Q&A Monday with Jim Sullivan

A photographer, a chef, and someone we consider family – Jim Sullivan (“CJ”) is a true artist. We were fortunate to spend some time with CJ in Austin this past year at the Food + Wine festival, and really got a chance to know him and his love for this industry.

A man who carries his cameras by his side at all times, waiting to capture the perfect food shot. For example, we were sitting at Lamberts getting some of their insanely yummy wild boar ribs, and he got up mid-bite to capture a few dishes at another table (the lighting, the dishes…so picture perfect). I mean…if you’ve had one of these ribs, you know that they are nearly impossible to put down.

CJ is a character, always has a good story to share, and is so talented as both a photographer and a chef. That’s probably why he currently is the chief photographer for Culimetrics Restaurant Consulting Group, Creative Director for Culination Magazine, contributing photographer for Life and Thyme Magazine, Chefs Roll, Dining Out San Diego as well as host of other restaurants/clients. He even has two new awesome series to illustrate industry life: One Dish and Portrait of a Chef. Check them both out on his instagram, @mediumraw_.

He is the man behind Medium Raw Arts, and we are so excited that we get to share his passion with all of you.


What was one thing you did to build your dream?

I went after it! I’m someone who works hard and goes after what I want.

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What was one of the best meals of your life? Who did you share it with?

That has to be Per Se. Right after finishing culinary school, my wife and I went to Manhattan for a mini food tour. We ate all over the city and Per Se was the last stop. We had dinner reservations on a late Saturday night (the last sitting to be exact). We were treated to 18 courses of Jonathan Beno’s food which was absolutely amazing. But what got me was how things were run during service. Every member of the team was aware of their individual duties as well as everyone else on the team. Dinner service was like a well-orchestrated machine. So you pair the amazing food with that type of service, you get an experience and not just an expensive dinner.

If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out in this industry, what would it be?

Know the classics! From brunoise cuts to Mother Sauces. I have never made a classic béarnaise sauce for my food, but I have utilized the technique and made it my own.

What is your guilty go to pleasure snack?

Oh man, not that it’s a snack but has to be anything bacon! If I didn’t care about my cholesterol, I could sit in front of the TV with a slab of bacon and watch The Mind of a Chef all day long!

What goes through your mind and what is your thought process when you’re developing a new dish?

It depends on what I am making but typically I think about the cuisine I want to cook and I then think about the classics. I then take that dish/idea and make it my own. For instance, I love Vietnamese food and for a recent pop up event I made my version of a Banh Mi. I sous vide and the seared some pork belly and paired it with pickled daikon/carrots and a wasabi aioli. Needless to say it was a big hit.

What inspires you the most about cooking in the San Diego?

That’s a tough one. Up until recently San Diego has been somewhat of a black hole when it comes to cuisine. But in the last few years there has been something of a culinary renaissance.  A lot of chefs from Baja and Mexico have been bringing the flavors from down south into San Diego. Also, a number of Top Chefs have been pulling up stakes here in SD. So things are turning around here as far as food is concerned. Still nothing like SF or even NYC, but no longer are we the city south of LA when it comes to food.

We know the days and hours are extremely long in this industry.  How do you successfully deal with fatigue?

Coffee! Nufff said

Tell us more about your love for photography and how you incorporate it into your cooking and creative mindset within your brand Medium Raw.

I have had a long love for photography. I can remember seeing Polaroids when I was a kid and always thought how timeless they looked. It wasn’t until after culinary school that I started my photography career. I just felt that food and photography is a perfect match for me. So in the last year or so I have really focused my passion into capturing chef life and food.

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When you travel on a professional shoot, what gear do you take with you?

I always bring my lights/reflector cards as I usually have no idea on the lighting. Typically I shoot in soft indirect light and only using my lights for filler if I need it. For culinary shoots, I shoot w a Canon 6d, 50mm macro and 85mm prime. I will say that when I can, I prefer to shoot with film. So when I am doing a lifestyle shoot I have my favorite set up: Leica M6, and a pair Zeiss lenses (50 and 24mm) on Cinestill 800T film.

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What are a few of your favorite Instagram pages that impress and influence you?

I will say that I don’t ever take Instagram serious. It’s more of a popularity contest in my eyes. However, if I see someone on there that I like, I will just go to their website to see their work. I will say that I have made some good friends from using Instagram, so it definitely is good for that! As far as people that I admire definitely will say on the culinary side April Bloomfield, David Chang and Roy Choi. I tend to like food that has complex flavors but yet simple. Don’t get me wrong, I love the food/technique from Grant Achatz, Rene Redzepi and Ferran Adria. Their food and creativity is legendary. I just tend to like the ‘less is more’ adage. Similar to photography. My all-time favorite photographer is William Eggelston. When you initially see his images you might think they’re boring and simple. But yet when you begin to really see his work, you find it technically difficult and precise.

What’s next?

Not sure. I will continue to grind and do what I love.  To showcase the chef life and the food that surrounds it through my lens.

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