When Michael Zee made breakfast for his boyfriend, Mark van Beek, in April of last year, he didn’t think that it would lead to them having over 113,000 followers on Instagram.
Michael, 29, works in London’s V&A museum in the Learning Department. Mark, 39, is a Design Director with clothing company. The two have been together almost three years; Mark moved in to Michael’s home in Hackney, east London, full time in April 2013.
‘It all started by accident really. Mark moved in with me we bought a dining table together. One day I made him breakfast and took a photo and that was about it.’
Michael [pictured right in the photo with Mark here] noted that his simple breakfast photograph appeared satisfyingly symmetrical. He uploaded it to his personal Instagram account, and began to notice his number of followers quickly growing. He decided to launch a dedicated Instagram account, Symmetry Breakfast, in September of that year, posting a photo daily, and the numbers have since exploded.
Although Twitter seems to be mentioned far more in the media – not least for quotes from celebrities – Instagram (owned by Facebook) quietly surpassed it earlier this month in terms of its numbers of users. In December 2014 it reported having 300million active users – up from 200million just nine months earlier. Micro-blogging site Twitter reported that it had 284million users in October 2014.
The popularity of Symmetry Breakfast has no doubt been helped by the fact that Michael goes to great lengths to create imaginative breakfasts, taking inspiration from all over the world.
Whereas most of us will have the same meal morning after morning, Michael treats Mark to something different almost every day – as a selection of his photos below testify. And unsurprisingly, a growing number of local food producers and crockery makers have been keen for him to feature their produce.
Michael says he is ‘Completely surprised!’ by the reaction he has had to the photos.
‘At the beginning, the format and concept was a bit ropey but as it grew it has really morphed into something else. I never sat down and thought ‘I’ll do this and that’, its really evolved over time.
‘One of the most interesting outcomes of it is what other people assume about me or us as a couple. I am often referred to as a woman who must have OCD or be a dominatrix. I’ve also been asked several times in interviews if I find it psychologically soothing or am I intentionally trying to create a ‘twin effect’ – read into it what you will.’
Some of the photographs feature food from cafes and restaurants that they visit – including holidays this year to Italy and China – but the majority are dishes they enjoy at home. Does he find it a chore to always create visually arresting breakfasts?
‘It can feel like a chore sometimes, I don’t think of it as a hobby or something I am bound to. I do see it as something that I can develop into a potential new career.’
And does Michael do all the food preparation, or does Mark ever try his hand at preparing the meals?
‘Mark does occasionally make them but most of the time is it me. I have better working hours so I spend a lot more of my time cooking generally.’
And has he made anything that particularly impressed or proved unpopular?
‘Mark is from Holland so hadn’t tried some classic British breakfast dishes such as kedgeree or black pudding before I made them for him.
‘He’s not a fan of black pudding at all. Kedgeree he liked but I don’t think he would order it for himself in a restaurant!
‘We are not huge fans of breakfast cereals and we both find Lucky Charms absolutely disgusting. We had them once and I gave the remainder of the box to my neighbor.’
With Mark is now in negotiations to start designing his own line of tableware, expect to hear more about Symmetry Breakfast in 2015.
Symmetry Breakfast one-year anniversary posting, featuring rainbow cake from Hummingbird Bakery.
Hansen & Lydersen smoked salmon, poached eggs and sourdough with orange juice and a caffÃ¨ latte
Steamed Chinese custard buns, mango and White Silver Tip tea
Smorgasbord with loads of remoulade Scandinavian Kitchen @scandikitchen with carrot and orange juice
Waffles with kiwi, strawberry, banana and honey.
Morello cherry and frangipane tart with fresh cherries and a macchiato
Fruit salad, melon, pineapple, orange, pomegranate.
Sweet potato and cannellini bean corned beef hash, fried egg, bruschettini, orange juice and a caffÃ¨ latte
Baked eggs with avocado, smoky paprika, toasted sourdough and a caffÃ¨ latte
Fruit skewers with French toast brioche
Italian biscotti with peach, blueberries and espresso. Homemade biscotti al pistacchio, krumiri al farro and the best brigidino di lamporecchio (anise crisps)
Thursday 25 December 2014: Happy Christmas from The Great Wall of China!! We’re having a picnic up here! Green tea cake, honey cake and baby satsumas with hot taro milk tea.