December 3, 2013 |

What’s Cooking?

By Jeremy White


Test kitchen

Mandy works on a dish in the kitchen while Josh — and his camera — “supervise.”

When you enter the Pizza Today offices on certain mornings, the smell hits you. Associate editor Denise Greer arrived extra early and already has the deck ovens in the test kitchen heating up. Before long, Managing Editor Mandy Detwiler pops in with tons of grocery bags in her hands. She gives me, Art Director Josh Keown and Creative Director Rick Daugherty “the look” — a glance that says “you boys better get your butts downstairs and carry up the rest of the food for me — these bags are heavy!”

We oblige.

Soon we’re all moving fluidly and quickly, like a really bad version of a real pizzeria kitchen. Onions, garlic and vegetables are chopped. Chicken is being roasted. Dough balls are stretched. Studio lights are positioned, tested and re-positioned. Dishes pile up in the sink. The video cameras roll sporadically to catch short clips for our Web site or the Pizza Today Instagram page.

Food is plated with care, then offered up to our waiting cameras.

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Chicken roasting in the oven in the Pizza Today test kitchen.

You may not realize this, but the overwhelming majority of food you see in Pizza Today articles was made in our test kitchen and photographed in our adjacent studio. The remainder of the items are shot on location inside of pizzerias.

It’s just one of the not-so-little things that sets us apart from the rest. Like you, we take pride in going the extra mile.

Mandy Detwiler makes 99 percent of the food items that we produce in-house for photography. Once in a while, Denise and I get to get in on the fun. But mostly our roles are limited to doing dishes, prepping on occasion and eating what Mandy works hard to cook (I’m really good at that).

Rick and Josh approach each shot individually. Every dish has its own unique styling, plating and background. They don’t simply prop a pizza or pasta entree up on a table and snap a few pics. Every detail is analyzed, questioned and second-guessed before they take the photos. Then they do it again.

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Thai Chicken Pizza made in our test kitchen last week.

Eventually, we have the art we need to produce a gloriously beautiful issue. And because of these painstaking efforts, our issues are lauded year in and year out with international TABBIE awards that speak to our dedication of producing a magazine that isn’t just useful, but also really nice to look at.

Why do we go to the trouble and expense of cooking these items in house? Because we care. And because we get really hungry and like to eat.

But, mostly, because we want our magazine to be an accurate reflection of what you do each and every day in your pizzeria. Immersing ourselves in your role, even if only for a couple of days each month, keeps things in perspective for us and shows us exactly what you go through on a daily basis. It’s not easy, is it?

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We aren’t perfect! We may have slightly overcooked this Buffalo Chicken & Bacon Pizza. That’s okay — we made it again and got it right the second time.

(I wish I had a dollar for every time Mandy left the test kitchen at the end of a photo shoot proclaiming “My back and feet are killing me … how do these guys do it all day every day?”)

Sometimes we screw a pizza up. Sometimes Josh and Rick can bail us out thanks to the magic of lighting and by expertly knowing how to photograph food from various angles. Sometimes we mess a dish up so badly that there’s no going back — we have to make it again before we can photograph it.

Over the years those instances have gotten fewer and farer between, though. We may not be ready to be your kitchen manager or head chef, but we’re starting to get this cooking thing down — and we’re having a blast doing it!