Evan Sung is photographer in the areas of food, beverage, travel, and culture. He has been shooting for over 15 years now and in that time has worked with a variety of celebrities, world renowned chefs, and has been published in over 40 cookbooks. Evan was born and raised in Manhattan and I was lucky enough to sit down with him in his Brooklyn apartment to talk about his career and plans for the new year.
A Scholar at Heart
- Evan studied at NYU and got his bachelor's in physchology. After graduating he was really interested in literature and pursued his PhD at a program in Irvine, California. Irvine was a very funny place for Evan and it was only after six months or so before Evan realized it ultimately wasn't what he wanted to do with his life.
- During Evan's senior year of NYU he had worked at a bookstore called Shakespeare & Co. The book store attracted a very diverse array of people including writers, musicians, artists, actors and it was there that Evan met an artists by the name of Shelton Walsmith. They both became friends and eventually Shelton taught Evan how to use a camera. They would go out on the weekends and take photos and critique each others images. It started off as a hobby for Evan but quickly grew into something he really enjoyed.
- When Evan moved to Irvine for his PhD program photography really became an avenue for him to process his relationship with California. He was unsure what he wanted to do with his life and photography really helped him understand what he enjoyed. During this time he created a self-portrait series that consisted of him being run over by his car. The series was a symbol of how tethered he was to transportation in California and how life was so different in New York.
Back to the Big Apple
- Eventually Evan decided to move back to New York. Most people would feel excited to move back but for Evan there was a moment where he felt like he was taking a step back. Ultimately literature was not his passion and photography became one of the things Evan enjoyed the most. Before moving back to New York, Evan applied to any photo jobs he could find through craigslist and eventually lined up an interview with a stock photography agency. He was hired right away and started working at the agency in January of 2000.
- Evan became friends with the manager of the studio who was Brett Freedman and learned a ton during his time there. In a way it was his graduate school except he was getting paid to learn. Brett was very much a mentor to Evan as he had worked previously in the film and production industry.
The City of Love and Light
- Evan eventually moved on from his role at the stock agency and decided to move to Paris. He had studied abroad there during his time in school and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to give it a shot. Evan stayed at a hostel outside of Paris commuting and knocking on doors to try and find a photography job. It was really tough for him, so much so that he tried getting a job as a server which didn't really work either. Eventually through a family friend he was put in contact with a photographer by the name of Giacomo Bretzel.
- Evan worked alongside Giacomo for about a year and a half and had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects for fashion, food, and culture. He shot portraits for the magazine Madame Figaro and traveled around to Germany, Spain, and Italy. It was an eye-opening experience for Evan to see how a career in photography could lead you to all of these wonderful places. It was truly a special moment for Evan that made him realize this was what he wanted to continue doing.
Back to the Big Apple Again
- After moving back home from Paris, Evan began working as a photo assistant for any job he could find. He worked with a Michael Lisnet for Vogue and also Scott Chaney on some architecture shoots. At the same time he was also photographing artists that he admired to build his portfolio. He was learning about their experiences and how they were navigating the creative landscape to figure out how he was going to himself. It helped Evan to hear their stories of how they were able to stay above water while also staying inspired and creative.
- Eventually Evan built up his portfolio and took it to a newspaper called The Sun. At the time they had needed a food photographer since their regular photographer called out sick. Although Evan imagined he would be shooting portraits he knew that he could step into the situation from his experience while working with Giacomo. After that Evan pretty much became a regular for the newspaper. He was there for a few months gathering his work to send out to potential employers including the New York Times and not too long after he got the call.
- After sending out his work to potential employers Evan received a call on his phone and the number had shown up as 111-1111. This was in fact The New York Times and at first Evan thought it might be a scam but thankfully he picked it up. He was thrilled as they called him for an opportunity that popped up. While there a Evan worked closely with the restaurant critic Frank Bruni on reviews and feature stories.
- During his campaign at The Times he also had the opportunity to work with other departments like fashion, style, real-estate and local news. It was a great experience for him to experiment with different kinds of photography and for that he is grateful.
A Very Full Portfolio
- Evan eventually had a portfolio that was filled with work from his restaurant reviews and food imagery. From this he was able to start making connections in the already small restaurant community to build his network and get more work.
- The first cookbook Evan worked on was with his friend Lauren Deen who is a producer and at the time was working on a TV show. After that Evan became friends with the very talented chef Paul Liebrandt, whose book he also worked on. Evan continued to work on a number of cookbooks through ways of friends and his network (I will create a list of all the mentioned books and post it here and instagram).
Honing His Craft
Before parting ways I asked Evan about what he was looking to improve on in the New Year. Although he may not believe in resolutions, he is constantly trying to grow in his career and skills. Since we are constantly being fed information via screens and devices, Evan would like to step away from that and visit more museums for inspiration and learn more.
"I think it's all these small incremental things that do this a little bit better do a little more this a little less of that."
I want to thank Evan for taking the time to chat with me for this episode of Wellfed.
Jon: I'm going change it up because usually I do the intro but I think you'll obviously be able to sum up your kind of reign because it's kind of hard to figure out. It's tough because you do have such a diverse a kind of portfolio of work and as I've come into contact with your stuff it's all through food and all through restaurant work and things like that. On this episode of Wellfed my guest is Evan Sung and I will let him do the intro.
Evan: Okay it's not my forte but I guess you could say that I am definitely a photographer in the area of food and beverage and travel and culture. I've been shooting for 14/15 years so yes there's been a pretty wide range. So, I identify now as a food photographer but I've been lucky enough to do a lot of different things so yes, I can be a little bit tricky to categorize. I've shot over actually at this point now 40 plus cookbooks and been lucky enough to work with a lot of major talents from around the world. I've been fortunate enough to travel for my work. Based in Brooklyn and I'm a Manhattan born and bred and happy to be here.
Jon: Thank you so much for taking the time today to chat with me a new year you've been traveling around a lot for work and we finally kind of nailed down a weekend to sit down. Before we get into the work that you're doing the work that you've created the cookbooks all those things what were you doing before photography?
Evan: Right before photography I mean it was sort of a winding path and not very predictable to me or I think to anyone else. I never really grew up taking photos, I didn't have a camera growing up, it was not something that like you know with my childhood dream or anything like that. I studied psychology at NYU got my bachelor's in that and then I was really interested in literature and ended up pursuing a PhD program in literature. I did some things on the side Travel lived abroad for a little while but that was always my goal was to get back into academia and pursue comparative literature. I got into a great program in California in Irvine and it was certainly at that time kind of like a dream come true really exciting the great program great instructors. It was really kind of a thrill, but it also came at a time where I you know I just realized that it wasn't really what I wanted to do for a long time and its long commitment and it just didn't feel right. So right before I jumped into photography that's what I was doing I was in Irvine California trying to figure out what to do with my life.
Jon: As many of us are.
Evan: Irvine California if you know it, it's kind of a funny place to be pondering big life issues because it's a very kind of Pleasantville sort of town.
Jon: In the sense that everyone's happy and hippy dippy.
Evan: Yes, Southern California I mean I was there for six months so I can't presume to know all of it but it was very sort of picture-perfect suburban town.
Jon: I can't keep up with California like I just you know I went to LA recently I have a friend that lives in Huntington Beach and every time I hit that highway it reminds me of why I need to go back to New York.
Evan: The driving is hard. I grew up going to LA a lot because I have family cousins and uncles and aunts in around Santa Monica and you know there was always a fun thing to do as a kid going there and Disneyland and all that.
Evan: Then yeah for a while I just wasn't that interested in going there and certainly in the last five seven years as the dining scene has changed there and I've been lucky enough to go out there for work for various things I do enjoy it. I mean I think it's a pretty exciting place to go and see what's happening. I enjoy the vibe for a good week or ten days and then I'm always ready for coming back home but I also look forward to you know any occasion to get out there and just see what's happening. I think it's very different and it's just you need to plan your strategy when you go out there.
Jon: At what point does a camera start to make its way into the picture for yourself? Is it during school, that after as you're trying to figure out?
Evan: In my life?
Evan: So, the story is that I was studying psych at NYU and in my senior year I got a job at Shakespeare and company which used to be on Broadway and that Broadway in Washington Place.
Jon: I think it's a bookstore.
Evan: It's a book shop. It was a great book shop and like small independent bookstores it attracted kind of diverse array of people music writer artists, regular writers, just actors' sort of cross-section of people just looking to have a job while they're doing their other thing. Anyway, so I met a guy there Shelton Walsmith who is an artist from Texas but has lived in Brooklyn for a while him and his wife and we became friends there. He was a little older than me and I really liked his work and we just ended up hanging out a lot me and his then-girlfriend. We were going out taking photos, he really showed me I remember he I was at his place and he had this old camera an old yashica mat so kind of like a rolie flex but you know slightly cheaper Japanese brand, but still an old twin lens reflex camera and I had never really seen anything like it before and then you look into the into the ground class and that the image is reversed and it looks very cinematic and it was so different from what I thought of cameras to be. So, I was really interested in that and he showed me how to use it and she showed me how to use a light meter and we started to the three of us to go out on weekends taking photos and he really encouraged that. So, for a while after right at the end of college there it was just a hobby that I had a lot of fun doing I had fun doing it with my friends and learning something totally new to me. That's where it really started when a camera first got in my hands.
Jon: Do you start to with when you're learning any kind of thing could be as cooking or anything you kind of do it in a bubble you know you do it for yourself and you don't really share. When do you start kind of putting, I guess work in front of people and showing other people was that ever something you started to do?
Evan: Yes I mean I would of course show while my friend Shelton and his girlfriend Kasia we would go out shoot, he had a little darkroom, we would print them, we would look at them together we would talk about them and he was a great mentor and instructor and really taught me just about how to look at photos and art in general. So that was part of it and then I would keep to keep shooting for myself and show friends or you know give photos to friends and things like that, but it was really just like purely hobby. Then photo became more important to me when I was in Irvine because it was really sort of a tricky kind of existential period where I really was trying to sort out some things and I ended up doing a lot of self-portraits of kind of funny now. I mean it was funny then too, but it was a series of self-portraits of me kind of run over by my car. I think I was like processing this relationship of just being in Southern California and being so tethered to a car and it was a symbol of something that was just so different from my life in New York. I was doing a lot of different sorts of self-portraiture and just kind of spending all the money I had on film and development. It was some kind of weird therapy for me and I think it kind of took on a different power. So, when push came to shove and I really had to think about what to do I just thought well you know I have to go back to New York and for a lot of people going to New York is something exciting, but for me it just felt like going home. So, there was a sense of not defeat, but like going backwards a little bit. So, I really had to think of like how do I make this not going backwards. So. I said well you know photos been good to me it's been my companion through this period and so I think I'll give it a shot and I started looking on Craigslist for any photo jobs I could find. I was in California at the time and found an opportunity and lined up an interview, flew back home had the interview and was hired pretty much right away and then started working at this stock photo agency. That was January let's say 2000.
Jon: So, for this job application I imagine at the time you had to print out all these film photographs that you'd taken. What was in that portfolio like well there are some of the images? What got you the job in a sense?
Evan: That's like so long ago I mean I can't remember what was in there but I can I can guess that they were a lot of just like cityscapes and I'm sure some of my portraits and self-portraiture, lots of black and white lots of medium format. In retrospect to be honest I think I think they probably needed someone and I like to think that the photos that I sent were interesting enough that at least I knew how to I won't even say light because nothing was lit it was all just natural light photography. I had some sense of how to take a picture and you know what photography was. I think I was in part lucky that they hired me. I got along really well with the studio manager there that I interviewed with and we became fast friends and he actually became sort of the next mentor in my career. His name is Brett Freedman and he'd been working at that company for a while, he'd worked in like movie production for a while and that's where I really learned a lot about professional studio lighting, casting, propping all the stuff that goes into a produced stock photo shoot. So, that was sort of the next phase I will say it was like it was like my graduate school except I was getting paid to learn really the nuts and bolts of this field that I kind of randomly decided to jump into.
Jon: I imagine maybe at some point it was very much a learning ground so I'm sure you carry those on to the next few positions or jobs opportunities that you had. What was the ladder like after this stock photography company?
Evan: After that so I was there 9/11 happened I stuck it out there for another year and a half. Their office was in New Jersey, Summit so I was commuting every day which was fine except it gets tiresome after a while and I after a few years my friend had moved on, the staff had changed a bit; the industry was changing a lot digital was really starting to take hold and I just was ready for different opportunities and I think I may have spent a little time just assisting random people. But not long after I left that company I moved to Paris. I moved to Paris and met up with a guy kind of happenstance because I tried for a while. I was there for like three weeks, four weeks really knocking on doors trying to figure out how to find work in Paris. I think I naively thought that it would be easy as a New York trained photo assistant that I'd find someone who would you know need help and hire me; but because of the EU and papers it was not that easy at all.
Jon: Limited window of time essentially.
Evan: Yes, and if someone needs someone who speaks English you could hire an Englishman or so. So, I was getting ready to come back and met this guy Giacomo Bretzel who was an amazing photographer and he hired me on and so we started working together. He said he had a shoot in Florence next week was I available I was honestly super available so I said sure.
Evan: So that was my first gig with him and well it was fun and then started working from there I was with him for about a year and year and a half got a lot of great adventures all over the world. He would he would be the next sort of important figure in my evolution because he shot portraits.
Jon: I looked up his work and its phenomenal.
Evan: Yes, he's a really great garius fun Italian guy and he had a big lust for life and shot cars, beauty, products, food, travel--
Jon: Where did you guys meet?
Evan: It was a friend of my mother who knew him and my mother said, “Oh you should reach out to this guy.” At that point I met so many people all of them were so nice and like so open to trying to help but no one really could help me and so I was like sure you know I was kind of at the point where like well I'm coming home anyway so what's the harm in meeting this guy. It was another nice meeting but I really just kind of expected it to be okay nice to meet you good luck take care.
Jon: Did you meet him in Paris?
Evan: I meet him in Paris.
Jon: Why Paris though?
Evan: It was not particularly photo related it was because I had studied in Paris to prepare for my complete program you needed to have three languages under your belt which honestly, I didn't really, but Paris was the closest sorry French was the closest I had. So. I had gone out to Paris after college to study for a summer and took to learning it pretty well and then made some French friends and so I had a great time there it was a great summer. So, it was always in my head that I really enjoyed it that I had these friends there and so I always thought about not very seriously, but it always was in the back of my head like it would be fun to go back there. So, after I left that stock agency it seemed like well here's an opportunity there's not a lot of work going on in New York because the economy after 9/11 so I thought well you know I'll just give it a shot. So, I went out there and you know it was not easy I was staying like in a youth hostel outside Paris and commuting in and just kind of knocking on doors, making phone calls, tried to get like server work that didn't even really happen. It was just kind trying to trying to figure out how to make it work so after that pure luck to meet this guy.
Jon: How long did you and Giacomo work together?
Evan: A year and a half.
Jon: Okay and it was obviously like you said a diverse range of photography or photo work it wasn't just like product or a portrait one day but everything.
Evan: Yes. There's a lot of travel involved, a lot of fun projects in Italy and Germany and Spain and it was really diverse and stuff in Paris too. We shot a lot of portraits for Madame Figaro the magazine so we're always doing that. It just made me excited to be discovering all these things. I've been fortunate enough to travel a good amount in my life so it's something that I enjoy it already, but there was something different about really getting behind the scenes of different worlds and meeting some pretty important people just via a camera. So, that was eye-opening and exciting and I didn't know what it meant, but it was something that I was like oh this is great you know like this is more than just living in Paris this is like just seeing so much more of it was mainly Europe. I don't think we went anywhere outside of Western Europe, but still it was an experience.
Jon: Very much a dream that a lot of younger people growing up kind of strive for traveling around taking photographs especially now with social media and all that new tech around sharing images that's very much what people are you know reaching for. You, kind of I guess through the working Giacomo I had way before this whole trend now.
Evan: Yes I mean I think it's a people have been doing that for a long time and budgets were different and permitted people to hire photographers to travel X or Y or Z and I definitely had to help him do estimates for shoots for traveling and yeah there was there was pretty decent money being flown around to do those shoots. So, these days I mean that I'm sure we'll get to that later on, but it's a very different economic scene right now. People who do travel for work I think a lot of it is self-funded in the hopes of that material will live somewhere. Back then at that point yeah that was probably the tail end because I was still like I remember he got his first digital camera like things were changing for sure in big in small ways.
Jon: After a year you returned back to New York.
Evan: After about a year and a half came back to New York was assisting some more, a guy who worked for Vogue Michael Lisnet he worked for Vogue, I did a bunch of shoots with him, did some shoots with an architectural photographer Scott Chaney those are interesting super different for me, but just interesting to see a different kind of photography very methodical 4x5 cameras old airy hot lights and things like that. It was it was serious meticulous work and I'm glad that I saw it and got to be a part of it. The whole time I was looking online and trying to shoot for whatever I could shoot for back when craigslist still had valuable things on it. I would just shoot for online magazines sometimes for free sometimes for a little money just trying to shoot whatever I could and you know get work out there. I then started shooting for the New York Sun which was a newspaper that existed for a while in that period and I think I can't say exactly when it folded, but I know a lot of writers and photographers it was sort of a stepping stone for people to get to the journal or to The Times. It was great, had a great culture page in and of itself and ended up shooting restaurants restaurant reviews for them.
Jon: For the Sun?
Evan: That was for the Sun. That was all so unexpected. I had come back from Paris thinking I was going to shoot portraits. I was really interested in portraits and that's probably my psychology background just being interested in people and you know like you said sort of talking to people learning about their experiences and you're podcasting because you want to share all that information. I think I was being selfish and was trying horde all that information to myself. I say that because I was working on a series of artists in their studios and it was amazing way to meet artists of different levels kind of like myself sort of figuring out different ways. Either they were successful at being practicing artists or they were working on it part-time and doing other things but it was just a good experience to hear other people's stories of how they make a go of this, keep their head above water and how do they stay creative and inspired.
So, all of that was great fun for me and great information and I built up this portrait portfolio took that to the Sun. I think they're regular food photographer a restaurant photographer was out sick or something and they asked me to fill in. I did and I realized from working with Giacomo that I kind of knew already how to do that and they liked the work and I had fun doing it and so it's kind of just became a regular thing and then. I don't know after a few months. I was compiling all these photos of dishes and restaurant interiors and was making these like little postcards and sending them out to other places I thought I could work for including the Times and then I got a call not long after from The Times asking me if I could shoot a restaurant review. I was super excited it was I couldn't even believe it really.
Jon: So, very prestigious like as a designer has any creative writer you there's always that moment of sharing a portfolio and putting it out and sending a lot of maybe not like a pre-formatted email so to say nowadays, but you do send it out in hopes that someone comes back and says hey we really enjoy your work and for the time to come back you know just on a whim must have been super exciting.
Evan: Yes, it was wild and I was working at a photo studio managing a photo studio for a still-life photographer that was also interesting also very different from how I like to work, but good experience. Anyway, I was there working and I got a call and back in those days when The Times called you [they called anyone] the number we show up as 1111111. So, I'm at work and I look at my phone and I see this number and it's like ugh this is some sort of scam or I don't know why I decided to pick it up I just thought it was maybe an unusual number to see I certainly didn't know that's what the times you know showed up as. So, when they called me, I was really thrilled I said yes immediately and then started working with them pretty regularly for a while. I think like when Frank Bruni was the restaurant critic, I was doing I think the majority of those and feature stories as well and it was great. Then also at the Times you sort of end up in the system and then people are calling you from the fashion section and Style section or real estate or local news or whatever. So, I never did anything particularly hard-hitting but I did get to experience a lot of different kinds of photography through that and I'm always grateful for that and I think it's also just trained me to be flexible and adaptive because you should have to you just never know what's coming down the pipe.
Jon: So, I mean for photography I feel like being flexible obviously is a great thing across many different mediums, but for photography you'll never know if one day a storm is going to hit and just kind of ruins a shoot you have to be able to kind of move on the ball and the ball at all times. So, I'm sure having that background allows you to kind of excel when you're given a situation that may not be the prettiest but you're able to still produce something that is you know beautiful or well-lit or anything like that.
Evan: Yes. I mean I think that there's so many different kinds of photographers as well I mean you take any sub-discipline of photography portraits or food or action sports, I think there's so many different kinds of photographers within that category. I think that I always brought sort of an observer's eye to it. I think I like kind of disappearing a little bit into the scene and then kind of watching what's happening around me.
Jon: A fly on the wall.
Evan: Yes, less about directing you know action directing what's going on but just kind of paying attention and then hopefully jumping in at the right moment to get what seemed valuable or important.
Jon: Before we get into your foray into the food photography when you're taking portraits and things like that there needs to be some kind of level of interaction. How do you kind of facilitate that that process to get someone comfortable or to get someone to kind of deactivate and disarm themselves? Usually I'm sure you know very much like it's not every day you have someone come into your apartment and podcast or something like that. I would still be very at arms. Same thing for the with when you're trying to take a photo of someone, they're immediately what they have in their mind as being natural isn't always the case.
Evan: Yes, I mean I think working with those artists that I found I did have to kind of screen their work and decide was it interesting enough to me, did their work did it say something to me personally enough that I wanted to find out more about the artist. I think the key for me has always just been like being curious. So, I am genuinely interested in how people work, what motivates people, I guess that's sort of the psychology background, but finding out what makes them tick what their preoccupations are what the challenges are that they have on a particular day I just like to ask questions and people more often than not are happy to talk about their work or the process. So, in that period it was just for sure it was me asking questions and just being curious and then that puts people at ease I think knowing that you're listening to them knowing that you're paying attention and then some people are more natural than others in front of the camera. I don't know I always found that's always a fun part to me is like finding that moment where someone does drop their guard a little bit and does something that you know that they do all the time some weird tic that they do all the time and it's like oh that thing is kind of the real thing. Either they're stilted or awkward or they just kind of put on this very camera-ready mile or appearance or pose. If you have time and you kind of observe watched and you sort of hopefully find a moment where they reveal themselves a little more.
Jon: Swinging back towards the work that you were doing at the time the restaurant reviews and sprinkling of the style and real estate shoots here and there. At some point that it just starts shifting and did you start getting more restaurant or food work? If you had a pie chart? Did some of that work just slowly start to grow in terms of the food section?
Evan: Well I mean the food reviews were great and what happened weekly and so there's a lot of content that ends up if you're shooting every week. There's a lot of material and along the way the Times started doing these slideshows so it used to just be they would run one photo with a review and then they started doing these slideshows where Frank Bruni would talk to the editor of the section about his review and they would create these like eight image slideshows. So, suddenly I was being asked to shoot more than just one dish and more than just getting one good shot of the action in the room. Shooting multiple dishes and shooting different angles and so suddenly I had all this material to build out a portfolio, but also the restaurant world is pretty small so I would meet people and just kind of befriend them just become known a little bit in that circle and once you're kind of known in the circle it doesn't take that long for you to just be recognized in that world. It's a really small world.
Jon: A small community.
Jon: If you walk into a restaurant well does it ever happen that the owner the chef knows who you are there like Evans and Evans in the room make sure everything's looking good make sure the plate is like beautiful.
Evan: I mean of course I don't know I know how to say how to answer that question without sounding like a dick. It's their job to know who's in the restaurant it's their job to know who is important, who you know who has some place in this industry and what role they play so yes mean and in a lot of restaurants that I end up in sure it definitely happens.
Jon: I ask because I think you know obviously I find your work to be amazing and hence why I'm talking to you today I think in terms of the food industry the restaurant industry your work stands out and I think that's like I want to ask that question. I'm curious like when you think of like the people who do the reviews like the food critics there's always that tense moment or like in your head or in the movies there's always like they walk in and everyone's making sure it's all perfect and well set. But you never hear that switch to like the shoe is on the other foot for a creative so to say. But now it seems like that is slowly becoming more relevant or part of the conversation.
Evan: I mean I think it's a big debate right now how important are proper restaurant reviews obviously you have influencers and those people get a lot of attention and a lot of red-carpet treatment. I think there are there all sorts of people in this ecosystem. The truth is or there are people who are really gracious about it and understand you know that this is just part of the dance of this business. There are other people who I am I know for sure you know have a sense of entitlement about it and want free food or want to be recognized or you know expect something. I just think that that's not the way it should be. For me I try to approach it with a sense of like mutual respect. I just think I appreciate it if I am recognized and treated nicely. I also like to go and support the people in places that I have an affinity for that I think are interesting. There are plenty of trendy places that I have never set foot in and I don't have a lot of interest in. There are other places that you know I might feel lucky enough to be welcome there. I've been working in this area for a while now and I'm just grateful for the opportunities that it provides and just don't take it for granted.
Jon: I mean I want to sort of break the discussion of creative process a little bit. The holidays are approaching and the last week and a half has been very much a long blur of holiday parties, excessive drinking and eating. So I would say that I'm just naturally hungover this week. I'm curious as to if you could recommend-- I don't want to assume you’re a heavy drink or anything like. On a hangover a day or a day that you're just feeling really kind of low on energy what is your guidance to ultimate food experience.
Evan: Either dim sum like dim sum or some sort of Asian noodle bang or a bacon egg and cheese sandwich.
Jon: I did have one of those today. I changed it up. I’d go with like for a while I was doing the sweet and savory so that big egg and cheese on like a cinnamon raisin bagel interesting and then I had this morning I've recently started switching them back over to like an everything bagel. I'm also finding that the cheese like the quality of cheese matters. This morning I had like a melty American cheese that was melty when it was in the foil and then as soon as you took it out, I got some on my beard it coagulated immediately. It's just like oh this isn't good.
Evan: I mean when it comes to bacon egg and cheese, I guess I'm pretty basic I like on a kaiser roll and American cheese. I did just go to Madcap over here on Court Street I heard about their bacon egg and cheese wrap it was like in a flatbread it was really good. I wasn't even hung over I just wanted to have bacon and egg on a flatbread and it was excellent.
Jon: I’ve never tried that maybe a pass on the way home. I'm curious are there any kind of for 2018 has there been any trends in food or has there been something that's been replicated in a number of restaurants across the city maybe even internationally?
Evan: In food itself?
Evan: In food restaurants I don't know if I can say that it's specifically 2018, but I think one of the things that I find a little bit challenging in New York is that there's a-- well I mean it's understandable there's a real desire for like comfort food and things that are just a little familiar or kind of familiar but maybe tweaked. I remember like when I was really starting out, I think that there was a real sense of excitement and like fine dining there were interesting things going on in a way. I don't know that there's as much going on right now. There's always going to be pockets of it, but it does seem like New York it makes it difficult to really experiment so I think that I can't speak for everyone. I haven't traveled enough around the world currently to say for certain but it does seem like there are a lot of places where there are more exciting things happening. Even within the US I think a lot of young talented chefs who have put in their time here and look back home and see that there's no one doing you know a good version of this or that and they go home and they crush it because they have the skill and the abilities minus the financial hardship of just doing business in New York. So, the trend I think is just there's a kind of desire for comfort and at times that can feel like sameness.
Jon: I've battled with this idea because you've kind of mentioned that you know you have these chefs who are working and doing their time here, doing their due-diligence and then kind of leaving to go back home wherever that may be Midwest south and it just kind of this plays back to this I've been battling with is that like I feel like as a designer as a creative I'm almost so tied to the city. I'm so tied to New York because the market here is so diverse and this is where all the jobs are in a sense. Realistically I can't go the jobs just dry up as soon as you go three states above or below. Curious do you kind of have this thought about do you feel like you will be in New York in the unforeseeable future? Do you ever kind of have an aspiration to potentially move away?
Evan: I mean I having been born here and grown up here and my family's all here my brothers in LA, but everyone else is here and the work is here you know publishing although some of that's moving out, but publishing restaurants are always changing. There's always a desire for newness in New York, so there's always going to be new restaurants opening and it draws big names and big talent. So, I feel no particular desire to leave New York. That said I would love to find a way to split time between here and Paris would be interesting. I like traveling around the states but I don't know that I necessarily need to live anywhere else in the States. Finding a way to travel more or split time between here and another place would interesting. I'm not sure I have thought about that a little bit recently but I haven't really articulated it in anyway.
Jon: I think that sounds it sounds like a something I should start to consider more as splitting because I'm sure you have hit a point earlier in your career where the jobs are here so that you need to just continue to grind it out and continue to get the work as they come because you never know when one week will you'll be super filled up and then next week it'll be drier. Something I wanted to dig into a little bit selfishly, so you were working with the Sun, you were doing these restaurant reviews was there a moment where you kind of had built up this kind of I don’t want to say clout but you built that community in the restaurant industry in the area and in the neighborhoods? At what point was it you just take a leap and necessarily go freelance or go independent? Was that ever a thing?
Evan: I mean I was always freelance, I never really signed up anywhere the Sun was freelance; The Times was freelance. When I was starting out I was working that studio managing job that was you know a full-time gig nine-to-five I was doing something temping I think probably after I left that studio gig because there's an interesting period where you are doing these freelance assignments but they're not constant so you can have days where it's just sort of open. I think I was filling that in with some temping here and there which was which helped paid well and lucky enough to work with people who granted me the flexibility to take off if I needed to. Freelance was always a thing that that I wanted to do and I don't think I really entertained many full-time gigs.
Jon: Was it ever scary? I think going through school growing up you know my parents and I'm sure a lot of kids grew up thinking that like you get out of school you get a full-time job and then you stay in that job forever and it took me a while to realize that wasn't the case for necessarily a creative field. Did you ever hit with like a realization of I will be fending for myself for the time being?
Evan: I mean I think it's always scary it's a little less scary now, but I mean there's always that feeling as a freelancer I think actors probably feel this way too it's like between gigs you just don't know when the next gig is coming. So, all along the way there's always a you know maybe I have my own anxieties and so I definitely would freak out if I had a few days open if I didn't have the next thing lined up and I know my close friends would say well you're still like that. I probably still am. It's that moment where you start to think like ah everything is set something definitely will come around the corner, I think is the moment where you should kind of smack yourself. I don't freak out about it as much, but I don't take anything for granted so we'll see what comes up.
Jon: Is there a way you deal with the anxiety of dealing with these three days there potentially open. Do you ever take the time for yourself and what do you fill in those hours with?
Evan: I mean I think well now I've gotten better I just like saying okay I'm going to take a few days just to chill out and you know be at home relaxing get things in order. There's always like small things to catch up on for sure but I've gotten better at just saying okay well you know there's not much I can do about today so I'll just kind of enjoy it and I'll go see a movie or go to the museum or go out for lunch or see friends or there's always a bit of struggle just finding the time too for other activities. Then also you know there's always things that you can be doing attend your own business and whether it's reaching out to old contacts or updating the website which I haven't done in a long time.
Jon: Always update the website.
Evan: There's always like small things. I try to make the most of those days and sometimes you do a lot sometimes you do not that much, but I guess it's been a little while since I really like what's going on.
Jon: As you mentioned earlier you've been published in over 40 cook books. It's kind of seems like you’re very sought after to do the work for these books. I know the book that was just published Noma hoping that Santa brings it this Christmas. Was there a shift that you had to do or is it just like to kind of gear your work to get more of those clients in a sense or was it just you know naturally from the work that you're doing from the Sun and the Times?
Evan: I mean I think it grew out of that and then working for like PR companies and so through them working directly for restaurants making friends with people in the industry who would hire me to do this or that you know shoot this or that for them. I owe my very first cookbook to a friend of a friend of a friend who just took a chance on me had this cookbook that was tied into a TV show that she was producing and it was my first experience. I think it was a little rough, but it was a good experience. So, that was not something I saw coming it was just I had worked with this woman a little bit Lauren Dean on various things and then this program came up and she asked me if I would be interested in doing this book and I said sure. That was one thing that sort of got me a little bit into the publishing world on the radar there and then the probably the biggest thing I always think was I became friends with a very talented chef Paul Leebrandt and we were doing a lot of work. Just kind of as friends just sort of as a mutual creative exchange doing photos of some of his dishes creations at his restaurant called Cortone in Manhattan and Tribeca and that eventually turned into a book that he co-wrote with my good friend Andrew Friedman. And because Paul had such a reputation as a very talented chef, I think that cookbook definitely sort of opened up doors for me in the publishing industry, but also in the restaurant industry. Then great projects flowed from there and got to work with Michael White and Andrew Friedman again traveling to Italy for his book and Alex Stupak on his taco book. All of these people that I really whose cooking I really admired and their reputations. I was doing some work for a magazine called Art Cool and Air and that was really cool because that was sort of like before the internet that was how a lot of young Chefs learned about what was going on around the world and with learning recipes from other big chefs around the country and around the world and so I got to meet a lot of great chefs working with them and I still work with them this day. So, they're all different sorts of angles that I was involved in the industry photographically and I think it's just a matter of being present so like the more people saw my name the more people saw me around I think a trust was built and then whatever reputation I had was established and so it grew from there. So, I didn't necessarily make any huge calculated shifts and how I did my business. I just tried to say yes to as much as possible and take it seriously as possible and just enjoy the process of whatever the project was. I don't think there was any huge change in what I was doing.
Jon: Before we start wrapping up, I want some recommendations from you I need to build my cookbook collection. I need to also get to a few restaurants in the new year that I would love your suggestions on. So, 2 to 3 cookbooks that you would recommend to anyone say a good beginner one a little bit more complex and then one that is maybe beautifully designed well.
Evan: There's the Noma book I mean that was a huge privilege to work on and just to see how they operate. The book as far as I've gotten into it is very accessible presented and there's just like so much knowledge stored away there and innovations. So, I think for sure that's a new book that's just out and it's great. Another one not necessarily just because I did it, but I do love David Tanis's last book “Market Cooking”. I was lucky enough to work with David through the times for his column and then he asked me to shoot his last book. Every time I've tasted his food it seems so simple, but magically somehow, it's just like the most perfect flavorful version of that thing. So, I just think that's a really handy book to have his recipes are just seem flawless and delicious. The other book that I'm really obsessed with these days is Anissa Helou’s feast which is foods of the Islamic world. She did a great job of compiling recipes from everywhere in the world that has Muslim population. So, it's not just foods in the Middle East it's foods from anywhere that you can find a Muslim population. I don't know that cuisine that well, but I really love her I think she's an amazing woman and writer and I was so excited about this book and I've cooked from it and I think it's beautifully shot and designed. I think they did it in London and it's the book that I've been into lately.
Jon: Then restaurant suggestions what can you pull out? Please, I need some new ones for 2019.
Evan: I mean anyone who follows me knows that I spend a lot of time at Frenchette in Tribeca and they've gotten great accolades on the end-of-the-year lists this year and it's well deserved. It's really fun I love the wine list there from Hora Rera, the food is great, it's like super comfortable and the vibe is just energetic and feels modern and timeless and it's delicious and just kind of ever-evolving and so it's just a really fun place to be and to eat right now. Where else I like I like Cote Korean steakhouse it's on 22nd Street I believe. It's just like a really well done, fun, elegant Korean steakhouse also a great wine list and it's just really delicious and kind of a sexy vibe in there. The food is just really solid they're doing their own aging of meats there and the menu is pretty wide-ranging and kind of riffs on traditional Korean classics and then also sort of Steakhouse classics. Yes, it's a great place. I just celebrated my birthday there where some friends took me out for dinner there and it was great. What else?
Jon: Do you have any ramen suggestions because I am such a ramen fan? I love ramen.
Evan: I love ramen too, but I don't go for it as often. I mean I actually found that there's a good one here in Carroll Gardens pretty tasty like a really robust broth. I really love udon that's why I like to go to Raku in Manhattan.
Jon: I live right over there. The place is really good. I've never really had udon like that before. I walked in thinking it was just like a normal noodle place and was completely you just like taken off-guard.
Evan: I love the vibe there and the noodles.
Jon: Inside is beautiful too like the tables the chairs are like gorgeous wood it’s amazing.
Evan: Yes, you feel like you've stepped into some quiet Japanese Zen spot. So, ramen--
Jon: I mean I'll take I'll take an udon spot. I’m totally satisfied with that. It's weeks away now at the new year it's scary. I have so much stuff to do still. Is there anything that you're looking to you know really make a dent in starting the new year any kind of resolution so to say or like initiatives that you're taking part of you're really focusing on?
Evan: I never have a good answer for the resolution question I mean there's always the usual, but I do need to get back to the gym more.
Jon: Everyone's resolution.
Evan: I think it's just like this constant progression it's a constant sort of honing I guess whittling away just sort of working on doing the things that we all have to do I mean because I don't know photography is it just taking a picture is such a small part of my job and I think there's all the other stuff that you have to do to make your business run better more smoothly. So, it just seems like there's always small things to keep working on just to make the whole enterprise a better operation. So, I do always want to keep honing my craft the photography itself but I do think that there are just a lot of look for more inspiration you know maybe go to museums more and just keep absorbing information and inspiration. There's so much of it it's sometimes it gets overwhelming that I just need to like look away from Instagram and all that stuff. Again I don't think there's any massive thing that I'm looking to change. I think it's all these small incremental things that do this a little bit better do a little more this a little less of that.
Jon: Well, Evan thank you so much for chatting with me today.
Evan: Thanks Jon.
Jon: Where can people find you if they haven't already?
Evan: My website is evansung.com and my Instagram is @evansungnyc. I'm on Twitter also evansungnyc, but I don't really use it that much.
Jon: I’ve weaned off Twitter completely.
Evan: I think I'm pretty close to shutting down Facebook.
Jon: I feel like that is the consensus so many people have.