Meet Clara Luboff – a multi-talented Creative, Chef & Author who’s retraining as an Art Therapist
In this interview in our series of Inspirational Creative Women, it’s a great pleasure to introduce warm-hearted, multi-talented, ever-smiling Clara Luboff… Chef, Food Stylist, Food Blogger, cookbook Author, Ceramist, soon-to-be Art Therapist, and one of the most creative women we’ve ever met!
Clara is originally from Brazil, lived in Sydney for about 15 years, and then moved to Singapore 6 years ago.
Clara’s journey with Food Styling and Food Photography
Before emigrating to Australia from Brazil, Clara studied and worked as a chef in New York, Madrid and Barcelona. Clara did an internship with the well-known food stylist Donna Hay in Australia for 2 years. During that period, she got to experience working with the creative side of food styling and food photography, both in the studio and in restaurants. “I was happy to go with the flow and help out wherever needed, and that’s the reason I could learn such a lot,” says Clara. She also had a chance to write and develop new recipes for Donna’s magazine which made her learn even more through doing a lot of research beforehand. All this gave Clara very good exposure to the food styling business and gave her the confidence to start freelancing as a recipe developer and food stylist in 2008.
Since then, she has grown in leaps and bounds. She now writes and designs regularly for the Savour magazine for Cold Storage in Singapore and has worked for numerous big brands in the food industry (When we last caught up, she had a freezer full of ice-creams that she was styling for a series of Magnum and Ben & Jerry photo shoots – tough gig!).
Clara also has a fabulous food blog called Chilli and Clay, full of tasty recipes, fascinating and often-humorous food stories, and stunning food styling and photography.
Working in Singapore has its own complexities and creative challenges. One of the big differences Clara found between food styling in Australia versus Singapore is that she could easily hire background textures and props for her photo shoots in Australia, but not so in Singapore. So, she’s had to come up with creative solutions: she now creates her own props, paints her own backgrounds, and creates her own scenes for her photo shoots. She enjoys experimenting with vintage pieces, and uses different colours, textures, angles, etc. to make her photos stand out. All this is very time consuming – it takes about a week to prepare for a shoot, including painting backgrounds, dyeing fabrics, spray-painting cutlery, sourcing the appropriate props, etc. – but she loves every minute.
Clara’s Ceramic Art
Having to create her own styling props brought out another of Clara’s creative passions: ceramics. Drawing on the skills she learned as a youngster, she began creating unique ceramic pieces to showcase her dishes. Her signature style is an organic look with irregular shapes and rough, textured finishes. Each piece is painstakingly made by hand and, as this process takes so long. she tends be quite attached to them and makes them mostly for her own use. She does sell a few pieces, but that is not the main motivation for her ceramic work.
Clara’s tips for beautiful Food Photography
Clara’s secret to great food styling (and therefore beautiful food photography) is getting the props right (cutlery, crockery, backgrounds, etc.), and, most importantly, attention to details. Little things like putting some parsley or coriander next to the dish and sprinkling some water on it makes the whole picture look fresh and appetizing.
When photographing the food, first de-clutter the area and keep only relevant things around – maybe salt and pepper or something that relates to the dish.
Clara prefers to photograph during daytime when there is beautiful natural light. Avoid taking photos at night, especially if there’s not much light.
Clara’s lens of choice is her 50mm prime lens and she prefers this to a macro lens for food photography.
A tripod with the ability to hold your camera both above the food and at an angle is very useful, though not essential if your camera’s ISO can go higher without impacting image quality. It also depends on how big you’re planning to print or display your food photos.
Clara’s cookbook: The Vibrant Table – Whole Recipes from a Food Stylist’s Kitchen
Clara decided to compile the recipes she’d written for her blog Chili and Clay over the years plus recipes influenced by her Brazilian heritage into her first cookbook, The Vibrant Table, which was published in 2017. It was a long process that took over a year to complete, but she’s thrilled with the result and the quality of the publication.
The hardcover book features a collection of over 80 original, wholesome and nutritionally balanced recipes that reflect the time Clara has lived and travelled in South America, Australia and Asia.
“Food is not just about cooking a dish – the ingredients used, the colour and texture of the food and the presentation are all important aspects that draw you towards a particular dish,” says Clara. Her recipes stand out as she does everything from scratch, starting with the sauces. The book includes recipes for soups, snacks, mains, salads and desserts.
The Vibrant Table was nominated in the Design category of The Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2018. With its unique food styling tips and entertaining menus, this book is a feast for the eyes and the palate.
A new career on the horizon
Towards the end of 2018, Clara felt a strong pull towards giving back to society. When she came across a master’s degree course in Art Therapy at La Salle College of the Arts in Singapore, Clara decided to make her lifelong creative passion an even more meaningful one. Clara recently started her 2-year degree and is absolutely thrilled that through art she will be able to work towards helping others with their personal mental healing. Clara is taking a break from food styling for the moment so she can dedicate herself fully to her studies. As part of her master’s, it’s fundamental that Clara continues to produce art on a daily basis, and really reflect on the processes behind it. “By observing my own preferences and art processes of creation, I get to discover myself on a deeper level, and will hopefully be able to help others do the same”, says Clara.
Clara likes to be around people but also needs time for herself to recharge and find new inspiration. She found photography tours to be a great way to do this, and recently came back from a trip to Rajasthan with Karen Lucas and eight other women. “It was the trip of a life time!” says Clara, “My best life experience ever yet!”
Sebastiao Salgado is one photographer whose stunning black and white travel photographs are a major source of inspiration for Clara.
When asked about her plans for the future, Clara says that in addition to finishing her Art Therapy studies and starting a new career, she would love to continue traveling to new places, bringing back ideas and spices, and creating more new recipes. She’s also looking forward to the next photography tour with Karen.
Good luck with your ventures Clara!! You’re an inspiration!