Saturday, March 2, 2013

Chayka Sofia - Lady Crush Interview

If you've been reading Gastronomista for a while, you probably know we are big fans of Alisa Lapidus and Natasha Subramaniam, the stunning power-duo behind Chayka Sofia.  These ladies have been making quite a name for themselves in the food and art world, collaborating with talented chefs, animating their culinary creations, and writing their own narratives for the life, and death of food. 

We have a special interview with these two talented ladies - what inspires them, why they like to make movies about food, and what they want for breakfast in bed (pay attention, gentlemen). 

Without further ado, Chayka Sofia:


Alisa Lapidus & Natasha Subramaniam

Gastronomista: First of all, we love your films. How did you get into film making?
Natasha:
I knew when I was young that making films was the closest way for me to express what was authentic, indescribable, or dwelling in my subconscious. When I would see the films of auteurs I admired –Antonioni, Varda, or Bergman, for example—they confirmed cinema’s ability to cast an everlasting impression that strikes the soul with a force—one that is unique to the other arts… and I wanted to move people in the same way… I fell in love with the poetry and beauty of the medium.
Cinema’s capacity to fuse so many disciplines into one immersive work made it irresistible—so I pursued making movies as an art.  I made my first video art/installation pieces when I was around seventeen or eighteen with a camcorder... This evolved into more developed experimental art films… which then became progressively narrative and formally rigorous. When I began film school at CalArts, I made both experimental films as well as documentaries—then later, the two genres began to blur in form of hybrid films teetering between fiction and reality. It wasn’t until my last year in graduate school that I started my first movie about food.
Alisa: 
Growing up, I was exposed to amazing international cinema via my parents who watched anything from dark and satirical Soviet era comedies to Tarkovsky and Bergman. Maybe I didn’t know I would necessarily become an animator or filmmaker at that point, but I knew I wanted to tell
stories through drawings and paintings. When I started CalArts, the film and illustration worlds collided and I found myself animating and making films. It is a happy medium for me, where I can create worlds and manipulate time and space in a way I wasn’t able to through just drawing.



Gastronomista: You do a lot of food cinematography, what is it about food that you think is so
interesting to shoot?

Alisa:   Food is an extension of who we are. In our everyday world food triggers memories, fantasies, nightmares… a spectrum of emotions, desires and experiences that when translated into film, it creates a familiarity that connects the viewer to these already existing notions, in a more unconventional and lyrical way. I love to explore the many layers of meanings and beauty that gastronomy has to offer.
Natasha:
I believe that food is at the core of our sense of time, place, and relationship to one another in a way little else is. When one eats or prepares food, it can be one of their most intimate moments. It functions as an all-sensory window into geographic, ecological, historical, cultural, social, and personal realities —and also echoes stories that speak to our memories, desires, inner sensibilities, cultural constructions, injustices, and so forth.  In exploring food, I also feel I explore the circumstances of the world. Food has an ability to be a cosmos in itself, full of enchantment…. and with every ingredient I discover, I learn so much about the larger web of life around me.


Gastronomista: Who is your favorite chef that you've collaborated with? And who is on your
dream list of chefs to shoot?

Natasha: 
I can’t possibly pick a favorite because every collaboration has been so distinct and special. I’d love to work with Chef Massimo Bottura at some point—his sensibility is so pure yet whimsical. The way he bridges ancient ingredients and Italian gastronomic tradition with his own interior culinary language is really fantastic… I’m also very inspired by Chef Dan Hunter in Australia.
Alisa:  
 Each chef that we have worked with brings something unique to our collaboration. We work with Chefs whose philosophies and processes inspire us. It becomes a very symbiotic relationship, as we are informed of each other’s techniques and ideas. While in the process of working together, we begin to look at food differently and I believe that the chefs begin to look at cinema and what it can do for gastronomy in a new way. I would love to work with someone whose main focus is the preparation of a singular type of food. Maybe a cheese maker or a chocolatier… someone who has devoted their entire life to the art of one food group.

Coral Reef Garden: Peter Gilmore Video for NOWNESS from CHAYKA SOFIA on Vimeo.


Gastronomista:  We were obsessed with Zergut when we first saw the trailers, how and why did you decide to film the decaying process?
Alisa: 
When we initially decided to make Zergut, the idea of the forgotten food has been on the mind for some time. On so many occasions we open the fridge and to our horror or pleasant surprise find a piece of food way deep in the corners of the fridge that has taken on a new shape, color and often smell. Most of us would find the thing nauseating and repulsive… but when taking a closer look at the transformation, it’s a wonder really. Foods are alive and are in a constant state of metamorphosis... kind of like us. It just depends on how you look at it really. We found beauty in it.
Natasha:
We both saw a lot of beauty and life in the often overlooked colors, textures, and forms of decay and wanted to highlight them in an otherworldly way… for the film, Alisa & I did a lot of tests with different ingredients and quarantined an area of our studio for incubating various molds… The more successful and dramatic ones were used in the film.  To create moving sequences, we intricately animated each ingredient frame by frame…as molds are very delicate, we had to take a lot of precaution not to disturb their surfaces. There were definitely times where we were wearing facemasks and gloves.

 
Gastronomista:  We are really excited about your recent venture, tell us a bit about your new film, Reverie. How can we see it?
Natasha:
Reverie is an exploration of the wild geography and sustainable ingredients endemic to  Southern California, through the visionary cuisine of Chef Jordan Kahn. Mixing surrealistic culinary dreamscapes with macro documentary imagery, the film is structured as a trilogy of three distinct landscapes, which each correlate with a dish comprised of ingredients from that place. Positioned from within a world of food, all encompassing perspectives of botanica and wildlife present alternate realities. Within the film, chef Kahn is depicted actually plating his creations amidst growing vegetation in the wild—as one critic wrote, turning nature into food, then returning it again back to the wild. Ultimately, the film is a meditation on how food is interwoven with elemental forces, memories, the imagination, and the sublime, conjuring an atmosphere as rooted in our primal surroundings as it is in our fantasies. We are still negotiating where it will have it’s premiere—we’ll update Gastronomista as we know more ;) We had the preview screening at the end of last year at the Star Chef Conference at the Park Avenue Armory Center in New York.
 Watch the Reverie Trailer!
 
Gastronomista:  We love the selections of music for your films, how do you select the music for each piece?
Natasha:
Thank you! Alisa & I usually enter a film with a very specific vision for the sound—and each project is so unique with its own world to elicit. Sound is as important as the image, where one cannot lean on the other and must equally move the senses… so a lot of time is spent crafting…With that in mind, I usually undertake the sound design of our films and work very closely with composers to create scores that sink into the underbelly of the the work.  For Zergüt, using Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights intuitively felt right to us—it fact, we knew it would be the score before we even shot a frame. With Assiette & Reef, we wanted to construct a soundscape that didn’t feel overtly composed or hyper melodic, with a slightly digital quality—so I decided to collaborate with talented sound  artist, Albert Ortega, who has an inspiring understanding of how emotions, texture, color, and indescribable sensations are translated and processed through sound. His work has an amazing quality that treads between the digital and the organic. For Reverie, we wanted to create a score with rich, pure, sometimes dark tones mostly associated with string instruments such as the cello, that washed through the images in a lyrical, slightly dissonant way—so worked with classical composer, Matthew Entwistle, to sculpt a composition that felt right. We focused a lot on giving each chapter/landscape a unique sound quality while still conveying an underlying similarity. Matthew’s ability to compose music with a precision but also improvised style made him ideal to work with…


Gastronomista:  As a partnership, how do you two differ as artists and how do you compliment
each other?

Natasha:
We co-produce all of our work through our studio Chayka Sofia. It’s somewhat difficult to describe how our collaboration works because it’s extremely intuitive and there are times when we are deep in production where we act as an extension of the other with no separation. We both share a mutual understanding and vision, so have a trust that is carried through all of our projects and are an unimaginable support to one another.  Alisa animates and usually focuses on the tactile elements within a scene and the logistics involved in realizing complex animation sequences—focusing on very small, miniscule details for long periods of time. I tend to focus on the larger picture, so initiate
& write a lot of our projects, film and frame behind the camera, and then edit the work to completion.
Alisa:   
 I am very hands-on when it comes to the process of dealing with food in our films. So much goes into making sure that the foods are prepped with an extreme precision without jeopardizing their freshness. Before animating, I do a lot of testing to find the best ways for properly expressing the actions. I tend to animate things that oftentimes seem impossible.  Through these experiences, I have acquired a patience that is imperative for such work. This helps with the flow of our collaboration because every project is different and half the battle is usually combating a learning curve under pressure. It is extremely stressful but very exciting.




Gastronomista:  What have you always wanted to film but never had the opportunity to shoot?
Natasha:  

I have for a long time wanted to make a nocturnal film taking place somewhere in the depths of nature—shot entirely during the night, without the aid of external lights—so, completely in moonlight—with a color palate of deep blues, blacks, violets, grays, shadows, and bioluminescent accents. The film would present worlds that are usually unseen and delve into the metronome of the place… It would most likely have some kind of culinary edge—perhaps involving night blooming edible flowers…
Alisa:  
My Russian Jewish family having dinner together. I have so many obscure and hysterical memories of these occasions, I only wish I had a camera since the beginning to document everything that went on.


Gastronomista:  What's your favorite film?
Natasha: 
 I will give you one period in my favorite filmmakers oeuvre —Michelangelo Antonioni’s
Tetralogy: La Notte, L’Eclisse, L’Avventura , and Red Desert.
Alisa:
The Mirror by Andrei Tarkovsky.


Gastronomista:  Favorite Restaurant in Los Angeles?
Natasha:  
Komasa Sushi in Little Tokyo
Alisa: 
My kitchen ;) but if I had to pick one it would be Komasa, a tiny sushi restaurant in Little Tokyo Downtown. The fish is always vibrant and fresh and the ambiance feels like you are over for dinner at your Japanese grandparent’s house.

Gastronomista:   Most Memorable Meal
Natasha: 
Eating a beautiful dinner beneath the stars with one of my best friends at a little candle lit restaurant carved into a cove at the foot of the Adriatic Sea in Rovinj, Croatia. The meal was fresh, local seafood prepared in simple, Mediterranean ways with gorgeous wine—accompanied by the sound of the waves.
Alisa:  
 Lunch with chef Peter Gilmore at his restaurant Quay in Sydney. The day before our shoot, he invited us to lunch with him to show us the dish he created for REEF. Jetting out over the harbor, Quay feels like an exquisite cruise ship. An airy & serene expanse of white linen tables that face an enormous glass wall overlooking the Sydney Opera and beyond. We came right before it opened for lunch so we were the only ones there. It felt like the whole restaurant was ours. Every dish we tasted, every wine we drank was better then anything I had ever experienced in one sitting. When finally our REEF starlet came out, it took our breath away. Compositionally stunning, the flavors and textures combined were impeccable. I was deeply moved by the genuine passion and precision it took to create it. The ingredients were all local and fresh. It consisted of Green Lipped Abalone, tuna belly, sea scallops, white fungi mushrooms, egg white pearls, pink turnips and tapioca balls prepared in eal stock & fresh horse radish. I walked away from that lunch floating in the clouds and nothing could ever bring me down! That is… until the following day when we realized how nearly impossible it was to exist in Sydney without a car.

Gastronomista: Guilty Pleasure
Natasha: 
At the moment, Trader Joes Crunchy Cookie Butter—it’s ridiculous and so delicious.
Alisa:  
In-n-Out & Nutella

Gastronomista:  Breakfast in Bed
Natasha: 
Strong espresso, fresh cucumber juice, homemade greek yogurt with raw pistachio crumbles, pomegranate jewels, and citrus zest…
Alisa: 
Champagne please.
Gastronomista: Alisa, we like your style.


Gastronomista:  Pick your Poison
Natasha: 
Deep Blue Sea (Orange bitters, Crème de Violette, Lillet Blanc, Gin, Lemon peel) but only the kind made with love… otherwise, Henri Bardouin Pastis on the rocks.
Alisa:
St-Germain Kir Blanc accompanied by bar of very dark chocolate

Gastronomista:  Last Meal
Natasha: 
Pure uni sushi and a bottle of mind blowing wine… Then my mother and grandmother’s Spanish rice, Cuban frijoles negros and fish picadillo.
Alisa:   
 Uni & Oysters for the exquisite and opulent part of the meal… and then I would absolutely need to eat a home cooked meal that my Russian greatgrandmother used to make for me when I was little – Chicken cutlets seared to perfection on an iron skillet, garlic mashed potatoes, a pickled tomato and black bread.

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