If you’ve never been aroused by an Instagram picture of an arctic char or a bowl of chocolate-ganache pudding, it’s not for lack of stimulation. At any given time, food porn occupies roughly 80 percent of all Instagram uploads, according to this sentence. Photographer and filmmaker Chris Maggio has had enough. A self-proclaimed outsider to the artisanal-food movement, Chris has created a fictional, character-driven photo blog called Male Chef as a response to the “democratization” of food media on the internet. A site dedicated to displaying disgusting images of home-prepared meals, it’s unclear if the Male Chef is a lonely bachelor, hoarder, late-night drunk with a cooking fetish, or clueless omnivore. Regardless, he’s the one you hope never invites you over for dinner.
Dr. Oz believes that food porn is making Americans fatter. Psychiatrist Dr. Valerie Taylor thinks taking pictures of your food is a sign of mental illness. Whether it’s displaced sexual frustration, lust, hunger, or a good old-fashioned desire for sploshing, food porn is a pervasive social affectation that’s taken over food-centric circles of social media. Out are civilized conversations about the velvety texture of foie gras; in are sepia-tinted pictures of a dead duck above "#OMFG" and "#delish."
The Male Chef blog, which features stuff like disturbing photos of a bowl of chicken soup filled with peppermints and a nauseating picture of raw chorizo and black beans, is like giving oneself a visual Taser as opposed to praying down a food-porn boner.
VICE: From what I understand, you’re not the type of person who would generally be considered a foodie. Why did you start this blog?
Chris Maggio: I’m a complete outsider to the culture of food. It’s a little painful for me to live in Brooklyn because there seems to be some sort of food renaissance happening here that’s culturally relevant. I feel completely excluded from it, but that may just be my own doing. It seems like I’m clueless enough to participate in the food movement in a satirical way. Most of the fodder stems from looking at food photography on food blogs and Yelp, where the idea of going out to a restaurant and almost stealing someone else’s piece of artwork is frequently exhibited for a wide audience to see.
You’re arguing that taking pictures of your food at a restaurant is like stealing art?
In a way, yes. I think going to a restaurant where the chef takes pride in the presentation and construction of a meal is something both chefs and consumers consider to be works of art. Photographing these dishes and riding the line between the creator and curator is a blurred path, a space where the photographer gains credit for someone else’s work.
Who is the “Male Chef”?
I wanted to create an avatar that’s completely clueless, like method acting on the internet. The “Male Chef” is acting as this person who wants to brand themselves as someone who has something to say, but doesn’t know how to say it. It’s a more realistic presentation of food because it’s not all dolled up. There’s no garnish. It’s just taken with technology that we already have, and this character doesn’t realize that food-porn-focused people at restaurants thoughtfully arrange their plates to fit the photo frame with the help of a tripod. It also might be somebody who’s trapped in their house. I’m not sure.
Based on the images displayed on the male chef blog, what’s the narrative that “he” is constructing?
Brooklyn and a lot of other urban cities are experiencing a renaissance or reinvention of ideas about how and what we eat. As much as these ideas and media have become democratized, it’s not in everybody’s budget.
So you feel like there’s a socioeconomic element to participating in the food movement?
I feel like there’s this chasm… I’m sure I could afford these nice meals every once in a while, but for the old-school Brooklyn native who grew up here before the recent wave of popularity and gentrification, what if they’re really not able to fully participate in this culture that’s happening right now?
Why do you think some people are obsessed with documenting images of their food?
I think people are clamoring to brand themselves. There’s an unspoken socially constructed desire or pressure to be the authority on something. I think that this desire to document food comes from this idea of grappling… like how do I lead myself, or how do I sell myself? I think that food porn is just an easy outlet. I think it comes back to stealing other people’s designs, stealing other people’s art, and I think that it’s sort of fucked up.
So you think food-porn people are just trying to create and strengthen their “personal brand”?
It seeks to a road that torrents social media. I’m not trying to offend anyone who is creating this content. I think it’s really exciting that there is this weird food movement that I still don’t understand. I feel like Male Chef erodes the idea of food photography and helps to demolish the idea that food bloggers and food photographers can get peripheral success based off of the efforts and ideas of others.
That’s all I have to say.
Well, thanks for talking to me, Chris.
The Male Chef content is rooted in a deep-seated hatred of the inflated sense of self. I’m not trying to blow this blog out of proportion. In the end, it’s just fucking gross.
See all of Chris Maggio's work here, and for more info on the Male Chef, visit malechef.tumblr.com.
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