Jason B. James disagrees with Anthony Bourdain. Sort of.
When confronted with Bourdain’s words to live by–“Your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park”–James is skeptical. “If you spend too much time at the amusement park, this will be a short ride,” says James, a photographer and food stylist. So much for that.
Instead, James, whose new photo exhibit is now on display at Foxy Loxy Cafe, takes a more practical approach to food, especially Southern food, in theory and in practice. With his lens set on capturing thoughtful and engaging food stories, James gives viewers a sustainable, beautiful–and hopefully non-fatal– glimpse at Southern food culture. While this doesn’t mean you won’t get a delish pic of donuts, it does mean it will come with a healthy helping of greens.
Below, James dishes on great eats, runny eggs and getting over the fear of plastic tub pimento cheese.
Savannah magazine: Food is a taste experience. What does photography add to the story?
Jason B. James: Portraying food visually allows the audience to tap into their food memories. Whether the person has been to the restaurant or eaten the food I am photographing, they typically can draw something from the photograph that evokes an emotion.
SM: What do you think will cement Savannah as a great place for food and what do you think could keep it from being a culinary destination?
JBJ: Savannah can get over that hump by tapping more into the history of Savannah food and continuing to investigate how to utilize local ingredients to push the creativity of dishes. Also, venturing outside of Southern food can definitely help cement Savannah as a food destination. So, essentially, learning more about ourselves and tasting more from others will continue to shape us us within the food world.
Venturing outside of Southern food can definitely help cement Savannah as a food destination.
The lack of a deep talent pool that is able to execute the creative dishes, with quality, on a consistent basis will inevitably sink us. Ideally, the more that quality restaurateurs give this town a shot, the more that quality hospitality folks will flock to the jobs and this city.
SM: What’s your favorite food?
JBJ: Runny eggs are nature’s gravy.
SM: What’s your least favorite food?
I have never been able to get past the smell and tactile nature of a hard-boiled egg.
SM: Is there any taste you just can’t get past?
JBJ: Growing up, I was served mayonnaise-y pimento cheese in a plastic tub. I hated nothing more, besides the stinky boiled eggs my mom ate with pride, than that poor excuse for a sandwich spread. By the age of five, I was off and had decided I would never again try pimento cheese. Upon moving to Savannah three years ago, I decided I would reintroduce myself to the few foods I swore I would never eat again. Shortly after moving and then meeting my friend, Meta Adler, did I try a pimento cheese I could respect. If you happen to find yourself at party or event she is catering, pray she has brought some!
SM: What’s one place you’d love to travel to, just for the food?
JBJ: Southern Europe has always intrigued me for their everyday use of seasonal and local ingredients for home cooking. That way of eating is a way of life for most people.
SM: What is Savannah’s food narrative?
JBJ: We obviously have the product of the brackish water ecosystem that is unique to our area and the historical influences of Gullah Geechee culture, along with shared food ideas that stretch along the coast up to Charleston. With all this said, I have yet to truly understand what makes Savannah stand apart from the area. I do know that this is a story that is still being written.
For more from Jason B. James, check out his work at Cast Iron Creatives.