Friday, September 26, 2008

*fish food.

Sometime in the distant future (MARK YOUR CALENDARS), currently estimated to be June 2009, newsstands will once again be graced with my prose. And by "graced with" I mean "warily anticipating." I'm tasked to write a food story, which means I don't have to compose anything long; most of the story's real estate is taken up by what the peeps really want—recipes.

That's fine by me, because my writing process generally consists of last-minute panic and paralyzing self-doubt, coupled with desperate need for validation. Witness now: Do you love me yet? Do you? DO YOU?

Ahem. That was unseemly. You can just leave your love in the comments.

This week I got to attend a photo shoot for said food story, the benefits of which are threefold: it's not what I usually do, meaning it eased some of the recent weighty burnout feeling; it was outside, which in this weather I find almost bearable; and it was boisterous, a change from the ear-popping silence in cubicle town.

Story subject: Fish-and-chips. I tend to ask for stories that require deep-frying. (I also had a seafood-for-brunch story slated for this year, but the executive editor kiboshed it because she thought it sounded nasty. I dare say the wonders of smoked salmon escape her ... but less work for me!)

We shot the food outside at the SPC building, hoping to take advantage of the dappled natural light. In the absence of dappled natural light, however, one must improvise.

Our publication doesn't go for glossy, advertising-style food with lots of trickery and toothpick scaffolding. The most we do is spritz some cooking spray to give drooping food a little life. That means we have to shoot immediately, and shoot fast.

Someone from the test kitchen (TK) comes down with the prepared foodstuffs. In this case, panko-crusted halibut with wasabi aïoli.

The best news is that the prettiest of the bunch get chosen as models. The remainder get chosen as SNACKS. Our food editor unfortunately warned me that the fish would play the starring role here. That means the poor potatoes were essentially sidelined, but they were universally the favorites among the snack eaters. Fish shmish. Gimme dem fries.

The prop stylist had already pared down items for styling.

We were going for rustic, fish-shack images. Gingham prints, brown boxes, and—in this case, thanks to the panko and wasabi—chopsticks for an Asian point of reference. A condiment bowl sneaked the back corner up for perspective, and a gardenia from the big boss' yard softened the modest setting (thank heavens, too, because while styling is a matter of personal preference and I am far from an expert, I was tempted to "accidentally" shove those hideous S&P shakers underneath some pine straw somewhere).

Then the photographer gets her groove on.

This is where it gets pretty tedious. Everybody looks through the lens, and everybody has an opinion."The chopsticks look too pointy." "That one piece of fish is too round." "Move the lemon a little to the left. Less left. No, now I can see too much peel." "Can someone PLEASE get rid of the bees?" "I have to cut this box. It's too ... straight."

But by far the least predictable aspect of a photo shoot is its most important: LIGHT. That's where interns come in. They deflect

and reflect

until the photographer gets just the right amount of cheerful sun bouncing off the increasingly cranky food. It can start to look really manhandled and unappetizing by the end, when it's all too tempting to try wacky, off-the-wall staging. The prop stylist attempted one shot with the chopsticks coated in aïoli that was a little too ... suggestive.

Everyone gathers around the computer and makes adjustments until we have a couple of options we think we can use (oh S&P shakers, why must you taunt me with your ugliness?).

Then it's on to the next setup. In this case, it was fried salmon. A challenge, we all knew, because we'd seen them at taste-testing, when the TK first makes adjustments to the recipes, and they were tasty. And INCREDIBLY ugly.

Then it was discussion time again. The tea didn't have enough ice. Now it had enough ice, but it was too watered down. Which direction should the mug's/pitcher's handle face? Did the French fries look gross? (Answer: Never.)

Fork upside down or right-side up? Napkin to the left or right? Cut into the fish, or leave it whole?

Luckily, I adore minutiae. And fried stuff. I'd make a horrible photographer, though. Which is why I was pretty excited to find this, written by someone who is obviously far more successful at the endeavor than I.

But it doesn't matter, because you love me. RIGHT???


at: 1:29 PM said...

YES, we love you, ok? Geez.

K. says:
at: 2:23 PM said...

and yet your sentiment is belied by your exasperation!

on second thought, i'll take it.

at: 4:39 PM said...

Fish eaters, rejoice!

John-Bryan Hopkins says:
at: 10:06 PM said...

yeah yeah....we love you and you can write like a champ!!

not to the fish

the second piture looke like fried mice.

I 'm just sayin.....thats what it looked like when i scrolled down.

so that means you write a recipe single?

John-Bryan Hopkins says:
at: 10:16 PM said...

am am drunk and can not spell tonight fur i ix new to the wed.

so here we go again in english(channel a British accent)

Yes Yes ...We love you and we think you can write very well.


It appears in the second picture that there are fried mice laying upon the platter.

i am just saying.......that is: the photograph appeared to look that way as I scrolled down the screen on my computer in my kitchen in Homewood in Alabama in the United States on the world in the universe!

So do tell? Does your first comment imply you will be supplying one mere recipe?

Cheerio! I do believe you blogged well!

at: 7:50 AM said...

That was all fascinating and the linked photog blog was gorgeous. All so interesting. Thanks!

at: 8:24 AM said...


K. says:
at: 9:45 AM said...

anonymous: plagiarism is the highest form of flattery, right??

the life and times ... : fried mice? oh dear! that is something we'll need to be wary of in the finished product ...

anonymous: drunk commenting = excellent. in fact, i'd wager some level of insobriety is required for reading the woodside rantings. i will just be writing the intro text—i'm not responsible for the recipes. that task falls to a recipe developer.

anonymous: no, thank you for reading! i'm glad you enjoyed.

anonymous: thank you. ellipses and all.

at: 4:26 PM said...

Yes, you are now and always will be loved. I like fish and chips. Let's have some.

K. says:
at: 5:22 PM said...

i sense some mockery here, but i am lovin' the love!



my foodgawker gallery



I am a work in progress. I perpetually need a hair cut. I'm totally devoted to my remarkable nieces and nephew. I am an elementary home cook and a magazine worker bee. (Please criticize my syntax and spelling in the comments.) I think my dog is hilarious. I like chicken and spicy things. I have difficulty being a grown-up. Left to my own devices, I will eat enormous amounts of cheese snacks of all kinds.