Introducing Haruko Hayakawa and David Chow — the duo behind House of Chow and our stunning dumplings campaign imagery. In this week’s On the Fly, we’re so excited to share the creative influences and processes behind our launch.
It was an honor to have them as partners on this campaign, and to see them so artfully bring all the sensorial feelings of food into a visual experience for us to share with you.
Keep reading for some behind the scenes content on how they built stunning sets for our dumplings, and what inspires them to create the work they do.
In what ways do food or flavor inspire your creative process?
Haruko: I believe that food is deeply tied to childhood and a sense of home for many. It's one of my favorite subjects to work on because most people have happy memories around things like dumplings and hotpot.
From a visual standpoint, I think that food is a sensorial experience of texture, smell, color, flavor and taste. For example, the juicy sweetness of biting into a ripe peach is different from eating a crisp and spicy chili pepper. I think within that experience lies an energy that can be translated visually. I allow the food to inspire me and dictate the creative.
For the Fly by Jing visuals, I allowed the flavor of the sauces and dumplings to drive the creative direction. For me personally, there is no world where the robust flavors of Fly by Jing products would end up on an overly manicured and delicate photo set. These dumplings that are might look unassuming on the outside are bursting with flavor and we took inspiration from that with our color, food styling and lighting choices.
David: Food inspires our creative process because it’s a necessary part of our human existence. Food and flavor can conjure up memories and feelings from our earliest upbringing to important milestone events in our lives. The ability of food to awaken our senses and also by allowing ourselves to be aware that food is not simply about taste. We can allow our other four basic senses of sight, smell, sound and touch to enhance our culinary experience.
Once we know that food is a total sensory experience, we can relate and breakdown the culinary process to a photographic creative process. As a photographer, sight is the most forefront sense to depict. We want to create an aesthetically pleasing image to view. However, we can enhance the photograph by adding texture or action into the photograph, so the viewer can bring their other senses into experience.
What would you say are your strongest creative influences?
Haruko: I would say that I'm an emotional creature and I'm strongly influenced by the feeling of a moment in time more than one specific artist or medium. Most of my creative work is driven by a two things: nostalgia and my modern day struggles, whether that's around my Japanese American identity, womanhood or finding beauty in the mundanity of my everyday life. Visually I drawn inspiration from my Japanese American upbringing, my parents magazines and albums from the 80s-90s, retro anime, robots, Studio Ghibli and a variety of photographers and illustrators. I also love to inject my work with humor and slightly surreal elements.
The dumpling campaign images are stunning — what influences did you draw from for this shoot?
Haruko: Thank you, we are so grateful to be brought on for this launch!
The team had sent over a deck with initial thoughts about the campaign launch. There were references to modern art and artful Chinese food plating. I took the inspirational starting points and distilled it down to creating a body of images that felt artful and sculpturally driven while having a sense of simplicity for maximum visual impact. The dumpling itself is so small that I knew we had to shoot close in without overcrowding with too many props. The main driver in the images was to create miniature food sculptures that could appear on a gallery riser without looking too labored. There wasn't one specific creative influence we were referencing as much as I was working from a place of intuition, understanding the Fly by Jing brand and modern art influences the team wanted to embrace and executing it in a way that felt appropriate.
Process wise, David and I were spitballing ideas and he had mentioned this idea of stacking ingredients and a lightbulb went off in my head. I started sketching out a pig hoof with ingredients stacked on it and that was the starting point for all the visuals.
What were you aiming to communicate with these images, and how did you translate from your sketches to reality?
Haruko: I wanted these images to scream flavor. I wanted them to look glossy, vibrant and crave-able. I took inspiration from Fly by Jing's Chili and Zhong sauce which are well seasoned and not just spicy but deep in flavor and complexity. I wanted to take some of that energy and imbue it into the imagery.
I explored styling the food in slightly unexpected and (maybe) over the top ways. I wanted to use ingredients that are common in Asian cuisine and may be considered unpalatable for some and showcase them in a way that's bright and unexpected–chicken feet, pork trotters, head on shrimp, suckling pig etc. These are all ingredients that David and I grew up eating and did not want to shy away from. We were relieved that Jing and team felt the same way!
As far as execution goes, I spent many hours prepping and practicing. I bought the ingredients a week before the shoot and spent time stacking them in order to come up with the most interesting arrangement. I watched YouTube videos on how to cut cucumber flowers and made like 10 daikon swans ahead of the shoot. I also tested out different ways of "staining" and torching the pig hoofs so it looked like Chinese style BBQ even though it's raw in the photo.
I think translating sketches into reality comes down to being prepared and open to problem solving ahead of time and on the fly during a shoot.
How do you think Asian food and art culture have developed over these past few years? Where would you like to see it go?
David: We live in a much more global and accepting environment in the United States than ever before. Asian food and culture has been on the rise and will continue for the coming years in the US. I hope that with this wave, we can see our friends prosper in this expanding market that is here to stay.
Your project “Our Roots” is a powerful photo series that you say explores the complexities of Asian American identity.
How would you say that your artistic processes influence your Asian American identity formation, and vice versa?
Haruko: Creativity and art have always been my best friend and emotional outlet since childhood. It's no different now, although my work is less emo than my teen years! My Asian American identity has been an underlying thread in all of my work whether or not it's overtly expressed.
The Roots series in particular was created during a time where I had become more accepting of myself and my cultural identity. I used to struggle with the shame of not being Japanese enough but not feeling American enough either. I was raised by proudly Japanese parents who are not US citizens but Green Card holders. They did not feel the urgency or need to assimilate into American culture. I had to learn how to become more Americanized and embrace American "ideals" that were not embraced at home but were required to thrive socially.
When I was in high school, my AP Art thesis was around my Japanese American identity and how turbulent it was for me at the time. It was something so familiar yet not familiar enough. Growing up in Connecticut, I didn't know any other Japanese Americans and I was usually one of ~3 Asians in my class. I always felt like I was in the awkward in-between culturally without a solid sense of belonging. It took some time for me to feel a sense of self confidence and ownership in my life experience to just be myself even if I had few who could relate to me. I think my art and creative work gives me space to express that part of myself. Sometimes it allows me to unpack heavy or loaded emotions in a way that brings me contentment.
Nowadays, I think you can see some Japanese/Asian influence in most of my work, whether it's a stylistic choice or referenced through subject matter. It's such a deep part of me that it comes out naturally when I'm left to my own creative devices and I wouldn't have it any other way.
Are there any rituals around food, or dishes you look to, that help you stay grounded and focused during hectic times?
Haruko: These are definitely hectic times. My first food ritual would be whisking up matcha every morning. Although I don't make matcha in the most traditional or ceremonial way, it's my personal signal to start my morning calmly and intentionally. My best ideas are first thing in the morning and it's in this calm, and often completely solitary and silent state that I come up with ideas like the Fly By Jing dumpling sketches.
One of our comfort foods is congee. We use an Instant Pot so it's a convenient dump and go sort of situation. I love how congee (or Okayu in Japanese) is ubiquitous in most asian countries so David may top his his favorite cucumber pickles from Chinatown while I may opt for Japanese umeboshi (pickled plum) and scallions.
David: My morning ritual is starting off the day with a cup of coffee on most weekdays and on weekends where I can relax a little more, I’ll start the day with a cup of milk tea.
My comfort food when life gets busy is to get a “rice box” with roast pork + roast duck/roast chicken. It reminds me visiting Chinatown with my parents when I was a kid living in upstate, NY. It’s a delicious and humbling meal that people from all walks of life eat!