The first time I met Will Guidara from Eleven Madison Park was on assignment. I was shooting a profile for Wine Spectator Magazine.
INTO THE KITCHEN: ELEVEN MADISON PARK
He welcomed me into his midtown loft, where striking artwork and photographs adorned the walls. It's a perfect atmosphere for a portrait. A comfortable cadence set in as the shoot began, exchanging jokes and a casualness filled the air. Then, when I saw the nearly empty fridge with left-over Chinese food, I knew I would like this person.
A month or so went by, and I reached out to him about an idea I couldn't get out of my head. I asked to shoot EMP's kitchen without any restrictions. Nothing curated – I wanted total access! I was looking for authentic moments and the freedom to capture them as honestly as I saw them. This required him to trust a photographer he had met only once. After a discussion with Daniel Humm, they agreed.
At that point in my career, I had shot renowned celebrity chefs and dozens of kitchens. As such, I'm very at home in this type of environment. Years prior, I was there before shooting the cover of Food Arts Magazine. But this time around, as soon as I stepped foot into the kitchen, I knew I was in an extraordinary place. The kitchen was a well-oiled machine. The transition from the kitchen to the front of the house was seamless. That itself is a work of art. It's rare to be in a kitchen that maintains such unprecedented discipline, respect, talent, and excellence. As they skillfully refined the Japanese Omoiyari in hospitality, it became evident that Will's life abounded with art and craftsmanship.
One night while shooting, early in service, Chef Chris Flint called out, "Tasting menu for two!" The kitchen energetically responded, "Oui!" Then they continued with their steady, smooth, efficient art of repetition.
As the tickets came in more rapidly and the energy naturally elevated. You could almost sense the moment when the crew tightened in. They found more focus and more excellence. The call came again, "Tasting menu for two!" And with a forceful enjoyment, the kitchen crew responded, "Oui!" Then they elevated into their familiar rhythm for the night's service.
I look back at Will's portrait and am reminded how when I saw him at EMP, he was constantly inspiring those around him. Both the perfection of the kitchen and Will's innate ability to uplift others had been a very beautiful thing to witness.