(*From May 17 & 18, 2016.)
Today was my first day of helping Kate of And We Ate, a husband-and-wife duo of food photographers and recipe developers. I could not have picked a better week to start as a helping hand, as they are currently preparing for a photoshoot on Thursday featuring Applegate Farms, a Bridgewater, New Jersey based meat-farm that was just recently acquired by Hormel. Applegate Farms is focused on natural and organic meat products made with ingredients any consumer can pronounce.
The photoshoot features their various kinds of hotdogs, with 31 variations of flavor combinations based on cities in the United States. Today we had to gather the ingredients. Just going to the grocery store and searching for all different kinds of exotic pickled vegetables and sauces was a learning experience in and of itself! Kate is very grocery store savvy—even I didn’t know about giardinieras, pimiento peppers, and what a chiccaron was (it’s a pork skin).
After that was done, we headed down to her studio. I helped her make the recipe cards and then we began cooking. I helped her make pineapple relish and lemon mayo for the Honolulu Hot Dogs, the Pimiento cheese for the Cincinati Hot Dogs, and my favorite, the Olive Mufuletta Salad for the New Orleans Hot Dogs.
I was able to learn that I’m terrible at juicing and zesting citrus, and really bad at mincing parsley and garlic. I think Kate will teach me some good kitchen habits—she made sure that I continually cleaned up after finishing each recipe. My old method used to be to let all my bowls and dirty utensils pile up in the sink! I was able to see how much stress is taken away from the equation when you clean as you go. Being in the And We Ate studio kitchen, I realized just how much I have to learn about cooking—and how different cooking for a professional styling shoot is than cooking for yourself.
On day two, Kate and Guy demonstrated the appropriate chopping and slicing techniques. There’s a specific way you have to hold whatever you’re cutting and the knife itself. They also showed me that you can put a damp washcloth underneath your cutting board to keep it stable. And if it wasn’t the onion itself making me tear up, it might be how difficult it was to properly dice it (I’ve been cutting them wrong all my life!) I’m not the best with a knife still, but hopefully with practice I’ll become better. It’s funny, I never realized there was skill involved in such a common kitchen activity, but I think it’s truly what sets apart good dishes from bad, because how foods are cut can impact their texture. I also feel like it’s such a baseline ability that I should have if I plan on working in the food industry!
After the chopping lesson, we prepared most of the colder toppings, as yesterday was mainly for the toppings that had to be cooked on the stove top. I made a pepper hash, delicious guacamole, herbed mayo, cole slaw, snacked on copious amounts of pineapple helped Kate clean up along the way and set up a “game plan” for the next day. With 31 different variations of frankfurter sandwich, you can’t even imagine how much preparation goes into each one. We assembled the recipe cards in order, grouping them by toppings that were utilized in each and made sure that we had everything that we needed from the pantry and most of her food styling tools.
I think it’s fair to say that we’re ready for tomorrow. We’re getting up bright and early for an all-day shoot at Applegate Farms’ headquarters.