The Essence of Reneé Touponce: A Culinary Journey Through Photography

Portrait of chef Renee Touponce of The Port of Call in Mystic, Connecticut.

As a photographer, I’ve had the privilege of preserving countless moments and stories through my lens, but working with Reneé Touponce was an experience like no other. Reneé is not just a chef; she’s a culinary artist, a visionary who breathes life into every dish she creates, and a passionate supporter of the LGBTQ+ community. 

Her passion for local ingredients, commitment to equality in the kitchen, and her innovative approach to food make her a standout figure in the culinary world, particularly in Mystic, CT. So when the New York Times called upon me to photograph both portraits and food images for their article in the food section titled “What Chefs Really Think,” I was beyond thrilled.

Meeting Reneé: The Chef Behind the Lens

Walking into The Port of Call, the ambiance immediately struck me. It was warm, welcoming, and buzzing with energy. Reneé greeted me with a genuine smile, exuding the same warmth that permeates her kitchens. Her multicultural background – a blend of Italian and Puerto Rican – shines through in her personality and her food, creating a unique and inviting atmosphere.

Reneé’s story is one of cultural fusion and culinary innovation. Her childhood memories of rice and beans on the stove and lasagna in the oven are beautifully interwoven into her dishes. She skillfully marries the rich, coastal heritage of New England with the flavors of her youth, crafting meals that are both nostalgic and refreshingly inventive.

A table at The Port of Call set with a selection of food and drinks, including boquerones, smoked hot dog, and squid ink empanadas.

The Art of Food Photography

Documenting Reneé’s work was a joy because every frame told a story. From the way she meticulously prepares each ingredient to her thoughtful presentation, there’s an undeniable artistry in her process. She works with small family farms, raising heritage breeds and applying traditional techniques to fish, an approach that’s both sustainable and incredibly creative.

I was fascinated by her dedication to zero waste. She transforms what’s often considered waste into culinary masterpieces, showing deep respect for every ingredient and the journey it takes from farm (or sea) to table.

Boquerones with vinegar & herb cured local smelt, garlic, parsley, and warm bread made by chef Renee Touponce of The Port of Call in Mystic, Connecticut.

A Taste of Reneé’s Creations

One of the highlights of this photography session was the opportunity to understand Reneé’s food. Each dish was a testament to her skill and creativity. Her flavors are bold, yet harmonious, with a perfect balance of textures and tastes that reflected her multicultural heritage and commitment to local ingredients.

An overhead view of three items on the menu at The Port of Call in Mystic, Connecticut: 1) Boquerones with vinegar & herb cured local smelt, garlic, parsley, and warm bread, 2) Smoked hot dog with bonito aioli, spicy kimchi, shallot & kelp crunch, and double-fermented house steamed bao bun, and 3) squid ink empanadas with Stonington squid, green rice, peanuts, bonito aioli, and chimichurri.

Portrait of chef Renee Touponce of The Port of Call in Mystic, Connecticut.

Portrait of chef Renee Touponce of The Port of Call in Mystic, Connecticut.

Beyond the Kitchen: A Leader and Innovator

Reneé’s influence extends beyond her culinary prowess. As a queer woman in a traditionally male-dominated industry, she’s a trailblazer for equality and inclusion in the kitchen. Her belief that “there’s no gender in food” is more than a statement; it’s a philosophy that shapes her entire approach to leadership. In her kitchens, everyone is equal, everyone is safe, and everyone is valued.

Her accolades, including being a 2024 James Beard Award Finalist for Outstanding Chef and a 2023 finalist for Best Chef Northeast, speak volumes about her talent and dedication. But it’s her commitment to creating a healthy, inclusive, and innovative kitchen environment that truly sets her apart.

A selection of cocktails at The Port of Call in Mystic, Connecticut: Do Pineapples Dream of Tropical Drinks?, Socks and Sandals, and A Quiet Town in Tokyo.

A Lasting Impression

Photographing Reneé Touponce was an inspiring experience that left a lasting impression. Through my lens, I preserved not just the beauty of her dishes, but the passion, dedication, and heart that goes into every creation. Reneé’s culinary journey is a testament to the power of food to bring people together, celebrate diversity, and push the boundaries of what’s possible in the kitchen.

As I look back on the photos and the delicious memories, I’m reminded of the magic that happens when culinary art meets genuine passion. Reneé Touponce is a true artist, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to document her story.


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