Bay Area Food Photography | Chef Marisa Churchill

Marisa Churchill

This past week, I had the pleasure of photographing the July event hosted by Fresh Starts Chef Events, a project to support Homeward Bound of Marin, a homeless shelter in Marin County, California, providing food, shelter and job training for those in need. This month’s event featured delicious sweet treats with Pastry Chef and former Top Chef contestant Marisa Churchill. She makes regular appearances on the Food Network and is the author of the cookbook, Sweet & Skinny

Fresh Starts Chef Events

Marisa learned to cook from her Greek grandmother and then studied at the Califonia Culinary Academy and Culinary Institute of America at Greystone. She has worked at restaurants such as Rubicon, The Slanted Door, Ame, LuLu and Yoshi’s, where she was named one of San Francisco’s top pastry chefs. Chef Churchill has a personal interest in health and fitness and began using natural ingredients to create recipes that are flavourful, yet have less fat and sugar. Some of her recipes are also gluten-free. The menu for the evening consisted of four recipes from her soon-to-be-released second cookbook.

Neely Wang Bay Area Restaurant Photography

Her menu began with savoury Feta & Dill Biscuits

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Chef Churchill shared that if you mix the dough with a paddle attachment of a mixer, you should mix the dough by hand at the end so that you don’t overwork the top of the dough that is already mixed.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

I loved the flavour of the feta and dill in these biscuits — a great combination!

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

She then made Flax & Quinoa Granola Bars. This was my favorite recipe of the evening. I am a bit of a granola bar junkie and have always wanted to learn how to make my own granola and granola bar. I often find the ones at the market to be too sweet and with lots of additives. These had a delightful crunch from the puffed quinoa cereal!

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Chef Churchill shared that when making the syrup for the granola bars, you will know that the syrup is almost ready when the bubbles get tighter and larger. 

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Neely Wang Food Photography

Chocolate Popsicles were next and were creatively served in wine glasses. These sugar-free popsicles had such a rich, chocolately flavour — definitely, a grown-ups fudgesicle! A pinch of salt also helped the chocolate flavour really pop.

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

The meal ended with a gluten- and diary-free Carrot Cake.

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

Neely Wang Bay Area Food Photography

The cake base was made from a combination of oat flour, cornmeal, sorghum flour, brown rice flour and guar gum — an ingredient often used in gluten-free baking that acts as an emulsifier and keeps the solid and liquids together.

I have soft spot for healthy cooking and sweets (don’t even ask me how many desserts I ate on our recent cruise), so this evening was definitely a treat! Chef Churchill provided a lot of great tips for creating healthier snacks and desserts, like the substation of greek yogurt, which is high in protein and adds structure, as well as the use of coconut oil, which requires more calories to digest. As I always tell my kids, if you make treats with healthy ingredients, you can always eat more than one! ;)

Check back next month for an encore cooking event with Chef David Lawrence of 1300 Fillmore in San Francisco — Grilled Red Stark Crimson Pears with House Cured Duck Pastrami, Sonoma Goat Cheese and Honey-Pomegranate Vinaigrette, Pan-Roasted Bronzino Bass, Roasted Celeriac, Anise-Cherry Tomato Broth and Lima Beans, and Pumpkin-Ginger Snaps with Artisan Cheese.

Recipe for Flax and Quinoa Granola Bars

Makes 12 – 15


1 1/2 cups oats
1/4 cup walnuts, chopped
1/2 cup puffed quinoa cereal
1/2 cup dried fruit
2 tablesppons honey
3 tablespoons oil
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2/3 cup ground flax seeds
1/3 cup dark brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt


1.Preheat oven to 350 F, with rack in center. Grease small baking pan (about 10×12 inches) and line with parchment paper. Set aside.

2. On a sheet pan, spread out the oats, flax seeds, walnuts and quinoa cereal. Place all ingredients into oven for 10 minutes, or until they begin to turn golden.

3. While pan is in oven, place 3 tablespoons of water, sugar, cinnamon, honey, oil, vanilla and salt into large pot over medium heat. Cook for 5 minutes until it begins to boil and thicken to syrup consistency. The syrup is done when a drop of the syrup into a bowl of cold water does not dissolve. It should remain solid, but soft.

4. Transfer oat mixture into the pot. Add the dried fruit, mixing thoroughly.

5. Transfer mixture into prepared pan, using a spatula to spread and pack tightly together. Let cool for 20-30 minutes.

6. Once mixture is no longer hot, but not yet cold, cut into bars and allow to cool completely. Once cool, tightly wrap bars in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.


    • Thank you so much, Cornelia! Yes, those dill biscuits were really delicious — she used a combination of baking powder, baking soda and greek yogurt to give it a great rise and fluffiness. And feta — who doesn’t like feta? ;)

    • Thanks so much, Tricia! The dill and feta really played off each other so well — so good! Oh, we adventured to the British Isles and France — I have about 2000 pictures to go through, so hopefully I’ll post some of them on my blog soon!

      • Dill and feta are plentiful in the market of our current home away from home (Bulgaria) so I think you might have just inspired a specific flavor combination.

        Glad to hear you had an enjoyable time in Europe, and wish you fun times sifting through all the imagery that tells the tales.

        • I hope that whatever you create turns out as delicious as it sounds! I can just imagine you walking through the markets of Bulgaria — what a treat!
          Hopefully I will get through the images soon — this project is starting to overwhelm me! :)

  1. These are my favorite posts! Clearly, I need to train my taste buds and culture my palate a little more! Since having little ones I have been guilty of snacking on what is convenient. Perhaps her cookbook would be a good place to start! :)

    • Awww — I’m so glad you like these posts, Jill :) — I always find it interesting to hear the background of these chefs and even which recipes they choose to share out of all the meals they constantly create. And I totally know what you mean about snacking on what is convenient — I’m so guilty myself! :)

    • Thank you so much, Talia! It was a really fun event — I love seeing the chefs create their dishes and then watch the students make the same thing in the back — lots of energy and creativity! And of course, lots of good things to eat, too!

  2. Great job documenting the event…love the photo of the single fudge pop in the wine glass. Also liked you how you captured Marisa’s personality in the first photo.

    • Thank you! That single fudge pop image is one of my favourites — I wish I was hungry enough to have eaten the whole thing — I could use one of those right now :)

    • Those flax and quinoa were really delicious, and since they’re “healthy,” you don’t have to feel so bad about enjoying them :) — hope you try them, Karen!

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