Sonoma Food Photographer | Zazu Kitchen & Marina Meats

Zazu Kitchen | Neely Wang Photography

First of all, I want to ask, “How is it almost the end of July already?!?” Time has passed so quickly these past few months with the kids being off from school and a slew of exciting new photography work. I realize I haven’t been showing much attention to my little blog lately. I’m glad to be back to share with you a new cooking class, this one being one of my favorites! This past month, I had the pleasure of photographing the June 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 Marin County Cooking Class event featured John Stewart and Duskie Estes of Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastapol, California, and Dave the Butcher of Marina Meats in San Francisco at an event to “Celebrate the Pig.”

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

Now this post is not for the squeamish as it involves lots of raw meat and cutting of things. But I’m Chinese and growing up walking around Chinatown with my mom and seeing whole barbecued ducks hanging from their necks and a plethora of odd sea creatures swimming in tanks was quite commonplace, so a little raw meat doesn’t bother me. And after seeing a butcher prepare a turtle for turtle soup by chopping off its shell with a cleaver, not much has phased me since then. I do feel that butchery is very much a craft, and as a painter has different brushes for different purposes, butchers have different knives and tools that are designed for their work. Look at at that holster full of knives!

Neely Wang San Francisco Food Photographer

John Stewart and Duskie Estes are the couple behind the Sonoma County Restaurant, Zazu Kitchen + Farm, an authentic farm-to-table restaurant that uses everything from the tail to the snout. They are also owners of Black Pig Meat Co., where heritage pigs are raised and everything bacon is sold. Their delicious bacon is dry cured with brown sugar for approximately 21 days and then smoked with applewood for about 12 hours. In 2011, Stewart and Estes were crowned the King and Queen of Porc at the Grand Cochon cooking contest, although Chef Estes claims to have been a vegetarian for 23 years. 

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Dave the Butcher is the owner of Marina Meats, a butcher shop in the Marina district of San Francisco, which provides cuts of the world’s best producers of organic, all-natural, grass feed meat. He and his associate, Darren King, butchered half a pig provided by Biagio Artisan Meats, and used its parts for the chefs’ demonstrations for the evening. Part of me wishes I wasn’t taken pictures that night, so that I could write down everything they were saying — so much to learn about the different cuts of the animal as well as their uses and how to best cook them. 

Neely Wang San Francisco Food Photographer

Both the chefs and butchers emphasized the great taste imparted from slow-cooking “lesser” cuts of meat, like the shoulders, shanks, and legs, which makes the meat very tender and flavorful.

Neely Wang San Francisco Food Photographer

They also stressed the importance of knowing and asking where your food is coming from and how it is produced, as well as the need to avoid factory farming as much as possible. The pork they used for the demonstration was so fresh and free of antibiotics that Dave the Butcher even took a bite of the raw meat to demonstrate how different pork raised on a farm is compared to factory-raised pork. You could never do that with the pork you get at your local grocery store!

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

The dinner began with a Hot Smoked Bacon “BLT” Salad filled with tomatoes, avocado, little gem lettuce, bacon and drizzled with a sherry vinaigrette.

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Chef Stewart explained that the star of the salad was actually a “creative accident,” the result of the smoker being set at a temperature too high for bacon. I have to say that this might have been some of the best bacon I’ve ever tasted! It was a cross between bacon and pork belly that was both sweet and savory — so good! Here is Chef Stewart seasoning the pork belly.

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

Rows and rows of bacon…

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

The main dish of the evening was Kimchi Jigae, a korean-style pork stew with kimchi. Having lots of Korean friends and having eaten at many Korean restaurants, I would say this is more of a creative take on kimchi jagae rather than a traditional version, but still delicious nonetheless! And who would have guessed there could be a Korean version of wine country farm-to-table cooking?

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

The pork is slow cooked for approximately 3 hours and is infused with a mix of ginger, garlic, shoaxing wine, Korean chili paste, and soy sauce. The savory pork paired very well with the crunchy sour kimchi (again more of a rendition of traditional kimchi), and as most Koreans say, kimchi goes with everything!

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

The final course of the evening was a delectable S’more in a Jar, made with red wine, sugar, chocolate, egg yolks, milk, cream and butter, and then topped with a decadent meringue. A crispy espresso shortbread cookie accompanied the little jars of heaven.

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

I must have eaten my cookie too soon because I forgot to take a picture of it!

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

Chef Estes adds in the red wine to the chocolate and mixes together the cream, chocolate and butter.

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

And finally torches each meringue.

Neely Wang Sonoma Food Photographer

As if we didn’t have enough pork for the night, I couldn’t leave without purchasing some Chicharrone Peanut Butter Cups (peanut butter cups with fried pork rinds mixed in it) and Bacon Caramel Popcorn — just a little treat for the road, which you can also buy at their shop, Black Pig Meat Co. The leftover pork cuts were auctioned off and given to guests to take home.

Neely Wang Marin Food Photographer

It was such a fun and delicious evening! So much to learn… and eat! I’m always stuffed at these events. Come back next month for Chef Tony Gemignami, World Pizza Cup Champion and owner of Tony’s of North Beach.

In the meantime, enjoy Zazu Restaurant’s recipe for Kimchi Jigae.

Kimchi Jigae – Korean-Style Pork Stew with Kimchi

Serves 10

1 pork shoulder, approx. 8 lbs.
4 red onions, peeled and sliced
2 cups kimchi, cut in wide chiffonade, plus its liquid
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced
1 quart water
1 cup shoaxing wine (or mirin)
2 tablespoons gochujang (korean chili paste)
2 tablespoons dengjang (or white miso)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
silken tofu (optional)

1 bunch scallions, thinly sliced, for garnish
1 bunch cilantro, cut in chiffonade, for garnish
1 bunch radishes, sliced, for garnish
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds, for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Season the pork with salt and pepper.
2. Sear until browned, about 5 minutes per side.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients and cover. Roast in a 350F oven until fork-tender, about 3 hours.
4. Serve with aromatic rice (cooked with a sachet of kaffir lime leaf, star anise and coriander seed) and top with garnish.


    • Thanks, Alexandra! I was a vegan at one point in time, but it was tough :) I always wondered if meat pictures were unappetizing to vegetarians/vegans! Thanks for visiting!

  1. Neely, such gorgeous photos! Even the maybe-less-appetizing side of cooking is mouth-wateringly portrayed here. =) Lighting is usually so abysmal in restaurant and kitchens, but you really make your subjects shine.

    I’ve recently gotten into a bit of restaurant photography, and have to ask, how do you get such wonderful, bright photos? Are you using a flash? How much gear do you shoot with? I hope I’m not being too bothersome by asking. =)

    • Hi Grant — glad you liked the images! Hopefully I was able to give a good representation of all that makes cooking — the before and after :).

      So exciting to hear that you’ve gotten into some restaurant photography lately! I just love the fast-paced movement — it’s almost like a dance! I agree, restaurants are often very dark, and I prefer not to use a flash because I want to keep the colors of the ingredients as accurate as possible. I’m not afraid to turn my ISO way up, sometimes even to 3000, to make sure I catch all the movement and get sharp images. I do use Lightroom and some noise-reduction in my editing. I prefer to use a 24-70mm f/2.8 because it allows me to zoom in and out rather quickly as opposed to a prime (where it’s difficult to “zoom with your feet” as kitchens are often really tight). It also allows me to focus in on the food, and also pull back to take in more of the “scene” of a kitchen (one of my favorite shots is standing on a ladder and zooming out over a chef’s head and seeing all their ingredients below them). Sometimes the trickiest thing I find in restaurant photography is deciding whether to focus on the food or the chef’s face, and often have to make a split-second decision depending on what the chef is doing and what is more intriguing. I do love anticipating the action, which is something I find vital in this type of photography. Hope this helps, and please don’t hesitate to ask more questions!

  2. Agree with you ~ how is that the year is more than half over :-) These photos were GREAT ~ I love the look at great quality meat and it got my mind thinking…I’m off to a great steakhouse for dinner tonight! Wonderful write-up ~

    • Haha — yes, time goes by so fast! Thanks for your kind words about the photos and write-up, Randall — I really appreciate it! A great steak sure sounds good right about now! Hope you had a nice dinner :)

    • Yes, the butchering was really cool — they have such a wealth of information — I wish I could have written it all down! The salad was so good with the pork belly — it makes me think every salad should have pork belly in it ;)

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