DeadHungry’s Alex Paganelli reveals all about his dark creation
Welcome to Witch Week, a campaign dedicated to exploring how witchcraft, magick and beauty intersect. Discover photo stories shot featuring real witches in NYC, a modern reimagining of the witch, and one witch’s mission to get a tan, as well as in-depth features exploring herbology, science and alchemy, and male witches. Elsewhere, we’ve created four special covers to celebrate the campaign and our one year anniversary – something wicked this way comes.
When we were looking for someone to make a cake to celebrate Dazed Beauty’s first birthday, we knew there was only one person for the job – Alex Paganelli AKA DeadHungry.
With his signature aesthetic that combines the gross and the delicious, the tempting and the rancid, the alluring and the disturbing, Paganelli was the perfect fit to create our spooky, gruesome witchy birthday cake. “I never like to shoot things that look too perfect,” he tells us. “Food to me is so much more than perfection, and it’s really the process of destroying something that I almost find more interesting visually than the making of.”
When Paganelli isn’t whipping up drool-inspiring creations for us, he holds dinner parties as part of his DeadHungry Kitchen series where he makes delicious meals for hungry friends and admirers. This autumn, Paganelli turned his eye to Halloween, presenting a Dim sum-inspired menu that was dark and spooky for his hosted dinner parties.
“I mostly cook vegan because I find it the most modern way of eating these days, both for health and environmental reasons,” he says. “I thought it would be cool to create a menu around black foods that reflected this but I didn’t want to be too obvious by using squid ink or black colouring everywhere. So I started looking at ingredients I like to cook with that were naturally black like black cacao, black trumpet, some types of seaweed, black rice.” The result? A ghostly menu that you can’t help but want to sink your teeth into.
Here, we speak to DeadHungry about beauty, food, and creating our gruesome birthday cake.
Can you tell us about the cake you made for our one year anniversary?
Alex Paganelli: We talked about creating a cake which was spooky, dark and quite gruesome. I self-trained as quite a classical French chef, and even though my work today is completely experimental and progressive, I’m always drawn to be inspired by things that are very traditional before I put my own twist on it. I started researching Croquembouche cakes, which are cone-shaped structures made out of choux pastry buns. They are assembled by a dark solid caramel, and traditionally served at French weddings. In parallel, I was also looking at ceramic sculptures and finally combined the two together. We ended up creating a cake in my studio which looked more like a weird sculpture than a cake, something that was almost like a witch hat which we could then smash up and have fun with. We started shooting it as it was, and slowly dismantled it until we had some fun imagery around it. I never like to shoot things that look too perfect. Food to me is so much more than perfection, and it’s really the process of destroying something that I almost find more interesting visually than the making of.
Is beauty something you try to capture in your work or something that you reject? What is your relationship to ‘beauty’ (whatever that word means to you)?
Alex Paganelli: As a rule, I always try to capture beauty, no matter what. That’s because I relate to anything that’s shiny and colourful. I don’t care for things that look natural in any way. My work is all about colours and textures, and I like to think it also has a dynamic element. And therefore I love to create anything that screams all of the above. Over the years, my relationship to beauty has evolved, in the sense that I don’t necessarily push for something to be beautiful when I cook or create anymore, but I rather let it happen naturally. I used to design things in my head and on paper before I put them on a plate or in front of a camera, but I have come to realise that beauty can just be the product of what I choose to create on the moment. In that respect, it’s a lot more raw and unpredictable, and when letting tastes, flavours and textures do all the work, the result is something a lot more bold and powerful that is just as delicious to eat as it is beautiful to look at.
What does beauty mean to you within food?
Alex Paganelli: Beauty is so important to me in everything I do. Although it has many different shapes or forms. The thing is with my work – and that’s something I’ve had to learn over the years – there’s a huge difference between beauty in something you’re going to eat versus something you’re just going to look at in an image. A dish doesn’t necessarily have to be beautiful if it’s delicious, but that might not always be an image I want to photograph or publish. If something is truly sensational when you taste it, it can sometimes be ugly to look at, and that’s OK. On the other hand, when I’m shooting something purely for visual purposes, it needs to look interesting or cool, without having to be delicious. It’s when that line between the two gets blurred that it starts to get interesting.