Spotlight on Seattle Food Photographer and Art Director Denise Sakaki

Denise Sakaki

Denise Sakaki

With a brilliant eye and amazing style whose work has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, New York Magazine's Grub Street, 425 Magazine and DList, along with doing creative work for organizations such as Microsoft and the United Nations, it is my pleasure to put the spotlight on Seattle Food Photographer, Art Director and Blogger, Denise Sakaki. Denise was introduced to me by another talented lady, Terri Ann Johnson, and I've loved keeping up with her work since, including her Blog, Wasabi Prime.

Thank you Denise for taking the time to share your world with us! Here are some of her thoughts on being a food photographer, the Seattle food scene, and of course we can't forget her adorable pup, Beeks.


Jumping into Food Photography

"I used to do film photography years ago as a hobby, but film and development costs were starting to become cost prohibitive. And hey, Real Life was like, you’ve got to focus on your day job. I didn’t really get inspired again until I started writing the food blog back in 2008/2009, using an old point-and-shoot digital camera, and then eventually upgrading to a DSLR Canon EOS 50D. I needed something purposeful to shoot, even if it was whatever I was having for dinner, and the love for photography returned, allowing for more exploration into the medium."

Favorite Shoots

Black Bottle Photos by Denise Sakaki

Black Bottle Photos by Denise Sakaki

"I really enjoy working with restaurants to do their menu photography. I do a bit of work with Black Bottle – They have such beautifully natural, approachable dishes; nothing fussy or intimidating. It’s easy to just get lost in those shoots, creating a little narrative in my head of a wonderful dinner party about to happen, and these are the beautiful dishes getting ready to be enjoyed by friends. It’s a wonderful freeform experience. We know what we want to photograph, but the shots are so often composed based on the props we have handy and how the light is behaving that day. I don’t often use a tripod or a whole lot of lighting gear, so I like that off-the-cuff, spontaneous way of shooting. The images feel more natural and serendipitous."

The Seattle Food Scene

"The thing I’ve heard so often about the Seattle food scene is how easygoing and friendly it is – and I agree! Like most bloggers, you just sort of show up, and I think because so many have done the same, you have that sense of shared experience of being The New Kid. You want everyone to feel welcomed, to not feel intimidated, that it’s not some exclusive club. Everyone’s here because they love some aspect of food, whether it’s the exploration of its creation, learning about new ingredients, and of course, EATING."

Tackling the Kitchen

Denise Sakaki's Meatball, Pepperoni, Mushroom and Cheese Deep Dish Pizza using a Squash/Yam Gluten-Free Crust

Denise Sakaki's Meatball, Pepperoni, Mushroom and Cheese Deep Dish Pizza using a Squash/Yam Gluten-Free Crust

"I love new techniques; I’m more about the process than the finished dish, although that’s wonderful too, of course. I definitely love making the dishes and feeling more accomplished with methods, because those methods are repeated in other dishes. Learning to make pasta from scratch is easily applicable to making dumplings by hand. You feel a little more powerful in your little household universe with that bit of knowledge. Also, I don’t think people need to have a ton of gear to have a solid, working kitchen – I love Alton Brown’s admonition of the “Uni-Tasker,” some fad gadget that performs a single thing, and takes up needless space. I’m always looking up “life hacks” online to see what other people do to accomplish meal tasks – the video of someone shaking a bunch of garlic cloves in metal bowls to remove the peels still entertains me more than it should."

Fondest Memories of Meals Growing Up

Denise Sakaki Quote | Foodie Empire

"My mom insists she’s not a good cook, that she just prepared meals out of necessity, but I always say she was an amazing cook. She would experiment now and then, but she always stuck with dishes that the family liked and ones that could feed us for a few days. It was a mix of farmer-style Japanese food (pork tofu, anything that went well with rice), and 50s era staples like meatloaf, cabbage rolls, spaghetti. The point is, she made it all; we weren’t relying on food that came from a greasy paper bag – restaurant and fast food meals were a treat. She made meals that were meant for everyday consumption, but that’s just it, she did it every day. She still does! I have a lot of happy memories of helping her with little tasks around the kitchen, but mostly watching her do her thing – she ran the kitchen like a fine-tuned machine, she knew exactly how long something would take to prep, cook, and get onto the table. It sounds so technical, but that level of confidence and organization is a big part of being a great cook; you’re not held back by the fear that something isn’t good or fancy enough. Food can be special and celebratory, but it’s also an everyday nourishment, so even the most humble of dishes can be wonderful when it’s made in your own kitchen."

The Perfect Meal

"My perfect meal is one I don’t have to clean up after. HA! Well, I guess it depends – at home, my perfect meal is taking a basic, weekday dish and continuing to improve upon it, adding some new ingredient or technique that makes it better. We were talking about meatloaf before – nothing special, but once I did the two-part cooking method, letting it cook low and slow in a baking dish to keep it tender, then overturning it onto a baking tray, glazing it, and cranking up the heat to develop a crust, I was like, this is kitchen sorcery!  When I’m out at a restaurant, a perfect meal is anything with friends, where we’re just having a good time and catching up – that’s the social nourishment of food that’s undeniable."

...This is kitchen sorcery!
— Denise Sakaki (in regards to transforming a basic meatloaf into something amazing)

Favorite Ingredients

Denise Sakaki Favorite Ingredients

"I regret it later, but I do love spicy-pepper-anything. Szechuan peppercorns are fantastic – I use them in non-Asian cooking for their fragrant heat. The Korean pepper paste, gochujang/kochujang, is a staple – it’s spicy, but sweet, and adds an intensity of flavor to stir frys and soups. Restaurants are popularizing it, so it makes it easier to get, kind of like the way miso paste has become; it’s nice to see it in non-specialty grocery stores. I also love porcini powder – it’s just dried porcinis ground into a fine dust. I buy it in bulk online, since I use it quite often. It makes for richer-tasting sauces and gravies, gives great depth of flavor to soups – I love adding it to meatless dishes. I recommend it to my vegetarian/vegan friends."


Beeks the Bacon Addict

Beeks the Bacon Addict

What Beeks Loves

"Our dog Beeks/BK is excited to eat just about anything, but is most definitely a Bacon Addict. Really, can you blame her? It’s the only thing she’ll root through the garbage for, if there’s some bacon grease on a wrapper. She Bacon-Crimes."

Favorite Seattle Spots

"I’m in love with all the great places in Pioneer Square – London Plane, the little bar in E. Smith Mercantile (and the shop is so precious), Il Corvo – I could spend a whole day there, from morning to evening. The ramen and soup dumpling craze makes me super-happy; I love Jinya’s tonkotsu broth, and more places like Dough Zone are opening, serving xiao long bao without a super-long line, although I happily duck into Din Tai Fung for dumplings if it’s not busy! One of my favorite Eastside hideouts is the Bellevue Daniels Broiler Prime 21, the little bar in back of the main lounge. A cozy spot to get a beautifully made Old Fashioned or Manhattan, made with one of their house-made bitters. I also love spending the day in Woodinville, wine tasting around all the little rooms in the Hollywood District, brunch at The Commons Café, or happy hour bites at the Fireside Lounge at Willows Lodge, and the Hollywood Tavern." 

More Photos from Denise: The Barking Frog and The Salish Lodge

We look forward to so much more from Denise! You can find her on Twitter: @WasabiPrime and her Blog Wasabi Prime where you can find dishes such as "Chevre-Stuffed Squash Blossoms with Pasta Carbonara" and "Summer Pizza."