Last Fall, I photographed a dinner series that celebrated Taco María’s third anniversary. I looked forward to the events for a couple of reasons: the joy of spending those evenings with Taco María’s chef and owner Carlos Salgado, and his crew, who have become dear friends of mine, and the challenge of telling a story through my photos across three nights.

But after shooting the dinners, I was also struck by how this series marked a moment to look back on my own past few years. I first got to know Carlos right as he was starting Taco María—five years ago—when I was just beginning my full-time photography business. Now, here we both were, he with a beloved restaurant that has garnered national acclaim and me, and my photographs, deeply imbedded in the restaurant world in Southern California. Each of those three nights last Fall, he and I made sure to raise a glass to how far we’d come as we stood there in a dining room packed with friends and food lovers, welcoming some of Mexico’s most renowned chefs.

For each of the three dinners, Carlos welcomed a different chef from Mexico: Javier Plascencia in October, Diego Hernandez in November, and Enrique Olvera in December. The series not only marked three years for Taco María, but also acknowledged a new wave in culinary idea exchange that Carlos has helped ignite across the US-Mexico border. I was able to reflect on this cultural movement, and the dinners, a recent piece for Life & Thyme:

“I first met Chef Carlos Salgado in 2011. He had just moved back to Orange County after 10 years as a chef in San Francisco and was starting his own project, Taco María. I was beginning a new direction for my art as well by starting to take on chef and restaurant clients as a food photographer. Having grown up in Orange County, like Salgado, I had an understanding of Southern Californian Mexican food. I knew what I liked in my breakfast burrito; I knew where to get a great fish taco. But when I first ordered his tacos, prepared meditatively in a silent kitchen, I thought, “This is different.” Different than the California cuisine I knew. Different than any Mexican food I’d had.

What I quickly learned, as I got to know Salgado and other Mexican-American chefs across Southern California, was that he was part of a larger movement of chefs across the United States and Mexico, a group changing how Americans would come to expect and understand Mexican food.”

As a photographer, it’s rare that I have the opportunity to share both my words as well as my photographs in a publication, which makes me particularly honored to be a Life & Thyme contributor. You can read and view my full photo essay, “Sea, Land, and Air at Carlos Salgado’s Taco María: Celebrating the Elements of Modern Mexican Cuisine,” at Life & Thyme.

I love culinary storytelling through photos, so below I’ve included a few more images than those I was able to highlight in the Life & Thyme piece.

{Taco María is located in Costa Mesa, California. Follow them @tacomaria, and Chef Carlos Salgado @csalgado.  Follow Anne Watson Photography on Twitter/Instagram @annewatsonphoto.}