Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Behind the Scenes of the Making of Apocalyptic Film Dishes

 (L-R Melancholia, The Road, 2012, Knowing and 28 Days Later)

My last post was a series of Apocalyptic Film Dishes. This year I took on the challenge of creating apocalypse inspired dishes in the lead up to the Apocalypse on 21.12.2012. I have done three apocalyptic dishes so far – Mushroom Apocalypse on a Desert, Pork Apocalypse and Umami Flood Apocalypse. As part of my apocalypse research, I watched a lot of apocalyptic films and inspired by a series of photographs by Dinah Fried, whose ‘fictitious dishes’ re-created the food scenes from a range of classic books, I decided to do a similar thing by creating apocalyptic film dishes.

Here’s a behind the scenes look at my last post – Apocalyptic Film Dishes. Many hours were spent watching apocalyptic films, brainstorming dish concepts, seeking props and cooking scenes.


First of all, I invested in a photography set up for the photos.

My approach to food photography is quite simple. All my food photos are generally taken on my kitchen counter where there is a window as it provides the best natural light. It’s a small space so there isn’t much room for food styling. I just take photos of the food as is - I cook it, plate it and here it is on my kitchen counter, snap. 

My Kitchen Counter

But with this set up I could not achieve the outcome that I wanted for my apocalyptic film dishes, so I created a photo shooting space that uses the natural light from my doorway. I shopped around for a table and ended up buying a basic folding grey camping table from Kmart ($19, 80cm L X 60cm W x 69cm H). It’s just the right size and fits quite snugly between my couch and bookcase. Now I have a small table that I can work with to provide different settings for shots. 


Set up for Apocalyptic Film Dish for Melancholia with imitation white table cloth provided by a white European pillowcase (from Kmart $7, 65cm x 65cm). Originally, I was looking for a single white bed sheet but came across a large pillowcase which provided enough coverage.

Melancholia was one of my favourite films of last year, it was the easiest apocalyptic film dish to do as I always knew that I was going to do the meatloaf scene. Melancholia is not only a disaster film about the end of the world, it also explores the human psyche and provides a honest depiction of depression, featuring one of the best lines in a movie “...it tastes like ashes”. As I re-watched the meatloaf scene, I found that it was a quintessential American dinner – it was meat and three veg; there was meatloaf, mash and gravy.

I had never made or eaten meatloaf before so I sent out a tweet for meatloaf recipes and received many recipes and stories from tweeps about how they like their meatloaf. So many memories and nostalgia is associated with meatloaf, it’s one of those classic hearty comfort foods that most people grew up with. It’s versatile and budget friendly, and a way to use up leftovers and pantry ingredients like cereal/bread to stretch meat. I made meatloaf adapted from various recipes but was mainly inspired by a recipe from manthatcooks, which was the only recipe that I came across which adds cream, it’s the kicker. 

 Add cream, live the dream

After setting up the table and dish for Melancholia, I watched the scene in the film again and found that I had forgotten to make gravy. Every element that I wanted was there except for the gravy! I wanted to get the shoot done and didn't have time to make a proper gravy, so I made a makeshift gravy by putting Worcestershire sauce, water and flour into a small saucepan and cookng it until I got the right colour and consistency. It was not a great gravy but it did the job and knowing how Americans do things, their gravy probably came straight from a box mix, so my gravy wouldn’t be too far off the mark ;)

As a result of doing an apocalyptic dish for Melancholia, I cooked and ate meatloaf for the very first time. I was won over by meatloaf, it kind of reminded me of a terrine. It made me feel a bit deprived that I was never introduced to meatloaf as a child. I like the fact that meatloaf tastes good hot or cold, and especially the next day, where I got some double egg action happening for breakfast.

 Meatloaf Breakfast - Toasted slice of rye, meatloaf, homemade tomato and capsicum chutney, fried egg sunny side up and parsley

Note: Full recipe for meatloaf and homemade tomato and capsicum chutney can be found at the end of this post.

My process for creating apocalyptic film dishes was to watch a film and note down any meals consumed, details of scenes and settings that play a significant role in the film, and then determine what I could work with.

For the film 2012, I ended up choosing the breakfast scene where the kids have pancakes and orange juice at their mum’s place after their camping trip with their dad. This was the last meal sighted in the film before the earth’s crust becomes destablised and everything erupts around them as Jackson drives his family to the airport to get to safety. I thought that it would be cool to replicate the mass destruction happening in the film with the pancakes and make them look like they were erupting.

I needed a wooden table as a setting for my apocalyptic dish for the film 2012. I went to Wall Candy which is a store that sells wallpaper, hoping to buy some wood coloured wallpaper to put on my camp table. Failing to find anything that suited my purposes, I went to Bunnings and bought a plank of wood ($10.50) to put on top of the camp table creating a makeshift wooden table.

A stack of pancakes was made the day before shooting and refrigerated so that they would became hard and could be chipped into with a butter knife. I ruined a stack of perfectly soft and fluffy pancakes, but it was probably a good thing so that rather than eating them all, I could destroy them without temptation.

 Pancakes Suffer for Art

No Special Effects Were Used


The Road was my favourite apocalyptic film. I’ve had people tell me that they thought the film was slow moving and a bit boring. It’s definitely not one of those fast paced, running away from disasters or zombie type apocalyptic films. It’s hauntingly depressing in a somewhat beautiful way where the apocalyptic wasteland is barren but calming in its eeriness, and the bond between the father and son is something that would resonate with a lot of people. It was the most thought provoking apocalyptic film as it felt the most realistic, in that you could imagine something like this actually happening in the future. It forces you to think about all the issues and decisions you would have to face when you are living in an apocalypse – Do you continue the battle to survive in extreme circumstances or commit suicide? At what point do you surrender your moral reckoning and start eating your fellow human beings? After watching this film, I went to bed feeling very sombre.

Halfway through the film, when the father and son's food supply was exhausted, and they had just managed to get away from a secluded country home where they found a locked basement with naked prisoners who were been stored as food for their captors, an underground basement is discovered with a stash of canned food and supplies. They feast, bathe and groom themselves. Rather than trying to replicate the scene of a dark basement, I took a photo of the feast of canned foods they ate on the first night on the road just outside where I live, to tie in with their journey on the road south towards the coast.


One thing that I have found while watching apocalyptic films is that there is never much eating going on considering that there is always a lot of running away from disaster and zombies. It wasn’t easy coming up with apocalyptic film dishes and sometimes I’m just clutching at straws and using any meal, sometimes the only one that pops up in a film. Out of 12 apocalyptic films that I watched only 5 presented a concept that I could deliver.

So while Knowing was my least favourite photo I wanted to do this film because a film list would not be complete without Nicolas Cage in it. He’s one of those actors that people either love or hate but he’s always entertaining to watch for good and bad reasons. This New York Times article sums up the Nicolas Cage phenomenon pretty well http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/15/movies/15darg.html 

Nicolas Cage in Knowing

The apocalyptic dish photo for Knowing was the scene after the opening credits which I didn’t take much notice of until later in the film when the main character, John (Nicolas Cage) has the following conversation with his sister.

Grace: How's my nephew?
John: Decided to become a vegetarian.
Grace: A what?
John: Why? You got a problem with that?
Grace: You're not feeding him Dad's famous Sunday night hot dogs again, are you?

At that moment I recalled the scene at the beginning where John is cooking hot dogs and rewatched it again and I had my dish. So Dad’s famous Sunday night hot dogs it is!

The concept was simple, to provide a setting for hot dog making. The execution was complicated by the fact that it was hard to find the red and yellow sauce bottles I was after. Most stores had white bottles and coloured caps or the body was more rounded rather than a straight cylinder. I needed them cylinder in shape and preferably in the one colour for the bottle and cap. Ten stores and three phone calls later, I found some red and yellow sauce bottles at the Coventry Markets from Val’s Variety store. The cap was white but it was the closest I could get, so I considered it mission accomplished. 


A series of Apocalyptic Film Dishes would not be complete without a zombie film right?

One of the first zombie films that I watched during my research phase was Resident Evil: Apocalypse even though it was not on my list of films to watch as it happened to be showing on TV, Channel Go! one night. As I watched the film, I found the special effects to be quite bad to the point where it looked like red jelly was being used on decapitated corpses. But it provided me with a light bulb moment – zombies and red jelly...hmm I think I could work with this in some way. Then a few days later I came across a blog post by Not Quite Nigella where she made some Bloody Popcorn Brain treats for Halloween. Red jelly, popcorn, plus an article I found on 13 ways to make fake blood at home – overtime I accumulated numerous elements to create some zombie goopy gore.

I watched quite a few zombie films but 28 Days Later was my favourite, this is not biased by the fact that one of my favourite bands Godspeed You! Black Emperor provided the perfect soundtrack for it. It’s a great zombie flick and has been credited with reinvigorating the zombie sub-genre.

After watching so many zombie films I think I am well trained to kill them, aim for the head and hit hard, always fight back. Don't be afraid. Weapon of choice would be a baseball bat as used by Jimmy in 28 Days Later. 

In pursuit of a baseball bat I went to Centro Galleria Morley and checked out Target and Kmart. It appears that baseball is not a popular Aussie sport as I could not find any baseball bats in the sporting sections of the major stores but there were cricket bats aplenty. I ended up buying a baseball bat from Rebel Sports. So I had a baseball bat in my hand casually swinging by my side as I walked around the Galleria and found that I was unintentionally replicating a scene from a zombie film, because a zombie film would not be complete if it didn’t have a mall scene, right? Well I would have been armed for an attack if the people around me turned out to be zombies and then I would have run to the nearest supermarket and barricaded myself to ensure that I had a continual food supply.

Walking Around Mall With Baseball Bat

So after acquiring a baseball bat I set about cooking up the Rage Virus which was what people were being infected with in the film 28 Days Later.  

On a large piece of grey cardboard that I bought from Officeworks, I splattered the Rage Virus on. I never really knew how I wanted it to look or what the outcome would be. I just kept adding more Rage Virus until I got some cool looking effect. I did it all in one take, whatever ended up on the board I took a photo of and I was happy with the end result.

While I was unsure about how it would be received, I have received quite a few comments from people that it’s their favourite but no one could guess what was exactly in the Rage Virus. No minced meat, raspberries, pomegranates, coconut cream or blood oranges were used in the making of Rage Virus.

No more guessing required – the answer is here.

There were 7 elements in the Rage Virus to create colour, texture and general grossness – jelly, popcorn, marshmallows, golden syrup, water, cornflour and red + blue dye. The red jelly was made separately and the rest of the elements were put into a pot, I kept adding in things, stirring, simmering and mucking around until I ended up with this -  

which turned into this


MEAT LOAF for Melancholia

(Adapted from various recipes that I read but mainly inspired by
manthatcooks – the only recipe that adds cream, it’s the kicker)

•    500g beef mince
•    500g pork mince
•    1 cup breadcrumbs
•    1 onion (~100g), finely chopped
•    1 celery stalk, finely chopped
•    ½ carrot, finely chopped
•    2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
•    2-3 teaspoons smoked paprika powder
•    1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
•    2-3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
•    2-3 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
•    salt, pepper and pinch of sugar to taste
•    2/3 cup cream
•    2-3 hard boiled eggs

Preheat oven to 180C.

Heat a little oil in frying pan and sauté onions until softened a little, then add garlic, carrots and celery, and cook for a few minutes until the vegetables have browned and caramelized. Transfer to a large bowl, allow to cool and then add in all the other ingredients except the hard boiled eggs. Mix well to combine.

Line loaf tin with foil and brush with some oil to grease.

Place half the meat mixture in loaf tin and press down. Add hard boiled eggs and cover with remaining meat mixture. Pack it in quite tight.

Place loaf tin in a deep baking tray where you can pour boiling water until it reaches halfway up the sides. Cover with foil. Bake for 50 minutes or until meat thermometer registers 68-70C.

Roasted Capsicum and Tomato Chutney

•    1 large or 2 small capsicums
•    4-5 tomatoes
•    1 medium sized onion (2-3 shallots), finely diced
•    3-4 bird’s eye chillies, finely diced
•    2-3 garlic cloves, finely diced
•    1 teaspoon grated ginger
•    ¼ cup sugar
•    2/3 cup apple cider vinegar
•    (1/2 teaspoon) salt and pepper to taste
•    1 teaspoon paprika powder
•    ¼ teaspoon cumin powder
•    1 tablespoon lemon juice


Roast capsicum skin side up on baking tray until at least a third of the skin is blackened. 

Remove, set aside to cool, remove skin and chop into 1-2cm pieces.

Cut a cross on the base of each tomato, place in a bowl, cover with boiled water. Leave for 40 seconds, remove and peel skin. Chop tomatoes into 1-2cm pieces and set aside.

Heat oil in pan and add onion, chilli and cook, stirring occasionally until onions have softened. Add garlic, ginger and cook for another minute.

Add chopped capsicum, tomatoes, sugar, vinegar, salt and pepper into pan, stir to combine. Increase heat to high until mixture boils and then reduce heat to low so mixture is simmering. Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally and cook until the mixture thickens and the excess liquid evaporates ~ 1 hour and 20 minutes. Check seasoning and finish off with lemon.  


  1. Ai,

    Just when I was lamenting the sameness of blog posts on my RSS reader, something incredibly funny and original. I'm also pleased to see how productive you've been with your free time!


    1. Thanks for your comment Ed :) It's nice to know someone appreciates the crazy posts I do. I have been spending too much of my spare time watching apocalyptic films. Two more apocalypse inspired posts to go, not sure what I will do when the world ends...

  2. No way, I want to be with you when the world ends! You've done all the research!!