ChicagoFoodfood photographyphotography

320 River Bar at The Westin Chicago

Drink at 320 River Bar at The Westin River North

As I get older, I’m aware of two things that prove to be true over and over again. The first thing: create what you want to be a part of. Example: you want to work in cosmetics industry and decide to gain professional experience by applying for a department store job at Lancome. Unfortunately, you don’t get the job. Instead of finding another job, you do the next best thing and start a YouTube channel focused on makeup tutorials because you love make up that much. Sound familiar? (I love her story, by the way.) That’s Michelle Phan’s destiny. And soon it will be mine. Just kidding. (No one needs make up tips from me. That’s also a proven fact, but a blog post on that is very much not necessary.) But lately I’ve been thinking about breaking into food photography. Of course, there are plenty of food photographers out there. To be more specific, there are plenty of phenomenal food photographers out there – every month, the newest issue of Bon Appétit arrives in my mailbox to remind me of that fact. If you need to see the talent in the food world for yourself, check out the portfolios of Peden & Munk, Ted Cavanaugh, Christopher Testani and Aubrie Pick. (There are others, of course, but these are the photographers I’ve been checking out lately.) So why am I trying to play in an already-saturated market? Hey, I like a good challenge, and everyone has to start somewhere. It probably also goes deeper than that being a first generation Vietnamese-American, getting older and finding that I’m losing my ties with my parents’ culture as I don’t speak Vietnamese nor do I have super close ties with my family (other than my brother, who is in the same boat as me) to maintain that culture except for the few times a year I see my relatives. Food and my memories are really the only ties to the Vietnamese culture.

But that’s really going deep.

On the surface, I enjoy cooking, entertaining and eating (in and out of my own kitchen) – I’m often surprised when I hear people think of cooking as another hassle (and I get that this is a normal feeling! It just took me awhile to realize it) because I get such a joy out of it. So recently, I just started taking pictures of the food coming out of my own kitchen. (I imagine that it might be strange for someone to look through my Project 365 album to see that I started with pictures of The Kid and then one day, made a sudden switch to food.) Nothing crazy, but as I said, gotta start somewhere. However, I want to wander away from my stove as I find inspiration with other home cooks and (duh) restaurants. Plus, there are many, many food – and cultural – experiences in the Chicagoland area that are worth documenting and sharing.

That brings me to the second “truth” about life: when you put things out in the universe, the universe will listen.

So I wondered what and where I should start shooting when I got a text from my friend Anjo. After a few pleasantries, he wrote:


As you can see, I was pretty excited to do it. It also didn’t hurt that the weather has been favorable for patio dining lately, so this was just a great and fun opportunity not to pass up. What I didn’t know was that I’d end up seeing a lot of familiar faces. Besides Anjo, there were a handful of other people I’ve met over the years on Instagram. But I was really surprised to see my old friend Joanna who happened to be there with a blogger friend of hers.
320 River Bar
(This is Joanna.)

I later told Anjo that an old friend of mine was coincidentally there. “Oh, you know her from Instagram?” he asked. “No, we met before Instagram was even an app,” I explained. “Was there life before Instagram?”he replied. We had a good laugh…but there might be more truth in that than I’m willing to admit. Ha ha ha.

Anyway, back to the fun on 320 River Bar.

The night started with plenty of drinks. (Truth be told, I don’t think the drinks ever stopped coming around.)
margarita at 320 River Bar



There was also PLENTY of food.

burrata at 320 River Bar

See the pipettes of olive oil and balsamic vinegar coming out of the burrata (cheese)? I loved that and will probably incorporate that in a future dinner party. I should say that there were plates of this sitting out, and everyone was going Photo Happy on them. With good reason. (Seriously, how cute!)

pizza at 320 River Bar


pizza at 320 River Bar


octupus at 320 River Bar


sliders at 320 River Bar

The sliders also got a lot of photo action. I am pretty sure they all got eaten too.




I honestly thought that there would be a few things to nosh on here and there. But no. The food just kept coming and coming. I loved that.

But the best part of the evening were the people.
320 River Bar



It’s always about the people. (And I admit I took her picture because I have Curly Hair Envy. I loved her hair!)

The fire was nice too!

fire pit 320 river bar


fire pit 320 river bar

And I almost forgot – there was a graffiti artist who was working on a canvas during the party. His name is Mario and you can find his work on Instagram. (His handle is zore64.) In person, you can find his work along the walls of this patio. (That’s his mural behind him.)

Mario Zore64 Chicago graffiti artist

I love seeing people in their element.

What a fun night. I’m hope to come across more food and people-in-food photo opportunities because OMG, so much fun. Thank you, Universe for listening and Mr. Universe/Anjo for the invite. 🙂

P.S. If you’re in Chicago, you should definitely check out 320 River Bar. It has to be one of the best kept secrets in the Loop at the moment.

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