Food stylist Gloria Chung and photographer Mike Pickles collaborate on an eye-popping series of photos inspired by the panic buying of specific foods in local supermarkets
Scenes of empty supermarket shelves across Hong Kong, a by-product of coronavirus-related panic buying, is just one of the many strange occurrences in recent weeks. As staples such as rice began to disappear, some grocery stores resorted to putting a per-customer quota on other food items—specifically, canned meats such as Spam and corned beef. While government officials have repeatedly reassured the public that a food shortage in Hong Kong during this time would be highly unlikely, shoppers nevertheless took the opportunity to stock up their pantries to prepare for the very worst—or, at least, to ensure that there would be plenty of non-perishables in the cupboards to last them through days or weeks sheltered at home. Observing the manic hoarding that had taken place across Hong Kong, freelancers Gloria Chung (a food stylist) and Mike Pickles (a photographer) decided to channel their creativity—and free time—towards the Apocalypse Kitchen project that they hoped would bring some lighthearted humour during these difficult times. We speak to Chung about the images and the stories behind them.
How did the project come about? What was the inspiration?
Mike and I had been talking about doing some fun projects for a while and the current situation provided us with both the concept and the time to shoot something. As freelancers, work was quieter since the virus, so we wanted to make the most of it and shoot something.
The day we had lunch and planned for the project, I was rushing around buying masks and hand sanitiser and we both felt the situation was a bit funny and ironic. The inspiration definitely came from what happened lately in Hong Kong where people cleared the entire supermarket: panic buying from rice to toilet paper, sanitary pads to cup noodles. The empty supermarket does look like a movie's doomsday scene. It is rather insane but also very sad. I am always a bit of a doomsday believer; I stocked up on water and I now plan to buy an electricity generator. I can't help wonder, what if it is really the last day in Hong Kong tomorrow? What if there is no import of food? How does Hong Kong survive on its own? As food lovers, we started joking about what would be left in our kitchen as a last meal. I hope it's not just Spam and frozen siu mai!
How did you set about creating the images?
We decided to use food bought from local supermarkets and cleaning supplies to create a scene about the last meal. Using vivid popping colours and bright light was so that we can create a lighthearted ‘fun’ feel in the sets. There is enough doom and gloom around already so a bit of light relief on a subject can be as healthy for you as eating a healthy meal.
The empty supermarket does look like a movie's doomsday scene. It is rather insane but also very sad.
I found a lot of really graphic, colourful tinned food packaging that was amusing. Some of the designs of industrial food are actually rather interesting. For example, the yellow siu mai looks very artificial (and it probably is). Or, if you look closer at a piece of Spam, it gives you goose bumps because of how much it looks like rotten meat.
How have the recent social distancing or working from home measures in Hong Kong changed the way you cook?
We definitely cook way more than before. We both work from home as freelancers but before coronavirus, we ate out all the time. Now it seems "dangerous" everywhere. Everyday there is news about how people got coronavirus and it makes going out worrying. (For example, a recent news piece mentioned that some contracted virus from touching infected books at a Buddhist temple.) I try to eat as healthy as possible at home since immunity is very important at this time so I make sure I have my greens!
Now that Hongkongers have experienced specific food shortages and panic buying at the supermarkets, what are the staples you recommend every home cook have in their pantry to prepare for future potential apocalypses?
Please, no Spam! There are a lot of other delicious and inexpensive canned foods. I highly recommend sardines because they are high in protein. Imagine it is the apocalypse: you want to stay as healthy as possible. Sardines are fantastic to eat on their own or on bread, pasta or rice. Canned tomatoes are a permanent staple in my pantry. You can braise it with any meat to make a ragu, or make a simple tomato sauce for pasta. Canned tomatoes are also rather packed with vitamins. Again, you want to try to survive even if it is the last day on earth! I also have a lot of dashi "tea bags", because it is so easy to make soup or stock to cook with. You can drink the dashi on its own, add miso to make miso soup, or add it to any dishes to enhance the flavour. I like cooking capellini with prawns with dashi stock to make great Japanese-style pasta.
Can you share what you ate recently while at home all day?
Dry noodles mixed with XO sauce and a vegetarian turmeric sauce from Nicole's Kitchen, topped with dumplings and vegetables.
Capellini with dashi stock, prawn, lemon and chilli.
Lots of vegetables!
I have been baking a lot too, so my home is full of scones and banana bread now.
What’s the best way to give instant noodles an instant upgrade?
- Always cook your noodles and make your soup separately so the flour on the noodles will not dilute the soup. Use your own broth made with dashi tea bags.
- Use sesame oil as the last touch to add aroma.
- Stir fry: Boil the noodles for 2 minutes and stir-fry with soy sauce, fish sauce and any ingredients you like.
- Cold noodles: Boil the noodles for 3 minutes and mix with peanut butter, tahini, vinegar and soy sauce.
- Fancy: Boil the noodles for 3 minutes and grate some Parmesan on top with garlic powder.