Readers of this week's review may wonder what the food at Little Water Cantina looks like. My column is illustrated with a picture of Ryan Minch mixing a drink, and there isn't an accompanying online food-porn slideshow featuring pictures of tortas and tacos.
Since I always look forward to seeing Joshua Huston's work, I asked our art director what happened. Turns out Huston only photographed a few dishes, since he voluntarily scaled back his initial dish request list after interpreting a series of looks between the manager and owner to mean they didn't want to prepare so much food.
Huston told our art director he had the sense the restaurant was overwhelmed by a sudden influx of press attention. "The Times was there shooting the day before," she explains.
So how is a shoot supposed to go? Although it's typically my job to reveal the behind-the-scenes methodologies that make a review work, I realized I had no idea how Huston gets his pretty pictures. He very kindly explained the process via e-mail.
After I've written my review, Huston calls the restaurant's manager to arrange a photo session. "I explain to them that the Weekly sent me an e-mail with what you had to eat at the restaurant and I need to photograph that food," he writes.
Restaurant owners are typically cooperative, Huston says, but not always.
"The only time I have a really hard time is with managers or owners from a foreign country," he writes. "A lot of times they have no clue what the hell I'm talking about and I've had managers hang up on me, tell me no, and tell me to call back next month when the owner is back from some other part of the world."
Huston, a freelancer, has discovered the best way to win over a skeptical restaurateur is to show up at his restaurant with copies of the Weekly. "Most of the time they finally get what I'm saying," he writes. "If not, then I just photograph the outside and have to call it good."
Language barriers aren't the only obstacles Huston encounters. Many restaurant owners are understandably reluctant to welcome a Weekly photographer when they don't know what kind of review the pictures will illustrate. A chef might feel like a chump if he carefully prepared a coq au vin, only to have it run with a caption indicating it was salty and overcooked.
"Almost all restaurants ask if I've read the review," says Huston.
Sometimes Huston has read the review before the photo session. He says the reviews help him prioritize the images he wants to capture. But even when he's read the review, he almost never discusses it with chefs. He recently made a rare exception for Blaine Wetzel of Willows Inn.
"Chef Wetzel asked me and seemed hesitant to even let me come up there," Huston recalls. "I told him that the review was the best review I've ever read on a restaurant. He let me come up and photograph him prepping food for a few hours."
Huston insists he wouldn't misrepresent a review he'd read, nor would he ever share a review with a subject. That's a contractual obligation that Huston takes extremely seriously. "I have been photographing the restaurants since October 7, 2010 and I never under any circumstances let someone read the review before it comes out," he writes.
Over the past two years, Huston has done a terrific job of capturing restaurants for the Weekly. While there isn't a slideshow this week, consider it an opportunity to revisit his previous work. Porn never gets old.
And if you're wondering why Little Water Cantina didn't want its food photographed, my review sums up my hypothesis. Read it here.