It was time for the bone shot. Warmed with courage and tequila, I steered us back to the studio. I directed Tony to change, turning my back to give him some privacy while he walked toward the screened-off dressing room.
At the camera cart, I whispered to my assistant, “Try not to be too obvious, but you are on dick patrol.” I don’t shoot nudes; usually my subjects wear at least some clothes. And I really didn’t want to see my friend’s penis—too weird.
I fussed with the cart, which was already organized.
“Make sure nothing shows in the photo,” I continued. In those days, I was still shooting film and hadn’t explored computer retouching. The shot was the shot.
When I turned around, Tony was wrapped in a colorful sarong, lighting a cigarette. I showed him the tape marked x on the floor where I wanted him to stand.
I unwrapped the bloody bone and used a paper towel to dry it. My assistant held it while Tony adjusted himself and I grabbed the camera.
“Keep the cigarette,” I urged.
I knelt on the floor with a wide-angle lens and shot up. The bone looked huge and his head looked tiny. I moved out to get a full-length shot. I focused on trying to keep the brick wall level in the camera’s frame. I pride myself on shooting and printing full frame, so you can see the edges of the film on the photo. That means you know what you wanted when you shot it, no relying on cropping later.
Ten minutes later I had taken 50 or so photographs. I was done. I said so. Moments later, Tony was dressed and gone.
A teacher once told me to leave a place as you found it, leave not a trace or hint you were there. I tossed the bone out and it hit the bottom of the huge industrial metal bin with a loud thud, the sound of closure.
The first time I let any of the chefs see their images was at the launch party at Le Bernardin, my favorite restaurant in town. Eric Ripert hosted. We hung the 50 20-by-23 photographs around the room, one for each chef’s portrait. I was excited and nervous about their reactions. Especially Tony. I put the bone photo on the wall behind where Tony and his then wife, Ottavia, would be sitting. I didn’t think it polite to make him face the photograph while eating during the whole dinner.
We had endless bottles of champagne, all bedazzled with the words “My Last Supper” in clear white rhinestones; six-liter methuselahs for the waiters to pour and plenty of mini bottles to cheers with. It was a champagne extravaganza. The ice people almost let me down when they told me it was a sacrilege to make da Vinci’s Last Supper painting into a vodka luge.
We set the restaurant up so that all the guests had to enter through the loading dock instead of the usual door. Anyone who tried to push past the security bouncer only found the front door locked; they all had to snake through the kitchen on the way in, consuming a shot of vodka and a foie gras whippet en route to their seats.
As people swirled around enjoying the appetizers, chef Martin Picard from Montreal came up to me and said that if he doesn’t see that book right away, he was going to create a big scene.
“I didn’t come all the way here to wait around.” Thirty-six chefs had flown in to celebrate with me. None of them had seen the book yet. I entertained refusing, that seemed kind of fun. But I would be playing with fire so I got someone to grab him the book immediately.
After my thank-you speech, I drank my weight’s worth in bedazzled champagne. I hugged everyone. And wouldn’t you know it, people started dancing, which is how I knew they liked it as much as I did. The last thing I remember was dancing with Josh Ozersky, New York magazine’s Grub Street food critic, who I adored. I left just after Daniel Boulud broke the piano from dancing on it. (Bye, deposit.)
The press responded immediately to My Last Supper. The concept was “sticky,” my publisher, Karen, explained. Easy for people to understand and relate to. My photo of Fergus Henderson balancing a severed pig head graced the cover of The Guardian’s Weekend magazine, a brave choice that sent the vegans into hysterics. Legit!
The bone pic was at the center of it all. Many press requests came in, asking about that photo, asking me to bring Tony along for the interview. When I did, he refused.
Meanwhile, NPR’s The Splendid Table wanted to chat, Canada called, Australia wanted to print their own version. The U.K. wanted their own new cover with names of chefs. I smiled when a tiny paperback arrived, a Chinese version. I rated TV-studio waiting rooms, a.k.a. green rooms, like a Michelin inspector. I awarded five stars to the Rachael Ray show and its handmade warm grilled cheese, gooey and impressive.