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You've seen her work all over FOOD52: the deals in our Shop, the design of the Piglet bracket, the writing in the Feast Your Eyes column. She's tackled blog posts, helped with party-planning, whipped up recipes in the test kitchen, and made the Hotline the powerhouse it is today.
Since she joined the FOOD52 team in May 2011, Alaina Sullivan has upped the ante for all things design-based, bringing her seasoned eye to our photographs, graphics, newsletters, and beyond. In a company that prides itself on versatility, she shines. She sparkles. She brightens up the office with her homemade Brown Sugar and Carrot Bread; she flutters happily between the kitchen, the computer, the telephone, and the camera lens.
When Alaina's not at the office, you can find her traipsing the farmers' market, searching for the freshest local ingredients. You can bet she'll do something creative with them. And then take a gorgeous picture.
Read our interview with Alaina, a.k.a alasully, below, and check out her beautiful blog here.
Describe an early food experience that has influenced the way you think about food and/or cooking.
Trips to Cleveland's West Side Market on Saturday mornings with my dad opened my eyes to the glories of the marketplace -- I was this little girl from the suburbs standing wide-eyed in front of the whole pigs on display, cuts of beef equal to my weight, inhaling the perfume of stinky cheese and fresh bread. In the later years I remember paging through stacks of Cooking Light magazine that my dad had been collecting since the '80s, fell in love with the aesthetic of food, and got the itch to learn how to cook.
You were a swimmer in college, yes? What sort of things would you eat before and after meets?
Before meets: When I was younger I would have a stack of 6 waffles, plain or with butter, exactly two hours before my race. That or buttered noodles. I was intense about my routine. In college it was more like bagels and bananas.
After: Nothing satisfies swimming-induced post-meet hunger like half a pan of homemade lasagna.
If you owned a restaurant, what would be on the menu? How would you decorate it?
The place would have a rustic aesthetic -- lots of galvanized steel, natural wood, exposed brick -- love that. The food would echo that rustic simplicity -- appetizers like chicken hearts and pureed root vegetable soups. Mainly it would be a celebration of the ingredients' nuances and an expression of my affinity for experimenting with flavor pairings. Seasonal and local produce/meats would be the backbone, and I'd want it to be located near the water because several fresh piscine offerings would definitely be featured. And Irish brown bread would be served to every table (I'm on a mission to conquer the recipe I had in Galway).
What are some of your "food rules"?
I tend to avoid rules in the kitchen, which creates both disasters and epiphanies. But a personal rule I have when it comes to food is to try everything at least once, and if it doesn't sit well on my palate the first go-round, I try it at least 3 more times before I decide. I used to hate olives. Three tastes later, I can't get enough. Oh, and almost everything looks and tastes better topped with a fried egg. I'm also pretty liberal on adding nuts when in doubt.
What are your favorite dishes and/or cuisines to cook?
Dishes that are rooted in creative and unexpected flavor pairings. I tend to get on kicks that explore an ingredient, across a range of cuisines.
What's your least favorite food?
Describe your most spectacular kitchen disaster.
Involved a solo attempt to transfer finicky raw pizza dough (covered in sauce, dripping mozzarella, and basil) to a pizza stone, and my floor.
Tell us about the various things that you've done for FOOD52.
A melting pot of things, simply put. Everything from the glamorous task of categorizing Hotline questions (back when it was Foodpickle), feeling important and corresponding with Foodpickle experts, heading up the curation and operation of the new Shop post-relaunch, plus a slew of design-y projects for the site, and, one of my favorites: curating the Feast Your Eyes column.
You never leave the grocery store without…
What's your desert island meal?
Speared fish, grilled whole, and a bottle of 2007 Papillon.
What sort of things do you insist on making yourself?
Granola, pesto. A recent acquisition of Yvette von Boven's book Home Made has me inspired to up my DIY-ante.
What advice would you have to young people starting to curate their first kitchens?
A well-seasoned cast-iron skillet is essential to a kitchen. Food processor. Immersion blender. Wooden spoons. Invest in a few great knives; honed blades will change your life. Utilize your space creatively -- hang utensils/pots on the walls if you don't have a ton of room in your cabinets.
What are your quick tips for food photography?
• Natural light is your best friend.
• Play with your space -- I use the same north-facing window sill area for almost all of my shots, but change it up using different surfaces, vessels and utensils. Get creative.
• Take tons of shots from tons of angles. Play around with overhead versus eye-level; up-close versus from a distance. Think about angles that will best show off the food.
• You don't need expensive equipment, but you do need to be in focus.
• When you're styling/plating, don't be afraid of imperfections -- some of the most interesting compositions have a little mess -- stray crumbs, spilled sauce, dirty fork -- these give a sense of realness to your scene.