From one girl boss to another: Jade Sarkhel

From one girl boss to another meet Jade Sarkhel – the incredibly talented food and lifestyle photographer who’s worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. Jade recently shot the latest imagery for my gorgeous restaurant Soane’s Kitchen and I couldn’t wait to catch up with her and hear more about where she finds inspiration and her favourite places to eat out after a long day at work…

Credit: Milly Fletcher

As the go-to photographer for chefs like Dan Doherty and restaurants such as Bancone and Frenchie, what was your initial inspiration to become a photographer and subsequently specialise in food?
I have always had a real obsession with food, chefs and kitchens due to spending a lot of time in my parents restaurants as a kid. My dad was an incredibly talented Indian chef and my mum was the brains behind the businesses. I think after my dad passed away in 2012 I found myself being drawn back to the hospitality industry in an attempt to reconnect with him. I ended up spending a year working as a marketing and PR manager for a small restaurant group with little budget for services like photography. My brother gave me a camera and showed me the basics so I could take snaps for the restaurant. I felt like I had a real knack for it so when I eventually decided to leave the company I thought I’d give it a go. I reached out to chefs that I knew in the industry and asked them if they’d let me photograph their food. Almost two years later and I’ve never looked back!

Your style is both wholesome and luxurious, making dishes look incredibly delicious, where do you find inspiration? Do clients come to you with a brief or do you enjoy collaboratively coming up with ideas?
For inspiration I use Pinterest a lot, I get a lot of ideas from my awesome assistant Milly, some favourite Instagram accounts like @troisfoisparjour, @theboywhobakes, @food52, the #WorkinginFood and I’m also a big fan of food magazines like Waitrose Food and Ambrosia.

When it comes to clients, the majority will initially approach me for my style but will also provide a brief. My background in branding and marketing has really helped to bridge the gap between creativity and meeting a commercial brief so I’d usually propose a creative direction and moodboard which then gets reviewed.

Career-wise, who has been your biggest inspiration to date?
My mother! Although our careers are not specifically related, she has always lead by example. She in unconventional, resilient, entrepreneurial and an incredibly powerful female figure in my life. Like many other females, I have always battled with physical self-worth but very rarely doubt my ability to achieve what I want if I put my mind to it thanks to her approach to life and business.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced since you started in the industry? And how have you overcome any adversity? 
If I am honest, the biggest challenge I’ve had to face is how to manage being a female in a male dominated industry. I’m still learning as I go but I’ve realised being a female definitely has its pros and cons and learning to communicate clearly, knowing your own boundaries and self-worth has definitely been important to overcoming adversity.

Credit: Jade Sarkhel

What’s the most rewarding thing about working for yourself and within a small team?
Freedom and flexibility! This was a game-changer for me as having balance in my life is a huge personal goal.

Have there been any particularly memorable shoots, for good or bad reasons?!
It has to be the day I spent at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York with Chef Dan Barber and his team. I spent the morning on the farm with the chefs, then in the bakery, captured the cooks meeting and service briefings before shooting the food and then the kitchen during service. The shoot ended with me sitting at the pass for a private chefs table. The highlight of my career so far. Nostalgic, intense and magical to say the very least.

From one girl boss to another, what advice would you give you other women wanting to start their own business or ‘go it alone’?
Go for it and be realistic! Acknowledge your strengths and develop them. Discover your weaknesses and outsource! Another really powerful element for me has been developing a strong support network with a real mix of characters to use as a sounding board.

With shoots, editing and travel photography, I can imagine the hours are pretty long! How do you find a balance between work and home life?
I have definitely had a mental shift in the last few years from being a lot less financially driven to a focus on having a full and balanced life. Doing yoga, spending time with my amazingly supportive other half, being outdoors and active, seeing friends and family, exploring and travelling are solid priorities for me now and so I turn down work or outsource to make enough time for these important things. I realised that all it required was was me making a choice. 

Credit: Jade Sarkhel

Big question…what’s next for Jade Sarkhel?!
It’s actually a big transition phase for me at the moment. Alongside my photography work I also currently commission other photographers to go on shoots, manage social media accounts and outsource marketing and design work with the help of my two wonderful assistants. I’m at the stage of deciding whether to continue growing the business as a creative agency or instead pair things back and keep it simple by focusing on my photography. Rich and I have been brainstorming what sort of life we’d like to live over the next 5 years so I guess I’ll go from there once we decide! Watch this space.

On to the tasty stuff! Talk me through your day in food: do you have time for breakfast in the morning? What is your favourite meal?
I have to admit, it’s not particularly exciting. On a normal work day my mornings start with a cup of tea or black coffee. If I have a food shoot I will always try to fit in breakfast which usually consists of Muesli and fresh fruit just to make sure I’m not tempted to tuck in after the shoot. For lunch I’ll usually grab something on-the-go from Pret and for dinner some sort of speedy one-tray wonder of protein and veggie like chicken, broccoli and sweet potato. Weekday meals tend to be more functional but on a weekend breakfast is by far my favourite meal of the day – I have a soft spot for pancakes!

If you had to chose, where is your favourite place to eat out?
Now that’s unfair! I can’t pick one so here is my go-to list:
Special occasion – River Café
Date night – The Palomar
Cheap Eat – Santa Maria
Cheat Day – Where The Pancakes Are
Indian food (deserves it’s own category) – Brigadiers

If I came over for dinner, what would you serve and why?
I love serving big rustic sharing dishes that we can all tuck in to from the centre of the table. This is the kinda style I grew up with. I would go for something simple, fast and wholesome like prawn, tomato and chilli linguine or a slow-cooked lamb curry or organic roast chicken legs with loads of veggies. Things like that tend to go down well as I can prep them beforehand giving me loads of free time to host without getting stuck in the kitchen for too long.

Are there any specific ingredients/foods you couldn’t live without?
Salt. For me it’s one of the most important ingredients when cooking especially once I’d learnt how to use it to enhance, balance and neutralise flavours. Magic ingredient!

Credit: Neil Sarkhel

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