foodFood & Drink

Behind the Scenes: Making the Tasting Rome Cookbook

by Kristina Gill

Tasting Rome is the name of my forthcoming cookbook, which I photographed and co-authored with food and beverage educator and journalist, Katie Parla. Today, I’d like to share a behind-the-scenes look at how I contributed to producing our cookbook.

If you’ve ever tried to interact with someone who is in the throes of writing a book, you know they are mostly offline for the duration of the project. If you’ve ever tried to interact with someone who is photographing and developing recipes for a cookbook, then you know that they are offline and most likely their hair (and probably something in the kitchen) is on fire for the duration of the project. That was me. I’d heard about how stressful the process was, but I never fully understood it until I started. However, I also had very fun moments along the way and the process was so very rewarding!

Fortunately, I had a co-author, so I didn’t have to worry about recipe headnotes (which I understand can be very challenging to write well) or features (research, research, and more research), both of which give voice to a cookbook and help inform and connect the reader to the recipes. I also didn’t have to handle the manuscript edits! I could focus on what I enjoy most — food and photos!

I’ll be writing a bit more about the personal journey later, but for now let’s delve into the technical journey!  —Kristina

Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
The final cover of Tasting Rome, with gold foil, and lightly battered fried zucchini blossoms.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Once we had a book deal, I began with recipe development. I kept track of my work in a (Hello Kitty) notebook. These very detailed notes included temperature, time, weight, appearance and any other notes on the outcome of each recipe trial. These are my notes for the batter for the fried squash blossoms and the fried salt cod. You can see where I tested the batter at three different temperatures, keeping track of the weight of the fillet. Some of my notes are in metric measure, others imperial. Other tests - such as those for the maritozzi, for which I knew I wanted a rich, brioche-type dough - were more involved. I tried methods and proportions at least nine different ways before settling on one. After sending to testing, the method chosen was the first one I had discarded in my own trials!
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
After each recipe trial was finished, I hand wrote everything on a template according to the Potter Style Guide, and then typed it into a word file. The finished recipes were sent to be tested. Some recipes changed a lot, others were only tweaked. You can't get too attached to your work! In the end, it will probably all be changed for the better!
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
The largest flea market in Europe takes place in Lille once a year. I was lucky that the timing of our cookbook allowed me to go to Lille so that I could source most of the props we needed in one fell swoop. My husband was my photo assistant for the majority of the book images shot in Rome. He also accompanied me to Lille to help source props. These worn platters were my favorite Lille finds. They were the first items I purchased, at an exorbitant price for what they were. After that, my husband handled all negotiations!
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
After a grueling day in Lille of walking miles of flea market stands, we stopped for Bellerose beers. Not pictured - tons of bubble wrap, newspaper, tape, a rolling suitcase, and stylish leather work gloves for prop rummaging without getting my hands dirty.
Putting together props for the studio photography was a really fun part of producing the photography for Tasting Rome. I am lucky to live just two hours away from Andrea Brugi and Samina Langholz. I visited several times, and they let me rummage through their collections and borrow whatever I needed to produce the images.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Here is a glimpse of a part of the studio space in my home that I work in. What you can't see are the various surfaces which are stacked against the wall to the right, and outside. You will notice that many of my images are shot with light coming from the right side. This is why!
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Here is the very first shot I did of a recipe for Tasting Rome. These are the tomatoes for the Aglio, Olio, Peperoncino e Pomodori Arrostiti. Andrea Brugi filed the edges of the sheet of rusted aluminium so I wouldn't cut my hands. The doorman on the street near my office saved that pallet for me, and I stained it to use as a surface for the book. My Mud Australia cabinet, which you saw in the previous picture, is just peeking out, and you can see the light coming from the right side!
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Though I did style quite a few of the food images in the book, I did not have the expertise to style others, such as the Lingua in Salsa Verde. Here, food stylist Adam C. Pearson displays the beef tongue before he works his magic.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Behind the scenes of every food image is often a talented crew of food stylists. Here we see the requisite Instagram photo break of the Torta Rustica. It was baked after shooting process shots on how to make the lattice. From left to right you see the arms of stylists Adam C. Pearson, Hristina Misafiris, and Lexi (Hartman) Smith.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Some of the food images in the book were shot at the Shooter + Stylist studio in Long Beach. Here, clockwise from left, we see tricks of the trade on how to make lemon zest spirals for cocktails; my assistant Jennice standing in front of the Cacio e Pepe prop bowl selection, and Adam finalizing the Torta Rustica lattice before baking.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
After a few days with a full kitchen of food stylists and two assistants, here is a small selection of the images we produced. If you have the book, you will notice that not all of these appeared in the book, and several had to be reshot because they did not capture the look we were going for. Toward the upper right you can see how the beef tongue came out!
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
Matt Armendariz has been by mentor and bestie for almost 10 years. He was my photo assistant for the images produced in his and Adam's Shooter + Stylist studio.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
In addition to studio images of food, I was very fortunate to also be able to shoot location photography for Tasting Rome. Our goal was to provide a "lived-in" feel to the book, to really take the reader to Rome to experience everything Katie describes in her narrative. My husband and I got up shortly after dawn, put on our Wellingtons, drove a couple of miles down the street to our friendly farmer's house, and I got into the sheep-milking van to take a few pictures. These sheep produce milk for certified Pecorino Romano cheese. By 7:30 am I was already at the next farm photographing the spring lettuces, artichoke collection, and livestock.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
When preparing for the cover shoot, I discovered that sourcing zucchini blossoms is not very easy in the U.S. Luckily, Matt's neighbor, Sasha Kanno, is an amazing farmer. She runs Farm Lot 59 in Long Beach and provided a lot of the stunning produce you see in the book. I called her weeks ahead of time to let her know exactly what we needed. She picked all of the blossoms she had which met our specifications. (The heavens really aligned for this!)
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
You may have seen other people post behind-the-scenes processes of cookbooks that explain that they went through several cover options, or that choosing the cover was a protracted process. Aaron Wehner, our incredible publisher, had a very clear vision for the cover from early on. Pan-fried (filled with mozzarella) or lightly battered zucchini flowers. This slide show started with the final version. Here is an outtake of the pan-fried flowers for the alternate version. These were the only two cover options we dealt with.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
After all the pieces of the book were put together, it was laid out and bound into a black and white paperback format. Our book finally started to feel real.
Behind the Scenes of Tasting Rome on Design*Sponge
It takes a large team to produce a book. Here are four of the Clarkson Potter team members behind Tasting Rome. We named ourselves Team Pizza from our very first call. From left to right: Lauren Velasquez (marketing), Carly Gorga (marketing), Amanda Englander (editor), Anna Mintz (publicity).

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  • Wow, and congratulations! Kristina has always been such a talented and generous contributor to this blog, so it’s great to see her getting a really big headline/byline. Love this photo series.

  • I so enjoyed reading this behind the scenes peek at photographing for the book, and a teeny glimpse into the recipe development. I’m excited to try some of the recipes and read the history behind them when it comes out at the end of the month-thanks for sharing!

  • As someone who aspires to get into the food world, and fingers crossed work on a book someday, I loved this behind the scenes look. What I loved most, is that even though it’s hard work, and as you mentioned Kristina, ideas, and directions will shift, in the end all your hard work manifests into a beautiful book that people will get to enjoy for years, and meals to come. Congrats!

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