Picture This: Food Photographers Dylan + Jeni Focus on L.A.’s Cocktail Scene

Fresh off their <em>Imbibe</em> issue, the duo tell us where they’ve been eating and drinking
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About a decade ago in the early years of food blogging, Dylan Ho and Jeni Afuso made names for themselves as bloggers who took really drool-worthy photos of whatever they were eating. Cut to now and the duo are called on to shoot food and portraits for some of the top food publications like  Food & Wine, Saveur, and Bon Appetit. For Imbibe magazine’s new March/April issue, the publication decided to let photography tell the story and had Ho and Afuso, aka Dylan + Jeni, shoot the entire issue, which showcases Los Angeles’ drink scene. (Check me out on page 21!) I was able to nail them down for a quick Q&A between their photography gigs.

How did you guys get started shooting photos for big-name food publications?

Dylan Ho: Jeni and I have been photographing our food and cocktail adventures since our early blog days. We didn’t think this would become a career path until we were first approached by a restaurant that needed brand photography. One thing led to another from there as more restaurants began contacting us, as well as publications doing story pieces. We had no idea we would be photographing for national publications and we’re very grateful.

Jeni Afuso: Dylan and I started our brand in L.A. We started our careers because people in L.A. believed in us and hired us for brand photography. Over time we were able to build our name locally and I think publications started to take notice. We have a lot of energy and we are always down for a shoot, especially the unusual ones like photographing the food of Portland’s strip clubs or unusual confiscated items from LAX’s Customs and Border Patrol.

Who are some of the top food/drink people you’ve photographed?

DH: For the 2015 L.A. issue of Imbibe magazine, we were very excited to photograph chef Suzanne Goin of Lucques, A.O.C. and The Hungry Cat. A.O.C. was our first fine-dining dinner we could afford when we were first dating. To this day, we still cook a lot from her Sunday Suppers cookbook.

JA: Last year we had a shoot with Hubert Keller for Bon Appetit’s Vegas Uncork’d. It was a crazy weekend of shoots and we were running around all over Las Vegas barely having time to eat or sit, but when we met Hubert Keller he made us feel so relaxed. I think it’s his calming voice and the way he moves. That was probably the most calming shoot we’ve ever had. Suzanne Goin was another chef we loved shooting. She’s an absolute doll, so sweet and humble. She’s also such a classic beauty.

As foodies, you must have gone gaga over some of your photographic subjects. Which ones did you really geek out over?

JA: Like most women, I’ve had a girl crush on Kuniko Yagi after watching her on Top Chef. It was an absolute treat to shoot her and eat all of her delicious food at Hinoki & The Bird.

We also shot Daniel Boulud making his favorite midnight snack…le pan bagnat (tuna sandwich) at his restaurant DB Brasserie in Las Vegas. If you only knew how much olive oil and butter he used to toast his bread…it was so delicious my heart started to hurt.

Making people relaxed and looking good is an art you guys have obviously nailed down. What are some of the things you do to coax people out of their shell, especially those who–ahem–hate having their picture taken? 

DH: We love taking portraits of people. It’s a challenge–it’s problem-solving right on the spot. Sometimes it happens right off the bat, sometimes it takes a little time. Sometimes you may not get what you want because we only have five minutes with that person. But we love the unpredictability of portraiture, and that’s why no two shoots will ever look the same. Sometimes a significant other, a funny coworker, or good friend of your subject may be the answer to getting the shot you want. And as you may personally remember, a little whiskey can easily calm a person down and boost confidence haha!

JA: It’s true. Alcohol always helps! We also like to show them our photos as we go along so our subjects are in-tune with our direction. Once they see what we’ve taken, they seem a little more relaxed and not so worried about the way they look. We try to be quick and painless, kind of like going in for shots at the doctor.

You said that you don’t really get to go out when you’re in L.A. so what’s on your shortlist of bars and restaurants you frequent?

DH: We definitely try and go out when we’re in L.A. No matter where we’ve just traveled to, a visit to San Gabriel Valley for Chinese food or Koreatown usually happens right after we land at LAX. We love to eat in Downtown L.A. a lot since we live nearby. Cocktail-wise, I love going to General Lee’s in Chinatown and The Normandie Club in Koreatown.

JA: Here are some places we enjoy:

  • Cafecito Organico for an almond latte.
  • McCall’s Meat and Fish for pastries at 10a.m. Get there when they open for warm pretzel rolls and kouign amanns. Karen McCall’s pastries are some of L.A.’s best-kept secrets.
  • Messy croissants at Ledlow.
  • Breakfast burritos at Cofax.
  • Strawberry ice cream at McConnell’s.
  • Mariscos Jaliscos for shrimp tacos in Boyle Heights.
  • Za’atar fries at Odys + Penelope.
  • Hand-cut noodles at Hangari Bajirak Kalgooksoo in Koreatown.
  • Spicy chili crab at Szechuan Impression.
  • Falafels and chicken shawarma at Joe’s Falafel in Studio City.
  • Kebabs at Mini Kabob in Glendale.
  • Baklava at Skaf’s in Glendale
  • Drinks at Varnish, The Normandie Club, Tonga Hut on a quiet night.

What is your go-to cocktail when ordering at a bar?

DH: Rye Old-Fashioned.

JA: Aperol Spritz.

For their next project, the couple are shooting the photography for a new book by online publication Punch’s Leslie Pariseau and Talia Baiochhi. But you can follow them on Instagram now at @dylanandjeni.

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