Guillaume Cottancin

Building an appetite through photography

Claude Hervé-Bazin
Guillaume Cottancin
Winter 2023-2024

“Gastronomy is the art of using food to create happiness,” wrote British philosopher and sociologist Theodore Zeldin. For Guillaume Cottancin, that same happiness also comes from his work: photographing beautifully chef-prepared dishes.

Falling under the spell
As is often the case, it all started with a chance opportunity. Guillaume Cottancin was studying economics and working on the side in a hip Genevan burger joint. He was interested in marketing, so the manager put him in charge of their social media and lent the young student a camera and some lights to take photos. Next thing you know, Guillaume was a food photographer.

Picture this: a loaf of bread on a cutting board. Back then, Guillaume knew next to nothing about photography. But after much research, many hours glued to the camera viewfinder, and a slew of plates, he found himself remembering his childhood. He had wanted to be a chef when he was young and often got his hands dirty in the kitchen with his mother. As a bartender and server, he saw everything the restaurant had to offer… and then he stepped through the looking glass.

When it’s beautiful, you know it’s good
Now, just a few years later, the self-taught photographer has become an expert in his field, known for his specialization in local dishes and ingredients. “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much,” explained Guillaume, citing the Gospel. His approach, which comes with some much-appreciated help from his wife, could not be more straightforward: stay focused on the job at hand.

His images defy extravagance in favour of purity and simpleness. “As I learned more about lighting, I started to remove more from my images. I wanted to get back to the basics and focus on the essential: the chef’s plate.” Photographing a dish isn’t easy. Doing it creatively and making it feel fresh is even harder. “I like playing with light and the textures of the restaurant to give the dish some context,” explains the young photographer. “I especially enjoy taking pictures of the dish when it’s not on the table.” On the floor? Why not! “That’s when you start to really be creative, have fun, and get some unique shots. But it’s not actually about what I see. Photography is simply sharing as a service, much like hospitality. The client sets it up and I make suggestions, but the end goal is that they are happy with the shots, and I am happy with my work. When that happens, it means we’ve aligned our visions and created images that are as unique as the restaurant.”

“Am I a foodie? Absolutely!”
Guillaume is not only blessed with eagle eyes, but he also has a very healthy appetite. “Am I a foodie? Absolutely! Food is my dream job and it’s what I spend most of my money on,” he says. The cherry on the cake is that after most of his photo shoots, he gets to taste the dishes he just photographed… despite the chefs’ protests that their dishes aren’t made to be eaten cold, of course. The chefs also often share perspectives that can be applied outside the restaurant.

“I admire restaurants and hotels that take the time to find innovative solutions for reducing food waste and those who support sourcing local products like butter, vegetables, and meat. Switzerland produces some wonderful meat and fish. It just takes more time to find them locally, instead of sourcing from the Atlantic Ocean. Of course, there’s a cost involved… but I think we should be encouraging these kinds of practices, even if that means raising prices.”