There’s the patty, flame-scarred yet glistening, as warm, ever-so-slightly melted cheese drapes itself over its edges and slides into every visible crevice. 

click to enlarge 37.21-Food-Porn-final.jpg

Scroll down the page, past pictures of vacations in New York and dogs sleeping on their backs and adorable children doing gleeful things and there it is.

A cheeseburger, gorgeously lit. There’s a gleam that radiates from the perfectly curved, expertly buttered bun. There’s the patty, flame-scarred yet glistening, as warm, ever-so-slightly melted cheese drapes itself over its edges and slides into every visible crevice.

Your mouth salivates, and a deep, gnawing hunger swells into full-blown food lust. Whether you ate five minutes or five hours or five weeks ago is irrelevant.

You want it right now.

The old Chinese saying goes, “You eat first with your eyes, then your nose, then your mouth.”

click to enlarge Patrick Clark prepares a meal at the Red Cup in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, May 14, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Patrick Clark prepares a meal at the Red Cup in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, May 14, 2015.

The pro

Patrick Clark takes an extra moment to clean the plate. Presentation isn’t everything, but it certainly is important to his career.

As chef at The Red Cup, 3122 N. Classen Blvd., Clark constantly experiments. While orders of vegetarian Frito chili pie are rushed out of his kitchen to hungry patrons, he’s also focused on creating tantalizing new dishes that he hopes make it onto the permanent menu.

“It’s not about expansion,” he said. “It’s about making the restaurant stronger.”

One way to do that is by drawing in more customers. He said he can offer the best food available, but if people aren’t coming in, he can’t feed them.

Enter Instagram.

He unlocked the wonder and passion behind the #ChefLife hashtag six months go as he began sharing alluringly plated food pictures. (Find him @chefbeave.) Clark’s Instagram followers ballooned at a clip of 300 new oglers every month. He quickly discovered there is a food porn appetite there that he is more than happy to satiate.

“It’s gluttonous,” he said. “It’s the desire to indulge in food. Chefs around the world do it. Sometimes, we get excited about just pictures of ingredients.”

The phenomenon is akin to the fixation and erotomania many people have about other beautiful people, he said. There’s an element of “If I could get my hands on that, I know just what I’d do.”

Though he posts plenty of photos of meaty creations he makes at home, when he’s working at The Red Cup, he must work within the structure of the vegetarian restaurant’s ethos.

But that’s not limiting, he said. Creatively, it’s empowering.

“When you rely on only vegetables, you learn to cook vegetables correctly,” Clark said.

And when you rely on images of these dishes to bring in customers, you learn to shoot them correctly, too.

“My pictures are a reminder not to repeat myself,” he said. “People will always come in for their old favorites. I need to make dishes and take pictures that make them want something different and know if they miss it today, they might never see it again.”

click to enlarge Ashley Stevenson poses for a photo at Kitchen 324 in Oklahoma City, May 20, 2015. - GARETT FISBECK
  • Garett Fisbeck
  • Ashley Stevenson poses for a photo at Kitchen 324 in Oklahoma City, May 20, 2015.

The entrepreneur

“My friends and family know when their food comes, don’t touch it until I’ve taken my picture,” said Ashley Stevenson, who founded Foodie Foot Tours in 2014. “Even if it’s not my food, I’m taking that picture.”

Food connects Stevenson to emotions. She celebrates with food. She mourns with food. And food is her livelihood.

It might seem like an odd outcome for a woman who describes her childhood self as “the pickiest of picky eaters.” Her family marvels at her transformation, which began during a Girl Scout trip to Africa at age 16.

“You learn to adapt when there isn’t a McDonald’s around,” she said. “You get used to what’s around you.”

That sense of adventure leads Stevenson to attack Oklahoma City mouth-first, and her company takes others along for the ride.

“One hundred percent of my business is generated online,” she said. “Google searches. Browsing Twitter and Facebook. That’s how people find me.”

And what inspires them to follow @foodiefoottours is often her posts of appetite-inspiring food porn. She looks for dishes with lots of color or something messy, sloppy and seductive.

“I want to show that to people,” she said. “It’s not clean, but it’s really, really good. Food porn for me is about trying to capture what that food is really like.”

Pictures that grab her attention are often more about the restaurant’s ambiance. Food spurs her emotions, but atmosphere ignites her imagination.

“I see someplace in a picture that’s airy and inviting and I want to go eat lunch there,” she said. “I feel the environment. If it’s super dark, that’s a good place for a date night.”

But to get people on her tour, it’s all about the edibles.

“People want to see a picture,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it gets them going. People hate being out of their comfort zone. They want an idea of what they’re going to get.”

click to enlarge Chris Castro in his office at Finch Creative in the Plaza District.  mh
  • Chris Castro in his office at Finch Creative in the Plaza District. mh

The homebody

Though he has been cooking for himself since college, Chris Castro never thought he’d get into food porn.

“I was the last person I knew to get an iPhone,” he said. “When we moved to Oklahoma City in May of 2010, I got one for work. And because I was cooking a lot, I started taking photos.”

He said the images were awful.

He used hokey filters and frames on everything. But over time, @omarchris’s Instagram account matured.

“I still just use my iPhone because it’s instantaneous,” Castro said. “We’ve got great light in our living room, which just makes everything look that much better.”

His followers marvel over his complex cuisine conquests, but also over his dressed-down dishes, usually because he creates things most people don’t think about creating.

“They say, ‘I didn’t know you could make that at home.’ But you can make anything at home if you can find the ingredients,” Castro said.

Homemade English muffins, fresh tortillas and infused simple syrups for his son’s birthday party sno-cones — he has done every bit of it and has the pictures to prove it.

Best of all, his fun home endeavors have brought him fun out-of-home projects, like a chiminea cooking class at Whole Foods for Territory Magazine.

“It’s crazy. Opportunities like this are random, but they’ll come up and I get really excited to do them,” he said. “I’ll get a DM (direct message) and people are so polite. This little shop in New York sent me a box of products. No pressure. If I like them or make a recipe with them, I can share it online.”

His favorite food porn is the kind that inspires him to try his own version, like runny egg yolks or beautiful baked goods. Or sometimes it’s the insane things he had never thought of but can almost taste, like a Hong Kong restaurant called Yardbird that posted pictures of fried chicken skins.

More than anything, he wants to share his love of cooking and experimentation with others and learn from their successes.

“Honestly, I’m just honored to get to do this stuff,” Castro said. “I’m not a chef. I just like to cook.”

And an ever-growing number of followers like to see what he’s cooking up next.

Print headline: Hot snap, Food porn is more than a trendy catchphrase. Many locals build their careers around the creation and successful distribution of their work.

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