Photographs courtesy of Matt Armendariz
Chances are, if you’re around food as much as we are, you’ve seen Matt Armendariz’s work. If you’re obsessed with food blogs, then you most definitely have. Matt Armendariz of Matt Bites has been inspiring the men of The Boys’ Club with his beautiful food photography and delightfully quirky storytelling for a few years now. We couldn’t wait to ask him to share his story.
So, let’s dive right in!
The Boys’ Club: You’ve been working in the food industry for a long time. Did you get into the industry on purpose or did you fall into it? What’s the story here?
Matt Armendariz: It was a happy accident, really. I started bagging groceries at Whole Foods in Austin twentysomething years ago, and that led to a graphic design position within the company that eventually led to an art director / creative director position. I left after 10 years to pursue other art director and marketing positions, eventually leading me full-time into food photography which is what I do now.
TBC: Can you tell us a little about your professional background?
MA: I’ve had quite a few different positions of over the past few years: director of advertising, marketing director, art director, copywriter, designer, photographer, recipe developer, recipe writer, prop stylist, you name it… but they’ve all centered around food. But at the heart of everything I do is design, that’s the solid foundation that unites all these things. And of course a love and interest in food. But I’ve never been happier than I am now, getting out of the office and running my own photography business. It’s scary but so extremely rewarding. And I get to play with food, you can’t beat that.
TBC: Can you tell us a little about your personal background, if you want?
MA: I grew up in Texas, then moved to Chicago for a few years, San Francisco for another few years, then settled in Los Angeles, Long Beach to be exact. I come from a very large Mexican American family where the kitchen was the heart of the home and every gathering revolved around food. It’s who I am. Now I live with my husband in Long Beach (he’s a California native) and 3 dogs and a cat named Birdie. Life is very good. But in a nutshell, personally, I’m a nerdy gay dork.
TBC: What is your favorite part about photographing and working around food?
MA: I love that I am able to use all my senses when photographing food as well as my design background. So much happens within that frame — I’m telling a story, I’m selling something, I’m transporting the viewer somewhere, I’m maximizing appetite appeal or minimizing something else, it’s quite a bit. Plus I’m working with a subject that is real and familiar to most everyone… we all eat!
What I love most about working with food is that it’s ever changing depending on trends, ingredients, personalities, seasons, and interests. It’s never dull. There are history lessons, cultural lessons, science and emotions when working with food. Like I said, it’s never ever dull! Also, I’m able to see the world through the lens of food. It’s powerful.
TBC: How long have you been blogging? How did you decide to start a food blog?
MA: I started blogging at the end of 2005 because I had a wealth of information and experience that I wasn’t able to share through my day job. There were so many stories behind a specific ingredient yet no place to share that in a print ad where space was at a premium. A blog could be never ending, and a much welcomed break from the formalities of copywriting about food. I could be myself, use my own voice, for better or for worse. I didn’t have to worry being politically correct, I didn’t have to worry about offending anyone, I could just be me. And because my job afforded me a front row seat to some pretty interesting opportunities I thought I’d be a fool to not share them. This was all before retailers and companies started blogs of their own, for the most part, which is why I just decided to do it myself (with my employer’s blessing, of course!).
TBC: What is your favorite part about food blogging?
MA: I love how it connects us, makes the world a smaller place and lets us into someone’s world in a way we didn’t have before. Plus it opens our eyes to new ingredients, methods, and recipes.
TBC: Where are your favorite spaces to work? Does your environment impact how you work?
MA: I’ve been lucky in that I get to work all over the world, so as long as I’m well-rested and have wifi I can work just about anywhere! I’ve edited images in hotel rooms, written stories in notebooks on a train in the outback, shot food below deck on a boat, and even had a photo pre-pro meeting at 30,000 feet. I’m happy working most anywhere, but give me a bright and airy naturally lit photo studio for a shoot and I’m the happiest. And yes, the environment does impact how I work, but it also depends on what type of work I’m doing. If I’m writing a book I need absolute peace and quiet and absolutely no distractions. If it’s a food shoot I’m fine with loud tunes and lots of people (provided the subject matter doesn’t require otherwise, like testy souffles or picky dishes that demand immediate attention).
TBC: What do you do to get ready for a shoot?
MA: It all depends on what type of shoot. For cookbook shoots at my studio all I need is a good night’s sleep, a morning run and lots and lots of coffee. If it’s a big commercial advertising food shoot then there are tons of pre-production calls and meetings and a day of pre-lighting and set up. But for the most part I’m up super early to allow myself some quiet time and exercise before the day gets crazy. I need silence in the morning as I know I won’t get it from 9am on.
TBC: Is there a particular style you find yourself looking to, emulating, shooting most often?
MA: Not really, as I find inspiration through everything, really. I’m influenced by non-food and nonfood photography things, and it’s those things that make their way into my work. I do know I prefer to shoot with bright moments of light using happy tones, textures and colors, which I think is how California and my geography influences my photograpy. But for the most part as long as it’s real, naturally lit, accessible and cheery, well, that’s the direction I gravitate towards most often.
TBC: Where do you pull most of your inspiration for your photography and storytelling?
MA: From life, really. That’s the big answer. If I expand on that concept then it becomes life’s regular activities that inspire and influence: travel, people, walking, listening, looking, just everyday living. There are influences in everything that can affect my photography: a piece of wood, the color of a leaf, a bowl, a texture, a shape. Anything and everything can trigger an idea or emotion, and it’s my job as a photographer/writer/creator to take that and filter it into something I can use in my work. I have a zillion notebooks around me at all times for keeping track of ideas, and sometimes they get put into action for a story or campaign and other times they’re just waiting for the right moment.
TBC: Do you have a hero or role model that inspired you to pursue your dream in photographing food?
MA: For me, food photography was a component or step in a life that centers around food, in one way or another. It’s part of a path that I’m still on, so it wasn’t really a dream I had where I woke up and said “I MUST PHOTOGRAPH FOOD!” It’s part of a creative process that began 20 years ago, but the one voice that has always stayed with me is my father, who always encouraged me to play and create. He’s quite the creative man himself so I’d definitely say he is my hero.
TBC: Do you have any advice for young men looking to get into food and drink blogging? Or into the food/storytelling industry?
MA: Just do it. Seriously, don’t wait for someone to come along and hand you a career or blog or situation. We live in an era where we can share our own unique stories and viewpoints immediately through a blog, there’s really no reason why you can’t start something today. As far as breaking into the food business, there are a million different paths that lead to a position in food. Identify your interests and what moves you and take it from there.
TBC: What is your favorite cocktail?
MA: I’m a sucker for a well made margarita. Stellar tequila, fresh squeezed lime juice, a splash of something else and I’m happy. While i do love trying new things (this is LA where our bartenders are celebrities), I’m fine with anything classic. And for pure nostalgic reasons I love a well-made lemon drop, a greyhound, sidecar, caipirinha and pisco sour.
TBC: How do you make it? Do you put any particular unique twists on it?
MA: Because I love citrus anything, I love making lemon drops with freshly squeezed meyer lemon juice when they are in season. And just so you know, I’m not on the snobby vodka hating tip like many are, although I find it a pretty innocuous spirit.
TBC: Do you have a recipe of this cocktail to share with us?
MA: Depending on how sweet or tart you want it, it’s very easy: 1 part vodka, 1 part lemon juice, 1/2 part simple syrup or cointreau. Sometimes it’s too tart so I reduce the lemon juice a bit. Shake well over ice until extremely cold. Strain and serve straight up with lemon peel as garnish in a powdered-sugar rimmed glass.
Matt’s Lemon Drop
Yield: 1 cocktail
Glassware: 1 martini glass
1 part vodka
1 part fresh lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup or cointreau
1. Shake all ingredients over ice until extremely cold.
2. Strain and serve straight up with lemon peel as garnish in a powdered-sugar rimmed glass.