Photographer Marloes Haarmans and set designer Imogen Frost cook up luxury meals from cheap ingredients

Canteen Cuisine is an entertaining concoction of highly processed childhood favourites, served as a reminder of the weirdness of lockdown.

30 July 2021
Reading Time
4 minute read

The beginning of lockdown was a peculiar time and, a bit of a scary one. Confined to our homes and with lots of spare time on our hands, many of us turned to creativity as a resolve. Marloes Haarmans did just that, as she utilised her skill and passion for photography for a more personal means: to make a project devised in lockdown. This manifested into a series called Low Cost Luxury, which is a visual guide on how to recreate luxury at home from cheap alternatives. “One of the images consisted of junk food on a plate, laid out in fine dining style,” she tells It’s Nice That. “That image felt like a nice ingredient for a bigger series.”

As time went on – and the pandemic continued – Marloes found herself building on this particular project, which has resultantly ended up being a photo series titled Canteen Cuisine, made in collaboration with London-based set designer Imogen Frost. A DIY guide on how to make our own five star restaurant dishes at home with affordable ingredients, the series is flash-lit and humorous as it comments on the various emotions felt and circumstances experienced over lockdown, be it a lack of money or getting used to a quieter life.

It came about when a shift occurred and “going out for dinner wasn’t part of life,” Marloes adds, and “getting exhausted from your same lockdown meals over and over again, and having total recipe fatigue.” Both Marloes and Imogen were craving the feeling – and distant memory – of going to a restaurant, eating something utterly delicious and surprising, savouring a “marvellous decorated plate full of exotic ingredients, where you sometimes have no idea what they are, that aren’t from a packet or the freezer."

It was near enough a year ago that we last heard from Marloes, and were completely enamoured by her warping and surrealistic take on photography. Previously working with a mix of props, found objects and random assortments, plus the odd Crock and chunk of minced meat here and there, it seemed inevitable that Marloes would turn to food as a subject. In fact, food is where her initial passion with still life first started. “I wanted to revisit my earliest work,” she notes. “And weirdly I have parked this food obsession somewhere, but I am ready to put it into drive again.” This is when Canteen Cuisine was formed, marking a vital and momentous point in history both for the world and for the personal lives and interests of the creatives behind it.


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Hors D'Oeuvres: Low End Bites (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)

Although some places are starting to open up again, the pandemic is still rife across the globe, especially within the hospitality industries. In London, for example, it’s not the easiest to get a table at a restaurant nor is it the most relaxing environment to be in, “or you can’t be bothered to wait three weeks for your favourite restaurant, or the pandemic has ripped your wallet apart, or you just want to take the Michelin star restaurants skills with you into the kitchen to impress your guests,” says Marloes. Either way, this DIY guide will be a helping hand to anyone thinking about food over this period in time. And what’s better than an assortment of nine cheap alternatives, featuring little-effort recipes and ingredients easily obtained from your local supermarket?

In the nine meals presented in Canteen Cuisine, you’ll find various iterations of dishes, like Hors D’Oeuvres – which has been renamed from “High End Bites” to fittingly “Low End Bites” – which sees tiny squares of beans and eggs on toast, plus a few weeny sausages. There’s also L’Entree, which has been renamed from “Beef Carpaccio” to "Ham & Cheddar”. The dish pretty much does what it says on the tin. Profiteroles is rehashed from “Cream Puffs & Chocolate” into “Potatoes & Gravy” in a mountainous platter of baby potatoes lathered in juicy gravy; while Cheese Plater – “Cheap cheese”, not “Expensive cheese” – presents Babybel, cheese slices, Dairylea Triangles and a Cheese String with its top half pulled into strands.

“For me,” adds Marloes of her personal favourite, “that would be Le Plat Principal, the lobster course. It was one of the initial ideas of the series, and illustrates what this series is about. At a distance, it looks like some proper food photography of a lobster meal. With every step closer, you start to see the disappointments. And the highly processed 40p crab sticks. I am a pretty terrible cook with a bad taste for food, but I love decorating plates. I think you can get away with serving the worst food when it's designed well.”

Like a selection of meals picked from your childhood, Canteen Cuisine is funny just as much as it is self-aware. Food has indeed been a central topic over the last year or so, where “even people with a non-cooking heart have tried their first sourdough bread or banana cake in lockdown,” concludes Marloes. “We wanted to take this topic a step further and create something funny and lighthearted, which hopefully leaves a smile on peoples’ face which is quite important after a tough year.”


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Cheese Platter: Cheap Cheese (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Salad: Canned Tuna (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Appetiser: Black beans and crisps (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Mignardise: Eclair hot dog bun (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Profiteroles: Patatos & Gravy (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Le Plat Principal: Crab Sticks (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)


Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. L'entree: Ham & Cheddar (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)

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Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost: Canteen Cuisine. Amuse Bouche: Mouth Demuser (Copyright © Marloes Haarmans and Imogen Frost, 2021)

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.

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