The Gastronaut who tells stories made with light

Jose is a born artist who, through the lens of his camera, recounts his gastronomic journeys as a gastronaut .

Jose Iskandar

Jose Iskandar tells us about his experience taking trips as a gastronaut. / Photo: Courtesy

LatinamericanPost| Carolina Rodríguez Monclou

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Leer en español: El Gastronauta que cuenta historias hechas con luz

Jose Iskandar, the son of Lebanese immigrants, was born in a warm home in Venezuela. For this family, the time to sit together at the table to taste the Arab and Venezuelan cuisine was the most precious and expected moment of the day. Jose, always curious and a lover of good food, learned all the recipes that his family taught him.

Jose moved to Colombia and worked as an engineer in the oil industry for 17 years. Thanks to his company, he traveled repeatedly to Peru where he fell in love with the gastronomy of the entire north coast of this country, since there he tasted exquisite dishes such as tacu tacu, mashed cassava and a wide variety of fish.

On April 23, 2016, his “foodographer” project came to light , in which he dedicates himself to photography, gastro-trips, cooking and food styling. Currently, his Instagram account has more than 13 thousand followers and thousands of food photos and recipes from around the world. LatinAmerican Post met with the foodgrapher to learn more about his art and passion for cooking.

LatinAmerican Post: What do you mean when you define yourself as a "gastronaut"?

Jose Iskandar: I am a gastronaut, that is, a person who makes gastronomic trips. I find the theme of traveling to the stars beautiful. Gastronauts already existed on the web so I came across the idea of "foodographer" (a mix between cooking, writing and photography), because I like to write the stories behind the food. It is a word that encompasses several of the things I like to do.

LP: How does an engineer become a photographer and cook?

JI: I studied Materials Engineering in Venezuela at the Simón Bolívar University. I am grateful for the life of an engineer that allowed me to travel to such distant places, live in many countries, and now be in Colombia for 10 years. Yes, I am an engineer who teaches you how to cook, and you know? For cooks I am a very good photographer and for photographers I am a very good cook because I am like a hybrid between these two passions.

LP: Where did you learn photography?

JI: Since I like to travel a lot I bought a professional camera. Photographer friends taught me how to use it. Yes, I did courses in Venezuela, but really very short. Then here I continued, but all my life since I was young I was very struck by photography and I was the one who took the photos at home.

LP: How was that first aesthetic approach with food?

JI: Venezuela in its good times was fortunate to receive many foreigners, so since I was the son of Lebanese parents and my friends were the children of Spaniards, Italians, Portuguese, and Chinese, the gastronomic agenda was very wide. Already in university, I began to feel a fascination with the aesthetics of food when I went to a "restaurant". I did know that there were places where the plating was beautiful, the selection of special dishes wide, and the food preparation technologies interesting, but for me, that was not important. I did not want to compete against a chef or have a restaurant, what I wanted was to know how I can use the items that I have at home to make the dishes look more beautiful.

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In his blog, Jose assures that he has always believed in the power of cooking: from his ability to seduce the loved one with a romantic dinner, to the joy and warmth that baking delicious cookies for loved ones produces.

LP: What is the most gratifying part of this work?

JI: I think all the love I feel for the food I make is reflected in the photos. Now working with clients I have to do a lot more research because each business is different. One comes and he asks me to photograph sandwiches, so first I learn how to do it in such a way that the cheese does not look so greasy, for example.

LP: In many families the mealtime is sacred and that seems to be the case for yours as well, is that so?

JI: It all started because in my house it was very common for my grandfather to go to the plaza markets on Sundays and call all his children. My Lebanese grandparents came to Venezuela, then my parents and my uncles. It was very common in our house to cook together and eat together because we were a relatively small family in Venezuela because we were immigrants.

LP: What do you enjoy most about Venezuelan food?

JI: Venezuelan food is also very special to me . I always tell that in my house avocado and corn coexisted with chickpea, but also parsley, tahini and all the Arab ingredients. My mom and dad adapted to Venezuela very well, so much so that they make ayacas on birthdays. For me it is very special and I am very connected. I always say that I am Venezuelan, although Lebanese culture is also deeply rooted in me.

LP: Any gastronomic secret that you would like to share?

JI: The dishes of the Mantuan cuisine are a part of everything that Venezuelan gastronomy is, which, in my opinion, is one of the best kept secrets of Latin American cuisine because it is full of flavor and has very interesting recipes. Its history is tied to colonization and to what was the legacy of the Creole whites with all the mix of races. All this amount of dishes are almost unknown outside the country so I always try to have one or two Venezuelan recipes a year on my blog.

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LP: Most of your followers appreciate you for being a happy and positive person, how do you feel about it?

JI: It is very easy for me to marvel at everything. For example, I came to Colombia and I began to discover a lot of things here that seemed delicious to me, like ajiaco, but also patacones or coconut rice.

LP: Do you have a favorite recipe?

JI: I am a number 1 fan of falafel (chickpea or bean croquette of Arab origin) and I think it is one of the great star dishes of the food they make at home. I also like tabbouleh (Lebanese salad) and hummus (chickpea cream). Those are the most special recipes.

LP: Due to the quarantine, many people have felt anxious and stressed. How can food help them to be happier?

JI: I do believe that food is one of those ways to find happiness on isolated days. If for the first time you are facing the challenge of learning to cook, don't start thinking "I'm going to make a 3-story cake". My recommendation is always that to connect in a beautiful way and start enjoying the kitchen, start with those small steps and each time challenge yourself a little more. There you will discover the emotion of eating something that you prepared yourself.

LP: Can cooking be a relaxing activity during quarantine?

JI: Of course! I love mindful eating, that is, how to eat consciously. When cooking, you are already connecting with what you are going to eat because you bought the ingredients yourself, you are preparing them and you understand the process and then when the time comes to eat, being aware of this you will prepare and enjoy the food better. Right now, we have a golden opportunity to do things we haven't learned to do before and to connect better with our food.