A two and a bit hours drive up to Nottingham, 5 am on a Friday morning, took me back about 20 years to my early days of London where I used to travel up to Nottingham to hang out with my friends at weekends. Back then I had no car and hitchhiked. Sunny evenings where I was picked up instantly and was told all the stories that the driver had obviously never told anyone, knowing full well that they’d never see me again, to people trying to sell me their God and sign me up to their view of the afterlife, to getting stuck in a traffic jam on the M1 with someone high on speed to having a man in suit in his brand new Mercedes, promising to take me out of his way, provided he could change into some shorts first…. No thank you!
Now, 20 years or so later, I find myself driving up in my own sensible car, heading for a Michelin star restaurant in Nottingham. (How times have changed.) Sat Bains is the only Michelin star restaurant in Nottingham I am aware of. It lies in the most unlikely place you can imagine; Just off a main road, under some power cables, it is impossible to join the network of cars again after a meal due to blind corners with fast cars wizzing by, next to a tobacco factory that used to smell of apple pies (if you take my assistant Pat’s word for it – also an ex-Nottingham student).
The restaurant itself is a real gem. With its own vegetable garden and chefs opening oysters under the blue skies, it also has its resident rabbit. The idea behind this shoot was not only to photograph Sat Bains in action, his big presence working with his chefs in the kitchen, but we also wanted to show the softer side of Sat. The hard side was the man who goes to the gym every day, goes hunting and looks and acts very much like the alpha male. The softer Sat was the man who loves his soft, fluffy bunny, Junior. (In fact, the only thing you are not allowed to joke about is the bunny, and what it would taste like on a silver platter.)
The telephone conversations prior to the shoot were something to be transcribed in itself. The picture editor from OFM and I discussed how we could photograph Sat with the bunny, with a nod to the kitchen and food, without it looking like Sat was about to cook it.
Sat looking like a bigger, stronger, sleeker version of Jason Statham made it hard to think of a solution to this problem. If he wore chef’s whites then there would be an instant indication to him eating the bunny. Without a chefs jacket we had nothing that said food, and it may as well have been a cover for Pets Are Us. As sometimes happens with these ideas being bounced back and forth is that an idea appears out of the blue. Sometimes it seems like a throw away idea, as it is something you could imagine in a cartoon, but in real life it would be impossible. I mentioned to Michael that if the bunny could wear a chefs outfit too, then it would look like they worked together. (Last time I checked, the chefs outfits for bunnies were all sold out due to high demand from Buggs Bunny’s kitchen), so Michael continued the joke with suggesting ‘chefs hat with ear holes’. ‘Chefs Hat’ – I thought…. It stuck to my brain like a throw away plaster in the swimming hall changing room sticks to your feet.
That evening, just before going to bed, I asked my wife as a joke, (but also as I knew that if it could be made, she could do it); ‘Can you make a chefs hat for a rabbit?’ Without hesitation she asked me to pass her paper, staples and tape. 5 minutes later, there it was. My eyes light up and I knew the shoot was saved.
The rest of the shoot was to show Sat as the hunter, the sportsman, the iron fisted head chef, the alpha male. Well, that was easy. A tractor wheel, shotgun and a kitchen filled with liquid ice smoke should cover that feel.…