Maggie waits patiently for scraps.
Utensils collected over the years and through travels.
Congee for three.
In-flu-ence (n) the capacity to have an effect on the character, development, or behavior of someone or something, or the effect itself.
When someone enters your life – or you enter theirs – they can be separated into one of three groups: a reason, a season, or a lifetime. At the surface, you can probably divide up the most obvious people you know and/or have known into one of these categories. It becomes complicated – or, interesting, rather – when you consider those who have influenced you for a reason.
Several days after my dinner with Shelley Wiseman, I had the pleasure of having lunch with the culinary duo, Guy Ambrosino and Kate Winslow, of And We Ate. I met the couple at (yah yah yah, where else?!) The Farm Cooking School about a year ago at their Food-tography workshop. Side note: if you want to meet people who are real about food and know what the hell they are talking about, the Farm is the place to go.
When I arrived at their studio they were finishing up a shoot featuring pepperoni-cheese sticks for one of their clients. Their yellow-lab, Maggie, greeted me with the same wiggly-enthusiasm Jazzy does and then rapidly returned her focus to the windowed corner where the cheese sticks sat under a camera on a jib and upon an old chest. I don’t blame her – they were flaky, golden, and near perfect.
Of course we all hugged and said our hello’s, but then it was back to business. “We’re just going to finish up these last few shots,” Guy said, “In fact, let’s all get in. I want to try and make a GIF. I don’t know if it will work – that’s part of the fun, though.” I felt like the kid who was asked to be the magicians assistant and listened for instructions very carefully.
Guy directed, “just grab – yah, keep grabbing sticks. In fact, Kate, dump out a little of the cocktails every few…”
“Ok, yes, that makes sense,” she said as she dumped a ‘gulp’ into an extra bowl on the side.
“Yup, that’s good. Ok… and some crumbs. Good, just keep grabbing.” Guy broke off a piece of the flaky stick and sprinkled the crumbs aimlessly, yet, intentionally.
“Guy, get your hand. We need a man’s hand in this. …Awesome.”
Once the cheese sticks were ‘consumed’, it was onto the next: congee with aged soy sauce and chives for their new book on alliums. Note: while the book won’t be out until Fall 2016, it is being published by Burgess Lea Press. I promise to keep you updated upon its release.
“This will be lunch,” Kate said with her iconic warm and welcoming smile.
I’ve been to many food photo shoots, but something very different was happening that afternoon. While I can’t quite put my finger on it, it was almost as if you could feel their relationship come through in their work. I don’t mean in an overly romantic way, I mean in a we-are-a-team-in-every-way kind of way. Perhaps it is because I’m newly married so I’ve been very sensitive to how couples work together and play off of one another; or perhaps it’s because these two just know each other – I mean really know each other. I can say with confidence that their talents are perfectly complimentary towards one another and I have no doubt this is what has led to such a successful venture.
After the pictures were finished we sat down to lunch. Of course we talked about how they got started and the many facets of their professional path: Kate’s interest in food started as a senior in college and was then nurtured further on a ranch in Wyoming; Guy’s interest – well his father owned a well known fish store in New Jersey, so how can you not be interested? The two met at a local paper in New Mexico, both of them moving their way up, and then moving their way out together to New York. She, a food editor at Gourmet, and he, a photo journalist.
I mentioned earlier that some people come into your life for a reason. What I find so humbling and lovely about Guy and Kate, is how much they respect and pay tribute to these relationships. They attribute a great deal of their opportunities to Kate’s dear friend and colleague, Diane Abrams, from Gourmet and even further back to their boss, Robert Mayer, in Santa Fe. They’ve worked in Italy several times – most recently to work with Mary Taylor Simeti on her family’s cookbook in Sicily. They’ve taken chances on jobs that have brought them to live in new homes in new towns in new states with new challenges and new grattifying experiences… but they’ve always been together. This is the kind of love we could all admire and all use more of. The I-believe-in-you-and-I-believe-in-us-and-you-believe-in-me-and-us kind of love. It’s honest and simple. It’s like their food and it’s like their work.
After the comforting congee, we enjoyed an excellent shot of espresso, some chocolate, and a slice of toasted banana bread. Our conversation was so rich, it would be impossible to include all of it in one post. But, I’ll never forget this – I asked if it is hard to leave work at the studio when your passion is your career and food is so central to your daily routine and family experience? Guy’s answer has had me thinking ever since:
“I think the reason why we work with natural light is because it gives us a natural arch to our day. I’m sure I could figure out how to ‘do’ lighting – fake sunlight coming through a window and what not – but this is so much closer to who I am as a photojournalist and to our style. It makes us stop and shut down. One of us will pick up our son from school while the other cleans up the studio. It’s practical.”
Practical and awesome.
Kate and Guy photographing congee for their book on alliums due out Fall 2016.
Congee, Recipe and Story graciously written by Kate Winslow
When we lived on Bleecker Street, there were many nights when we made our way south, on foot or by subway, to Chinatown, seeking out bowls of steaming, comforting congee—rice simmered in a great deal of liquid until it breaks down into a delicious mush of a soup. At Great New York Noodletown, the rice soup often came topped with shards of the crackling roast duck that decorated the restaurant’s front windows. At Congee Village on Bowery, a few slivered scallions sufficed. Now, bereft of a local Chinatown and left to our own devices, we make congee ourselves and usually keep it vegetarian. (If you happen to be soaking any dried mushrooms, the leftover soaking liquid makes a great addition.) We top it simply with a drizzle of soy sauce, a splash of sesame oil and sprinkle of scallion greens.
Serves 4 to 6
5 plump garlic cloves
A 2-inch piece of fresh ginger
1 cup Arborio or sushi rice
9 cups water or chicken broth
Soy sauce, toasted sesame oil, chopped scallion greens, for serving
Trim the scallions and coarsely chop. Smash the garlic cloves and remove the peels. Thinly slice the ginger (don’t bother peeling it). Lay a large square of cheesecloth on the counter and lay the scallions, garlic and ginger in the center. Tie up the corners of the cheesecloth like a hobo’s bundle and drop into a large heavy pot. Add the rice, water and 1 teaspoon salt. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a boil over high heat. Once the mixture has come to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer gently, uncovered, until the rice is very tender and falling apart and the mixture is soupy, 1 to 1 ½ hours. Serve the congee in warm bowls, topped with a drizzle of soy sauce and sesame oil and a scattering of scallion greens.
Any leftovers kept in the fridge will soak up all the surrounding liquid. When you reheat the congee, simply add more water to thin it out (and maybe a little extra salt). Like your favorite grandmother, congee is infinitely forgiving.