PHOTOS: Eric Wolfinger, Max Houtzager
Wolfinger is passionately diverse. His interests overlap most when he’s behind the lens shooting something he enjoys. There is a healthy separation and cooperation among everything that he does. He walks the line between passion and profession with rare deftness and prescience, preserving the sanctity of the things that give him life while turning his favorite pursuits into his life’s work. He’s a master at finding the story in everything from a loaf of bread to regional cuisine with centuries of history. While cooking a feast together for the book, Vol 01 Early Hues, we got to hear a bit of his.
Your work spans all kinds of forms, people, and locations. What does that diversity mean for you as an artist?
I’ve known for a long time that my favorite things in life are food, people and travel. Fifteen years ago I told a friend that my dream was to “travel the world, learn to cook, and somehow make a living doing that.” He laughed at me, and then we both wondered aloud about the ‘make a living’ part. I never dreamed that the answer would be photography. These days people know me as a “food photographer” – a pigeonhole helpful for business – but my driving motivation is the experience and the story that the food is a part of. If there is an “art” to what I do, I think it is being open to life and creatively responding to the challenges and opportunities it presents. Hopefully that comes across in my work; I have a strong point of view, but every project has it’s own story that wants to be told its own way.
What has been the most formative period in your life so far?
After college I moved to San Francisco to pursue a deep interest that I had never had the opportunity to take seriously — cooking. The years I spent working as a cook and a baker and the amount of time I spent teasing out the mysteries of flour, water, and salt shaped my approach to work.
Socal bred but Norcal based. What does this mean to you?
At eighteen I left home and didn’t really look back. I definitely wouldn’t be doing what I am today if I had stayed. But now well into my thirties, I can appreciate how much of my core self is the kid from San Diego.
Still hanging with Chad?
For four years my identity was wrapped up in being a baker at Tartine Bakery. Chad and I built the bread book together from an idea, and I put my whole being into the effort. Near the end of the project I got the nagging feeling that I was getting too comfortable at Tartine Bakery. I trained my successor and when the book was finished it was time for me to go. As Chad’s star rose and my photography career took off – thanks in large part to the book – our lives went in wildly different directions. Five years later, it’s like we’re both coming back to earth and finally finding the time to hang out again.
What role does surfing play in your life?
Intentionally or not, I’ve managed to fold nearly all of my passions into my profession. But I resist doing that with surfing. I competed when I was younger and hated it… I want to preserve one pursuit that is utterly personal.
What is the relationship between surfing and food (and photography)?
My work gives me the freedom to make my own schedule – including vacation. Inevitably when I travel for surfing I connect with the people and the place through food. Beyond that, the beauty of surfing is that there is no connection to my work. When was the last time you had a wandering thought while you were riding a wave?
Most inspirational person/people for you so far? Doesn’t have to be in food.
There wasn’t a rubric to build the career I was dreaming of, but my role models were the old school American cookbook authors like Diana Kennedy and Paula Wolfert who lived abroad and immersed themselves in a culture and its food traditions. And Jacques Pepin – I love that guy.
What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I wake up early and go and surfing with my brother, and we get barrelled out of our minds. The rest of the day is spent at home cooking a dinner based on some interesting project I’m working on. Before bed I pack for a flight the next day to somewhere I’ve never been.
After six furiously productive years – twelve cookbooks and hundreds of commissions – I’m becoming more selective in the projects I take on to give more space for personal projects. These are all food related of course: a cookbook memoir with the aforementioned Paula Wolfert and a film documentary about Mezcal. I also plan to bring the La Huella cookbook to the American market.
The recipe for the pictured flatbread is as follows: Roast red peppers embedded straight in the coals of your barbecue and sliced eggplants just above. Peel the charred skin off the peppers and slice with eggplant into small cubes, marinate briefly in olive oil with chopped raw garlic and salt. Shape whatever dough is on hand like you would for pizza and throw straight on the coals for 20 seconds or so on each side. Top with the marinated roasted vegetables, mint, finely sliced serrano pepper, and some lemon.
A story by Eric and accompanying recipes is featured in the book, Early Hues that already sold out, however You can Purchase our photo book Connective Tissue that featured Eric's Photo while He is on Dashi Journey in Japan.