New & NowFood52 Life

Behind the Scenes

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Tuesdays are our big photo shoot days at food52, when we're joined by our lovely and talented photographer, Sarah Shatz, and we cook, style and shoot the finalists' dishes (plus the wildcard winner and assorted other tools, ingredients and the like). And there are, of course, still administrative site matters to maintain; blogs to be written; tweets to be tweeted. 

Nevertheless, some Tuesdays are simple. Take last week: in our pool of finalists, we ended up with a grilled cheese sandwich, a bowlful of mussels, and two types of roasted broccoli (one, two) -- all delicious and wonderful recipes in their own right, but none especially labor intensive. None had more than a couple ingredients to chop, or a cook time over half an hour.  

This week, however, we really set ourselves up for the cook's equivalent to the Ironman triathlon. For one, we were taking on Nose to Tail recipes, which often coax flavor and texture out of less accommodating cuts of meat through long marinating and cooking times and plenty of tasty supporting accoutrements. And then there were the Baked Pasta dishes, which, no matter how simple, inevitably require several steps: cooking the pasta, making the flavorful accompaniments, and then baking them all together once more, with feeling. 

Don't get us wrong, we love getting lost in these sorts of luxurious, multistage affairs in the kitchen -- but we don't usually choose to pile them all on top of one another in a single day. The dirty dishes alone tend to dash that prospect from our minds, not to mention considerations like oven temperature coordination, counter and refrigerator space constraints, recommended daily caffeine intake levels and general sanity. 

But this week, we cast aside such middling concerns (or, you know, forgot to think about them at all). A record 11 hours, 1,322 photos, 4 sinks full of dishes, and many fabulous food breaks later, it was a successful, if exhausting day. You probably won't be seeing “Your Best Turducken” going head-to-head with “Your Best Wedding Cake” any time soon, but this marathon photo shoot was loads of fun and well worth the extra effort -- we hope you'll agree. Here's a glimpse at how we got it all done.

9:13am Merrill consults the recipes that lie ahead while a spectral Amanda breezes through the background. That giant orb behind her is our answer to the photographer's lighting dilemma of shorter, often overcast winter days. It's doing wonders for our seasonal affective disorder too. And we only hit our heads on it, oh, 5-6 times every Tuesday.


10:24am Amanda shares the oddly appealing texture of tripe with her son Walker.


10:47am Even in the middle of wrangling tripe, Amanda obsessively diligently checks page view stats.


12:16pm A maxed-out stove. Amanda works on the sauce for the Pastitsio (which, we learned, is really difficult to say without an exclamation point. Pastitsio!) while Merrill whisks together its bechamel topping. Wildcard-winning Beet Fusilli has been bumped to stage right.


1:32pm Keeping up with all these dishes is a serious workout. 


2:25pm During down time between recipes, while offal simmers and pasta bakes, the food52 team hits the “office” to work on editorial content. Note that it's after 2pm and we haven't had anything resembling lunch yet -- this think tank is starting to get a little bit low on gas. 


3:44pm Looking rather dazed. This is one of those moments Sarah has to remind A & M to perk up and smile pretty for the camera.


4:38pm Giddiness strikes. We're almost done!


4:57pm Hoping to catch the last glimmer of afternoon sun, A & M move to a window in the room we call the “Atelier” at the front of Amanda's apartment. The tacos aren't behaving for their close-up; they tend to pop open the second they're released (hmm, guess there's a reason they're usually hand-held). Amanda shoves them into submission, discovering that avocado is a handy glue. 


5:13pm Sun all but gone, Amanda steps up to light an ingredient shot late in the day. 


5:44pm Attracted by the siren song of the blender (after all, it makes milkshakes too), Walker comes in to investigate and finds Mom whirring Manicotti batter.


6:12pm Amanda's kids are lucky little gourmands – they get to try leftovers from all the great recipes tested at food52! Don't let this photo of Addie staring down some Barbacoa Beef Cheek bias your vote – the kids' second course was Trippa alla Romana, and they loved that too.