How a photography club spawned a friendship that led to a job opportunity that blossomed into an article in Lithuanian Heritage about a farm-to-table restaurant in Užupis.
When I was living in Vilnius in the early 2000s, I was a part of a photography club founded by Andy Hernandez and Tomas Kauneckas. We met every Sunday at the Cyclopes studio in Vilnius Old Town to drink coffee (there may have been wine), eat snacks, and talk about photography. Sometimes Tomas would bring a model and set up a backdrop and we’d all take turns shooting her under the lights. It was fun and social and I learned a lot from Tomas, Andy, and the other club members. But the thing that I most value is a friendship that started in that club and continues to this day with photographer Šarūnė Kajietė.
This was at the cusp between analogue and digital photography, when most photographers were slowly switching over their setups, but Šarūnė was just getting into medium format film photography shooting with a Rolleiflex and a Hasselblad. Her photos are characteristically cool, a little bit moody, and always romantic. Social media experts will tell you that the best Instagram accounts “bring joy,” which is why I follow Šarūnė on Instagram. In short, I love her work. Especially her food photography.
So when Šarūnė and I found an hour in our busy schedules to grab a coffee at Taste Map (one of her clients) last fall and she began to tell me about her latest project—a book collaboration with the restaurant Sweet Root on the artisanal history of food in Lithuania—I was like, “I’m in.” The book, Proud of Lithuania: A Fairy Tale by Sweet Root, will be published by Dvi Tylos in English, and they needed a native English speaker to edit the book.
Sweet Root is a tiny restaurant in Užupis that’s quickly garnering a big reputation. It opened just shy of three years ago, founded by three partners in their early 30s who all had degrees in marketing and business, but were already fed up with the rat race. They all had an interest in food and dreamed of a restaurant that serves dishes that highlight the vast array of ingredients native to Lithuania.
“We’ve been running so fast since getting back our independence, without actually looking where we’re running to, and it’s the same at the table. At Sweet Root, we believe it’s already time to slow down—in all aspects of life, including our gastronomy. We really care about bringing patriotic feelings to the plate again,” co-founder Sigitas Žemaitis told me.
As I edited the book, I learned so much about Lithuanian gastronomy that I had no idea even existed, and I fell in love with the restaurant and its philosophy. Click the link below to read the whole article, which also appears in the May/June 2017 issue of Lithuanian Heritage, and keep an eye out for the forthcoming book full of Šarūnė’s wonderful photographs!
Update May 2020: Sweet Root restaurant has closed its doors due to business complications of the COVID-19 pandemic. The book, Proud of Lithuania, is still available. Purchase here.