The Cover Story

by Lynne Rossetto Kasper

Our new book, How to Eat Weekends, did not have a cover. It did have a print deadline creeping up. You'd think with more than 100 recipes and 24 shots by one of the best photographers in the business, the cover would be a snap. Not so. No matter what Clarkson Potter's design team did, the cover wasn't happening.

"Think up three more dishes, please," they asked. We staggered a bit. Schedules were tight. We were up to ears with work. Brains were mush. But there was guidance from art director Jane Treuhaft.

Think dishes with color and interesting shapes; think clean, fresh-looking food; but think fall and winter because How to Eat Weekends comes out in the fall. And think fast because the deadline's out there.

The set up was all three dishes would be shot in one day. If the stars aligned, one would hit the mark. The trio we came up with started with a Cioppino -- the fish stew of shrimp, mussels, clams and tomatoes, with plenty of flavors, colors and great shapes. The second was Stuffed Chicken Breast in Orange White Wine Glaze, which would hopefully glow on the plate. And the last was Ancho Cider-Glazed Hens on a heap of butter-toasted cornbread and roasted grapes and winter vegetables.

Here's how the cover of How to Eat Weekends came to be. That business about "It takes a village" definitely applies.

The Place: the studio of Ellen Silverman, the food photographer who shot all the pictures you see in the book. What you see here are my shots. It's obvious that focus is not my strong suit.

The People:

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Ellen Silverman, the photographer and perfectionist of endless patience. She eagle-eyed every shot, going for angles, exposures and a shift of a fork. (For me it was disconcerting to realize that the eye sees a plate one way and the camera sees the same plate in a completely different way. Which is why you don't want to be doing your own food photography.)

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Clarkson Potter art director Jane Treuhaft, our visionary, our guide and one of the ultimate "deciders."

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Cyd McDowell, the food stylist on the shoot and a hoot to work with. I love watching people like Cyd at work. They go at it like an athlete warming up and then going into the game. Our food looked like itself -- just a lot better than usual.

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Cyd's assistant, the stalwart John Bjostad, who I wish lived in my neighborhood. He cooked like an angel.

Making a Cover:

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Ellen and Cyd set up the first Cioppino shot. It was done four or five different ways. Tedious.

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Cioppino gets its closeup (one of several exposures, angles and setups). As of that moment, it was a winner. Then the second-guessing took hold. Shellfish allergies? Fish is expensive? Religious concerns? Ecological issues?

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These vegetables for the hens are ready for the oven. Check out the artistry here. Unfortunately it was close to lunch; six carrots disappeared from the pan before it got to the oven.

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Stuffed chicken breasts just out of the oven. Their glaze wasn't glowing the way it did at home and my stuffing was a mess. After styling and shooting, there was no hope. We ditched that idea. We were down to two possibilities.

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Ancho Cider-Glazed Hens waiting for their closeup.

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"Let it be. Please let it be." Jane and Ellen studying, musing and mulling.

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So here is the result that day, with our thanks to the whole team.

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