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This local photographer is capturing Miami’s restaurant community during the shutdown

Virginia Gil
Written by
Virginia Gil

Life hasn’t been easy for anyone during the shutdown, but it’s been especially challenging for the local restaurant industry. Some businesses have been able to quickly pivot and thrive, while others have had to close temporarily. In between, you have the industry-adjacent folks, like Miami-based food and drink photographer Michael Pisarri, who are just trying to figure it all out.

After more than a decade spent documenting local restaurants and the individuals who run them, he’s used to walking into people’s busy kitchens, snapping pictures of buzzing dining rooms and getting up close and personal with chefs and their dishes. But with his muses are in crisis, he’s wielding his lens a different way to help save them.

Chef Portraits is Pisarri’s newest project, a photojournalistic endeavor that highlights Miami’s hospitality community as it stands right now. The compelling series features local chefs and restaurant owners at home sheltering-in-place with their families as well as at work, suited up in gloves and masks preparing meals to-go. It’s a new normal that sparked Pisarri’s creativity almost instantly. “This one hit close to home, seeing my friends and family, so to speak, hit by what’s going on. I thought I could help bring everybody’s story to light and share it with the community,” he says. Pisarri is exhibiting the photographs online at @ChefPortraits, a new Instagram account that he’s also using to raise awareness for relief efforts such as #SaveRestaurants.

The growing collection of images is sobering, moving, joyful and—above all—sincere. With the current social-distancing guidelines in place, Pisarrri has had to really step back and let his subjects do their thing. “I’m not setting anything up. ‘Hey, you got the kids running around? Cool.’ I’m capturing what’s happening and asking them to tell me how they’re feeling at the moment.” says Pisarri, who’s using the anecdotes he collects to caption the shots.

So far, he’s shot Michelle Bernstein and husband David Martinez of Café La Trova along with their son; Timon Balloo of Balloo and Sugarcane; and La Mar’s Diego Oka and his wife and son. With a series of shoots already in the pipeline, Pisarri says the project could go on indefinitely. “There’s no timeline. As long as we’re all dealing with this, I want to continue and potentially share stories of our recovery,” he says.

Until then, he’s diligently capturing his old friends in a new light and embracing the unexpected intimacy this project has introduced in his work. “I don’t see the chefs with their families—we have a working relationship—so to be a fly on the wall and have the privilege of being allowed into their homes has been really nice.”

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“We can’t stop thinking about how lucky we are, we have each other we have our health. We’re all together in this and that’s what we’re holding onto for dear life. We’re also thinking about our future, I mean how can we not. It’s all unstable it’s all unknowing . I think the unknowing hurts us most. We used to know exactly what we needed to do and set out to do it the right way, the honest way. Now, we have to change. We have to evolve. And we don’t really know what that means yet but we’re trying to figure it all out.” @chefmichy @davidamiami - At home during quarantine with son - #chefportraits #chef #cheflife #quarantine #Miami Please follow this new project @chefportraits 🙏🏻🙏🏻

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Links to donate: #SaveRestaurants, Café La Trova Employee Relief Fund, Pubbelly Sushi Gives Back 

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