When the Affinity for Food + Culture Meets Photographic Art
We all have jobs, we have stuff. Appointments and meetings and conference calls and deadlines and families and homework and housework. We do what we can with what we have. Sometimes it’s great, but sometimes it’s just what we need to do to get by.
But then there are these people, these passionate professionals, peppered throughout society. Their work is one of those things where you can take one look at it and know that they’re not just getting by. There’s way more to it than that. It’s that thing that has no words to describe it. Like when you eat an amazing meal, and you know that this is no ordinary meal, but something that was made by a chef with passion and love and fire. That’s the thing that takes it from amazing to outstanding. That thing…that wordless thing, is what Lafayette’s Denny Culbert has with the way in which he captures food and travel imagery.
Denny Culbert grew up near Akron, Ohio before Louisiana was able to sink her Cajun hooks into him. He attended Ohio University for photojournalism and traveled to India post-graduation for six months. After spending the allotted time that his visa would allow there, he accepted a photography intern position in Baton Rouge in 2008. 2009 brought him to the Advertiser and Lafayette has been his home base ever since.
Denny Culbert on Cameras and Opportunity
He embarked on a full-time freelance career in 2011 and is continuing to hone his craft in his Downtown studio today. “My camera afforded me the opportunity to get into the thick of everything this area had to offer. The food…the festivals. The love for Louisiana came easy,” he mentioned.
Culbert’s transition from photojournalism to commercial and editorial food photography emerged from his monthly food column, Dishing It Out, in the Daily Advertiser. “I got to spend a lot of time in the kitchens of local restaurants, getting to know the chefs and being immersed in the community. I realized how much I enjoyed spending time in these Southern kitchens with these chefs,” he explained. Culbert became particularly interested in local chefs who grew, raised and prepared food.
His photographic freelancing opportunities brought him to the Carolinas to photograph for Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA). While there, he spent a month living in a BBQ bus documenting pitmasters. The SFA member symposium and foodie experience in Mississippi along with a Blind Pig experience would play their parts in the eventual creative ebbs and flows that Denny Culbert and wife/muse, Katie, would experience over the coming years.
In 2013, the couple launched Runaway Dish, a pop-up restaurant with guests holding charitable dinner tickets where local chefs came together to collaborate and passionately feed locals with artful edible creations. The couple’s main focus was to get local chefs to rub elbows and create a sense of community in the culinary sector, connecting the solitary chef gaps with talent and creativity.
Between Runaway Dish pop-ups, the couple released a culinary journal with the same name capturing the magic of each event. Katie would write and Denny would photograph. The culinary community had something to bring it together. As a result, Runaway Dish inspired other culinary traditions to re-emerge into the area. One of these was full-on Cajun boucheries where smokehouse teams challenged each other using all parts of a hog.
Denny Culbert – A Condensed List of Works
The Runaway Dish events and publication ran their prospective courses. However, the couple’s interest in all that is art, creativity, and food never wavered. From there, Denny’s freelance client list grew. As a result, a plethora of his images can be seen in various publications such as Saveur, Imbibe, Garden & Gun, Southern Living, Taste, The Local Palate, Acadiana Profile Magazine, and New Orleans Magazine.
Denny Culbert has landed numerous commercial clients like Tabasco, Criollo de Oaxaca, Honey Baked Ham Company, Cane River Pecan Company, Khavyar, Joel’s Catering, the Best Stop, Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission, Savoie’s Foods, CC’s Coffeehouse, Bombay Sapphire, Condé Nast, Hennessy and more.
You may have also seen his work in recent cookbooks in print:
- Chasing the Gator: Isaac Toups and the New Cajun Cooking by: Isaac Toups and Jennifer V. Cole
- The New Orleans Kitchen: Classic Recipes and Modern Techniques for an Unrivaled Cuisine By: Justin Devillier and Jamie Feldmar
- Mosquito Supper Club: Cajun Recipes from a Disappearing Bayou by: Melissa M. Martin. Soon-to-be-released (April 2020)
The couple’s story doesn’t stop there. They recently opened Wild Child Wines, a “tiny neighborhood wine shop” in downtown Lafayette at 210 E Vermilion Street. Inspired by the couple’s spunky toddler, Kitt, Wild Child Wines will bring organic, natural wines from all over the world to our area. The wine shop will be a place to taste wine by the glass and hang out with fellow wine lovers. It will have a rotating stock of wines in their most natural form. Think handcrafted and small-batch wines with no taste-altering artificial additives.
They are excited to showcase wines from growers who are passionate about the natural processes of producing it. The same ‘shortcut-free’ processes that the couple came to respect in their history with food-growers and chefs. They will carry batches that producers carefully craft and take pride in. Each batch lends reverence to the land and vines. These growers do not take measures to speed up natural processes that sacrifice the taste and naturality of the wine.
It’ll be serious wine that’s meant to be fun
I’ll say this. If Wild Child Wines is created with any degree of passion as the couple’s zest for the creative and the culinary, it’s bound to flourish.