However much they want. I’m super thrilled when someone wants to collaborate. Some of them say ‘You have five minutes, tell me where you want me,’ and others are completely different. Each one is really a different animal.

Where do you see the website going?
The website launched when the book launched, and of course as soon as one project is done, people want to know what you’re working on next! I just thought, ‘It’s time to bring this to life.’ It’s a homegrown, family affair, and I think it’s interesting to hear about other people and their relationship to food. We’ll see what happens!

Melanie Dunea +Barbara Lynch +Lydia Shire | Harvard Book Store | November 16 | 7pm.

| More

 Friends' Activity   Popular 
All Blogs
Follow the Phoenix
  • newsletter
  • twitter
  • facebook
  • youtube
  • rss
Latest Comments
Search Blogs
Phlog Archives