Social media is a strange and scary beast. Instagram, in particular, can become a curated rabbit hole of infinite perfection. And at first glance, Aran Goyoaga, known online as @CannelleVanille, is the epitome of that perfection. A world-renowned food photographer and stylist, Aran is a two-time James Beard award nominee, author of the cookbook Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My Family’s Journey to Gluten-Free Cooking, and, most recently,a Saveur Blog Award nominee for Best Video of the Year — but more about that in a minute.
To look at her feed, Aran’s life is overwhelmingly covetable. It’s all ripe heirloom tomatoes cast in low light. Images of her beautiful children running barefoot on a Spanish beachside. Dusty pink hydrangea against sparse Basque stone. And of course, tarts bursting with apples, apricots, or fresh berries, dusted to perfection with snowy powdered sugar. It’s envy-inducing in the way that makes you want to give up, order a burrito, and shovel it down while standing over the sink. Hand woven, blush pink linens be damned.
But while Aran’s stunning photographs showcase this seemingly flawless lifestyle, she is the first person to convince you that, no, shit ain’t perfect.
In real life, Aran’s self-deprecating humor immediately puts you at ease, and she talks freely about her own emotional challenges with food. As a child growing up in a small Basque town in northern Spain called Amorebieta, Aran’s family owned and operated the artisanal pastry shop across the street from her flat. Food itself was filled with rich tradition and steeped in memories of a family’s cultural past, and today, the recollections Aran conjures about her childhood always begin with the smells in the kitchen.
I met Aran through a mutual friend, and though I was familiar with her work, knew nothing of the person behind it. Our friendship began when I wrote an article for my website, Project Girl Crush, about her, and continued when my video production company was hired to create a series on food experts that featured Aran. Through a combination of those two projects, Aran began hatching a plan.
Unbeknownst to me, she had been approached over the years to host a food show, but the notion of standing behind a counter and cajoling a nonexistent audience (a la Martha Stewart) did not appeal to Aran’s aesthetic, nor her propensity for melancholy and nostalgia. Rather, she wanted to be a part of something that urged the audience to feel through food, just the way she always had.
A Cook’s Remedy was born out the creative collaboration between Aran, myself, and Genevieve Pierson, a brilliant videographer as well as my longtime friend and collaborator. Aran’s vision — to tell her food journey through a melancholic and almost voyeuristic lens — was realized through a series of short videos that invite the viewer to meet the person behind all of those seemingly perfect images, using cooking as a conduit for discovery.
Because the truth is, Aran’s life is far from perfect, despite my initial sink-hovering, burrito-scarfing inclinations. She is quick to share how her own anxieties have led to a lifelong battle with food. I learned about the nervous young girl seeking comfort in her Grandmother’s freshly baked bread, and the eating-disordered twenty-something, who deprived herself as a means for control. She talked openly about her days as an overworked pastry chef at a high-end hotel where a round-the-clock work schedule left little time to nurture her newborn son.
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"Set a humble table and eat beautiful simple food. Nothing has to be fancy. When you make yourself comfortable, your guests will feel comfortable."
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“I don’t know how somebody can look at somebody, without knowing anything about them, and just project all this negativity that then turns into hate,” she says. “It’s hard for me cause I just don’t get it because I don’t look at anybody and feel that way.”
These days, she’s embraced the obsessive quality with which she has always viewed food. “My relationship with food has always had two sides…finally, it has become a tool to tell stories of my work,” she explains of the transition. “It no longer holds that emotional power over me.” As a stylist and photographer, that fascination dictates her daily work. She pores over food, photographing details most would miss. When anxious, Aran opts for recipes that involve repetitive actions like chopping or kneading to quell her inner chaos — working with her hands to get out of her head. Aran’s journey has come full circle as she has shifted the obsession into the remedy.
These days, she’s embraced the obsessive quality with which she has always viewed food. “My relationship with food has always had two sides… finally, it has become a tool to tell stories of my work. It no longer holds that emotional power over me,” she explained of the transition. As a stylist and photographer, that continued fascination dictates her daily work. She pours over food, photographing details most would miss. When anxious, Aran opts for recipes that involve repetitive actions like chopping or kneading to quell her inner chaos—working with her hands to get out of her head. Aran’s journey has come full circle as she has shifted the obsession into the remedy.
The intention behind A Cook’s Remedy is part memoir, part opportunity to lower that heavy digital veil that so often alienates the follower from the person behind the profile. Aran wanted to make a food show that offers more than an education in the kitchen, and goes beyond the basics of her life story. Rather, she wanted to affirm that curated online personas are a fraction of the story. So she openly shares the sloppier bits. Because Aran recognizes the way her online presence is construed. “It’s been a journey being looked at from outside, for people that don’t know me,” she says. “But that was really the drive for the series, and for everything I do now.”
She understands that people see her life through a very specific, very limited lens, and this is her way of telling them there’s so much more to the story. She combats the notion of “perfect” by highlighting the imperfect: “When I am composing and creating a visual story I think of what is the vulnerable moment in it. And it’s not always apparent. It’s a feeling I have.”
She does this because the imperfect is real, and in Aran’s eyes, that is the true genesis of beauty. So next time you look at her imagery, notice how the berries ooze messily from the cobbler. Notice how the portrait of her daughter contains a grimace from the cold, not an angelic smile. Feel the melancholy of the gray, overcast skies that bleed into the grayer, somehow more overcast, sea. See how Aran captures the imperfect, and revels in it.
So while Aran’s Instagram and blog are an opportunity to share the beauty of imperfection, A Cook’s Remedy is the place to go deeper still. To honor the yet untold story. It’s a chance to invite people inside the metaphorical home where messy clutter can easily be hidden behind a door. Because the more we view the lives of the Aran Goyoagas out there as flawless, the more flawed we feel. Humans innately compare ourselves to one another, and social media only amplifies our drive to keep up with those pesky AF Joneses. But the truth is, even Aran is susceptible to that jealousy.
“I think I just want people to be okay,” she described of her drive to be more open online. Because Aran sees the truth-telling opportunity. The chance to connect versus alienate. She could hide behind the illusion; she could allow her followers to believe a myth. But she would prefer to let us in on her secret: life is picture imperfect.
Click here to view Aran's video series in its entirety. And go here to vote for A Cook's Remedy in the Saveur Blog Award nominee for Best Video of the Year.