BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé watching Edwina Pickles lead a Nikon food photography workshop

If you feel like you’ve seen BlackStar Pastry’s watermelon strawberry cake before, that’s probably because it’s the most Instagrammed dessert in the world. Owner of BlackStar Pastry, Christopher Thé, is known for his photogenic desserts, so when Nikon invited us to test out their latest camera on his latest creation – the shibori cake – we jumped at the chance.

The photography workshop was presented by Nikon and held at the Harold Park Tramsheds in Glebe, Sydney’s ‘oldest new food destination’ which has recently been transformed into a European-inspired market hall. The heritage-listed sheds are expansive and extensive – boutique providores share the floor with a supermarket, and if the onsite brewery isn’t quite up to scratch, there’s even a bottle shop with a sommelier on hand. Eateries range from Belle’s Hot Chicken at one end, to Butcher And The Farmer at the other – and yes, there is Messina too!

Out the front of Harold Park Tramsheds

It’s a feast for the eyes, the belly, and as us foodies know all too well, your camera too. Your friends will be pleading with you to stop or the food will get cold – you’ll be pleading for just one more pic.

Enter Christopher Thé and the Nikon D3400, and the photography workshop got under way. The purpose of the workshop was to preview Christopher’s latest creation, the Shibori cake – a classic French couer a la crème dessert with an ancient Japanese twist. Fairfax photographer Edwina Pickles hosted the morning’s proceedings.

Christopher began by explaining the inspiration behind the cake. One day, as a garnish bled from a failed kitchen experiment, he noticed that the deep indigo stain left behind resembled a Japanese shibori pattern. Much like tie-dyeing, shibori is an ancient dyeing technique which creates patterns in fabric by twisting or compressing the material, typically in dark indigo or navy colours. On seeing the stain, Christopher says he saw inspiration for four or five shibori-inspired desserts.

To start, Christopher sprinkled some powdered crystallised violets in a crisscross pattern on a muslin cloth to line some heart-shaped molds. This is what would give the shibori cake its alluring indigo tinge.

BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé making his new couer a la crème dessert The couer a la crème dessert in muslin lined molds

He then whipped up the ingredients for the couer a la crème in a mixer – eggwhites, crème of tartar, sugar, cream, curd, and lemon juice. The couer a la crème is essentially a crustless cheesecake. No baking is required – once filled with the mixture, the molds are simply kept in the fridge and drained overnight. “Kind of like labne,” Christopher explained.

5mixing_margaretsevenjhaziv2Christopher worked fast, and catching it all on film was a challenge. We knelt in front of the chefs to get a variety of angles under Edwina’s instruction. Fortunately the entry-level Nikon D3400 felt quickly natural. Although navigating the camera menus took some getting used to (I’m by no means a professional photographer), it clicked soon enough, and the lenses were as fast and responsive as the action they were capturing. I switched between my 18-55mm kit lens for wide shots, and for close ups of Christopher and his creations I used a 35mm f/1.8 lens borrowed from Nikon.

BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé mixing up his newest creation BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé and his sous chef in action

A couer a la crème is traditionally served with raspberry coulis, but for Christopher’s shibori cake it would be served with a blueberry sauce and a black sesame sponge. In the picture above you can see Christopher, along with his sous chef, using a whipped cream charger to aerate and squirt the foamy dark sponge mixture into a paper coffee cup, which would then go into the microwave. Chef’s secrets I suppose!

On the side were some of BlackStar Pastry’s classic dishes for us to practice close-ups on – the iconic Watermelon Strawberry cake, and their Orange Cake with Persian figs. Draped in the abundant natural light of the Tramsheds, the cakes shone. Although the D3400 boasts an upper ISO of 25600 you won’t be needing it here – it could come in handy during a dimly lit dinner, supported with a bounce light from a warm diffuser or white menu card to keep graininess down.

BlackStar Pastry's infamous Strawberry Watermelon Cake

Orange Cake with Persian figs from BlackStar Pastry

At this point, the urge to Instagram was building. Usually when you’re using a DSLR you have to wait until you get home to transfer all the photos off the SD card, and then reupload them to your phone.

Not so with the D3400 and Nikon’s new SnapBridge function. SnapBridge connects your phone to your camera wirelessly via Bluetooth – so within seconds, your high quality snaps are on your smartphone, ready to hashtag. The low-frequency Bluetooth used by SnapBridge means your phone battery won’t drain before dessert melts, something existing wifi-enabled cameras can’t claim. I was shooting for 3 hours and my phone battery only went down by 15% in that time.

The transferred pics are automatically downsized too, to around 300kb, so you don’t have to worry about storage space on your phone. Admittedly, it was fiddly to pair my phone with the camera via the SnapBridge app, but I can forgive this since it’s something you only ever have to do once. SnapBridge is currently only available in Nikon’s latest models like the D3400.

After taking time to get some close up shots, Christopher’s shibori cake was almost ready for its own close up. He arranged all the elements on both a black and a white plate so we could experiment with what looked best.

BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé plating up his newest creation

BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé adding final touches to his new dessert

BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé presenting his new dessert on 2 different coloured plates

The shibori cake looked amazing – a delicate heart of indigo-hued couer a la crème, accompanied with an airy black sesame sponge, blueberry sauce, and a sprinkling of crystallised violets and sliced blueberries. Edwina encouraged us to get up close and personal with the dish, turn it around to get a range of angles, and compose a variety of shots to highlight different ingredients.

The finished couer a la crème dessert with blueberry, black sesame sponge and lemon balm

The finished couer a la crème dessert with blueberry, black sesame sponge and lemon balm pictured in a natural spotlight. Created by BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé

The finished couer a la crème dessert with blueberry, black sesame sponge and lemon balm pictured on a black plate. Created by BlackStar Pastry's Christopher Thé If you’re photographing something like the shibori cake, with many elements on the plate, Edwina’s tip is to focus on the main ingredient and give it some love. Here, it’s that gorgeous heart of cream.

It’s another instant icon for BlackStar Pastry – neatly concluding a session with the world’s most Instagrammable pastry chef and Nikon’s most Instagram-friendly camera. We’re sure we’ll see plenty of incarnations of Christopher’s shibori cake on Instagram soon.

If you’d like to test out the D3400 yourself, Nikon has a booth at the Harold Park Tramsheds where you can do just that, as well as check out the finalists of the 2016 Clique ‘Shoot The Chef’ photography exhibition.

Clique ‘Shoot The Chef’ photography exhibition 2016 Presented by Nikon 
Harold Park Tramsheds

1 Dalgal Way, Forest Lodge, Sydney NSW
October 7 – 17
9am-5pm – Nikon booth opening hours for demos and to test out gear.

To find out more visit: mynikonlife.com.au

I Ate My Way Through attended as a guest of Nikon

  • Has anyone had the opportunity to try the ‘Shibori’ cake at BlackStar? Let us know what you thought!