Thoughts, ramblings, and #BTS by the L&T Editorial Staff.

Eye on the Ball

By Stef Ferrari on Monday, July 9th, 2018

Many, many moons ago when I was only a little Italian tadpole, I tended goal for the traveling soccer team in my hometown. I had a good time doing the rough and tumble thing with my teammates, and I especially liked rolling around in the dirt when I had to make a diving save. But my soccer career came to a halt before I hit high school, when my interest shifted to much nerdier pursuits like student council and drama club. My memories of the sport––rules and regulations, teams and heroes and superstars––have been reduced to those soft-edged mental images of my fellow players and I hanging out at the local ice cream shop after games. Sometimes it meant celebrating a big win, but less successful days were just as satisfying when I could wrap my sorrows up in a smooth, creamy, sprinkle-spackled hug.

It was all ages ago. And so the advent of this year’s World Cup came and went for me with little fanfare. I knew it was going down, but I wasn’t the one getting up at five a.m. to switch on the television, or rallying the troops to relieve the corner bar of whatever drink specials were on tap for morning revelers.

But then some funny things happened. I first noticed at my local café, where I was the only patron in the place for an early lunch. The staff in the open kitchen were milling around, busying themselves with a few menial duties––I figure just trying to look busy. But the TV behind my head was what really had their attention. I glanced at the game, which was on mute, and then back at my kale salad. A few times I caught stymied reactions to what was happening on the screen behind me. It wasn’t a sports bar, and they were clearly trying to maintain some decorum in front of their customer. But about halfway through my meal, my server came over. “Excuse me, miss?” I tried to contain the forkful of greens I was stuffing in my mouth. “We were just wondering, would you mind terribly if we turned on the sound?” Of course not! I told him (with my eyes, while I swallowed like a civilized person). “Thanks,” he said. “There’s just something about watching soccer with the sound that changes the game.” He beamed, and the three dudes behind the tiny counter nodded to me, thumbs appreciatively up. A few minutes later, everyone in the place was rapt by the game––me included. Pretty quickly I found myself asking questions, taking notes and taking sides, and getting an education on what was happening in the wide world of the sport.

And from then on, it was everywhere I turned. When I came home to find the painters in my building’s vestibule huddled around an old radio shouting at them in Spanish, knuckles white around their brushes, awaiting news from the disembodied voice that had already gone hoarse from commentary. Then at my local market, while I was picking out some eggplant for dinner and the stockboys stopped emptying crates so they could stand around the tiny screen of someone’s cell phone. Customers put down their peppers and stepped away from the cheese section. We all––again, me included––made a human bottleneck of the whole produce area.

I will tell you that I still don’t know a whole lot more today than I did a few weeks ago about the game’s nuances, but I do know more about the people in my neighborhood. I know the guys at the café and where they come from. I know why they were rooting for one country over another, and maybe they even learned a little from me when I rambled on about the food customs of this one or that one.

And while I’ll never be an expert in the sport, I now know one thing for sure: soccer (football, futbol, whatever it is your people call it), is a lot like food. Both are universal languages. Both bring a little joy to what might otherwise be rote daily life. Both help us to dissolve the barriers that keep us apart on a regular basis. And in a world that feels deeply divided these days, it is through both that we can come together to celebrate a precious few things so elemental and exciting, and ultimately, unifying.

We’ve been fortunate to feature food stories from many of those countries that have participated in the competition, but to citizens of all the world, the ones watching the Cup in small cafés and in vestibules and markets around the globe, may we all observe—both victory and defeat—with something very delicious.

May I recommend the vanilla with rainbow sprinkles?

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Loss Leaders

By Stef Ferrari on Thursday, June 21st, 2018

A few months back, I sent an email to Gabrielle Hamilton at Prune. It was around the time news of her second memoir was announced, and I was looking forward to the follow up to Blood, Bones, and Butter, which was a formative narrative for me. It proved Hamilton had serious writing chops—that she was not only a formidable chef, but a talented writer. It was an exciting combination in someone who had a powerful voice and platform in the industry.

Life & Thyme was running a theme around the concept of language; I wanted to discuss straddling those two disciplines, and how thoughtful words would be so important to the future of the food world. I received no response, which isn’t terribly uncommon for chefs at her level.

But as an admirer of her writing and lover of her food, I know the story I’d have likely written. About the ability of her simple style of food to speak volumes over the course of two decades in New York City. About inspiring a younger generation of chefs to be more contemplative, deliberate in business decisions (until now, she’d owned and operated only one restaurant while many of her peers have built veritable empires). About her example. About her leadership.

And now, I’d be looking back at the piece with a whole lot more questions. Because last week, Hamilton decided to extend a bailout to Ken Friedman, who has been accused of sexual harassment, and been one of the key figures at the center of the food world’s #metoo movement.

We in the food media have a lot on our minds lately. Most of us have barely had time to catch our breath between reports of disturbing allegations and accusations that have leveled empires and left gaping holes at our highest levels. And now The Spotted Pig fiasco has us all arguing amongst ourselves, second guessing figures we once considered future legends. Even heroes.

I had a chance to sit down with Mario Batali years ago, and as Babbo was perhaps the first restaurant with which I had a real love affair, it was a bit of a dream come true. The piece I subsequently wrote was as much about the Italian tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fishes as it was about the man who popularized it in New York City. But now, I cringe when I recall the contents. It was an honest work and I was proud of it, but what I once considered a solid piece has been removed from any samples I share. I cannot allow words—even ones once carefully chosen—to elevate the image of someone with such contemptible associations.

And I’m not alone; in this industry, we’ve loved our leaders and demonstrated it liberally. In everything from television shows to documentaries to weekly think pieces, we exalt the work of chefs around the world. We’re a business that has long enjoyed a lighter side of life. Certainly food and feeding people has always been tied tightly to complex politics—it’s not a business of total fluff, of course. But many of us are having the kind of crisis of faith that befalls worlds more accustomed to the corrupt or disenchanting—or (and to use a term that perhaps isn’t being used enough in conversations about sexual assault) the criminal.

It got me thinking about idolatry. And in our society, we love our idols. There’s a reason superhero movies dominate the box office. We’re a culture in search of heroes. Of action. Of leaders. The food business is no different. Ancient societies looked to these godlike figures to explain away mysteries, to help them understand the inexplicable. But do idols still have a place in our world? And is it too much to ask mere mortals to do the right thing?

What are we to do? We’re losing our leaders, and we’re losing them to behavior that poisons—or at the very least, pits us against one another, and against ourselves. Do we still have dinner at the Pig if we don’t agree with the new ownership structure? Do we try to support the staff there, who may have genuine intentions and are simply trying to make a living? Do we boycott a restaurant that once served as a setting for despicable actions? Do we still take anyone’s word that their dream is to just feed and nourish their community, provide a little joy in their lives, and a place for families and friends?

Our industry, perhaps more than other artistic disciplines, has experienced a dramatic amount of change in a short time. “Celebrity” is younger and newer to those in this business than many others, and those who have it now should recognize their responsibility.

Some of that responsibility falls on the shoulders of the food media as well. As our industry grows and faces more serious challenges, as professionals at our highest levels go from simply supporting their families or a small staff to literally hundreds of people, our coverage must become more discerning.

As journalists, we always do our best diligence, but along with questions about culinary philosophy and the latest sous vide technique, we must also consider what’s necessary to liberate such skeletons from the coat-check closets of fine dining restaurants and beyond. Not every chef profile needs to be an exposé, but it’s our job to hold those in positions of power to the standards of integrity any industry would demand of its upper echelon.

Because whether or not you put faith in idols, this is a business about human beings. And what we need right now are leaders. To inspire. To provoke positive thought and engagement, rather than the attention of local authorities. People who step up with the right intentions, with their feet on the ground. It’s time we take them off their pedestals and put them in a driver’s seat, where there are consequences if they take a wrong turn, steer under the intoxicating influence of ego or blind ambition or power—or something far worse. And remind them, they’re not piloting some flashy sports coupe, but a vehicle packed with people who rely on their every move.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Thank you, Anthony.

By Antonio Diaz on Saturday, June 9th, 2018

Anthony Bourdain was the voice of a generation. Of chefs and cooks, writers and readers, food lovers and diners, adventurers and daydreamers—and anyone with a curious and compassionate bone in their body.

His was a voice that encouraged us to learn, to step outside our comfort zones. One that made us both laugh at his playful bullying of Chef Eric Ripert, and ponder cultures foreign to our own. One that allowed us to live vicariously on a global scale from the safety of our own living rooms. Anthony Bourdain had the best job in the world. How do I know? Because he said it. He once was quoted that he had “the best job in the world, there’s no doubt about it.”

And just as he had no doubt of that fact, I have none that his work—as a writer and a documentarian—will always be remembered as a critical catalyst in jumpstarting a new wave of culinary storytelling, far beyond the reaches of any studio kitchen.

He inspired innumerable careers, including my own. He was a pioneer in his craft. Like a modern-day Indiana Jones, his hunger to uncover answers about society, and searching the deepest labyrinths in the farthest corners the world to find them, was a testament to the power of food. He was Bourdain being Bourdain. And he set the gold standard.

To Bourdain, food was merely a conduit for discourse. And that discourse wasn’t always about food—but it was always about humanity.

Photo by Former White House Photographer Pete Souza

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Eight

By Stef Ferrari on Wednesday, March 7th, 2018

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here.

Antonio Diaz, Life & Thyme Founder (Los Angeles), Antonio on Instagram

Friends of L&T and the music-meets-food podcast, Snacky Tunes, are throwing their first live show on March 13, 2018, at Los Angeles’ famed El Rey Theatre. There will be performances by soul singer-songwriter NIIA, Dave P x 2 (Making Time/This Is Who We Are Now) and Russell Alexander (Babilonia). There will also be an interview session with Chef Micah Wexler and Michael Kassar of Wexler’s Deli. Snag some tix here:

Stef Ferrari, Senior Editor (New York City); Stef on Instagram

I could not be more obsessed with this book, which chronicles the story of Yemeni-American coffee entrepreneur Mokhtar Alkhanshali. As a coffee nerd and bookworm, it seemed like a no-brainer. But with deep dives into science, chemistry and biology, history, world politics, culture and events through the eyes of a narrative hero you feel you can really get behind, The Monk of Mokah by Dave Eggers gives sorely needed context to so many subjects, and has changed the way I appreciate every sip of my morning joe. This is a perfect example of how we can learn so much about the world through what we eat and drink on a daily basis.

Ask your indie bookseller about this one. And be sure to have a strong cup primed for pairing.

Lauren di Matteo, Photographer (San Diego); Lauren on Instagram

Standing’s whole animal butcher shop is the the place to go for ethically raised, pastured meat. The quality and sheer deliciousness of it makes a weeknight meal taste like a special occasion—hello bacon cheeseburger sausage! I’m hoping to make it out for their upcoming beef butchery demo and tasting March 24th.


Anne Watson, Photographer (San Diego); Anne on Instagram

I just discovered the most amazing coffee product that launched this month – Dripkit for Pourovers-on-the-go. These magical little biodegradable packets of ethically-traded coffee (sourced from a family-owned farm in Guatemala) are designed to unfold & fit over your coffee cup – so all you need is hot water and you can have delicious gourmet coffee anytime, anywhere. They’re perfect for travel, or tucking into your desk at work, or just when you’d love to have a great cup of coffee at home and don’t want to brew a whole pot — I’m already addicted! So good.

Jim Sullivan, Photographer (San Diego); Jim on Instagram

Just picked up the WD-50 cookbook shot by my friend Eric Medsker. Beautifully shot! Love seeing my friends doing big things 🙏🏻😍

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Seven––Valentine’s Day Special

By Stef Ferrari on Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here. This week’s edition is all about how to treat yourself on a day that is all about love.

Carly DeFilippo, Writer (NYC); Carly on Instagram

I’ve always been a big fan of cooking-at-home on Valentine’s Day…and nothing tends to get my nearest and dearest more excited than homemade macaroni and cheese.

Of all the recipes I’ve tried, my favorite is Smitten Kitchen‘s adaptation of a New York Times recipe, which doesn’t require you to pre-cook the pasta. Cooking the macaroni directly in cheesy liquid yields a great texture…and if you add in some swiss chard or kale, you’ll feel even better about helping yourself to a second serving.


Oren Peleg, Writer (Los Angeles); Oren on Instagram

The basement-level dining room of Sotto is one of the moodiest (read: sexiest) in Los Angeles. When I feeling like treating myself, I head there to order a delicious plate of pasta and a cocktail. This is the Dream Within A Dream, a fragrant play on the gin martini.

Anne Watson, Photographer (Southern California); Anne on Instagram

I’m a woman of simple pleasures and although I know chocolates are more traditional, my palate prefers salty flavors. So my ideal Valentine’s treat is a big ol’ stack of extra-crispy Niman Ranch Uncured Double Applewood Smoked Bacon & a chilled bottle of one of my favorite dry bottles of bubbly, Comte de Noblens Cuvée Rosé Brut.


Jackie Bryant, Writer (Southern California); Jackie on Instagram

I’m in Spain and Catalunya right now, researching for stories and visiting my husband’s family. Whenever I’m here, I like to sample the latest and greatest of Catalunya’s natural wine. The pink color of Partida Creus’ Sumoll pét-nat made me think nothing could be more appropriate for celebrating Valentine’s Day!

And the second is from a few days ago. I was in Andalucia, visiting with arguably the best jamón ibérico producer in Spain, Cinco Jotas. Nothing says love like a plate of jamón ibérico de bellota.

Katrina Frederick, Writer & Photographer (Los Angeles); Katrina on Instagram

This Valentine’s, I decided to pre-make a batch of Botanica’s caraway date pumpkin seed granola so (the babe and) I could enjoy a leisurely morning in bed. The time saved not making a pile of pancakes or stack of waffles means more minutes sipping coffee (that the babe contributed) and reading cookbooks published in the 18th century. That early romantic light sure helps set the mood, too!

Jim Sullivan, Photographer (San Diego); Jim on Instagram

So for Valentine’s Day rather than “treat myself” I was able to treat my beautiful wife to this fantastic dessert from Chef Lori Sauer and Crafted Baked Goods. A Vanilla Mousse with Strawberry, Raspberry, Finger Lime and White Chocolate. Attached is the before and after shots :)



  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Six

By Stef Ferrari on Wednesday, January 31st, 2018

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here.

Jackie Bryant, Writer (San Diego); Jackie on Instagram

I paid a visit to the subject of one of my Life & Thyme stories, Hog Island Oyster, during a visit to see my closest friends who live in San Francisco. We had grilled oysters, raw oysters, cheese, charcuterie, craft beer and a few bottles of Sancerre.

Jim Sullivan, Photographer (San Diego); Jim on Instagram

I am frequently in San Francisco for shoots and always need to stop in to see my fam at Liholiho Yacht Club. Chef Ravi’s food is a direct reflection of his heritage and use of the best ingredients. Pictured here is the octopus dish currently on the menu. Pure Aloha!

Carly DeFillipo, Writer (NYC); Carly on Instagram

The vibrant Balinese food at Selamat Pagi in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. From the rich, tender Beef Rendang to the vegan lentil and coconut cream-topped Bali Bowl, each colorful dish offers an exciting depth of flavor. Photo courtesy of Selamat Pagi.

Anne Watson, Photographer (Southern California); Anne on Instagram

This weekend I was craving chocolate cake (like ya do…) and was searching the internet for a recipe that was simple enough I could make it with ingredients already in my pantry. That’s when I discovered the most amazing chocolate cake recipe ever by Arizona-based food blogger Melissa Stadler of Modern Honey. Her recipe is called “Love at First Sight Chocolate Cake” with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting, and it’s incredible––definitely love at first bite, too.  So good, in fact, you’ll likely find yourself eating a slice for breakfast the next day with your morning coffee like I did.

Stef Ferrari, Senior Editor (NYC); Stef on Instagram

My pick this week is for any of the amazing organic chocolate bar flavors from Santosha Chocolate in Asheville, NC. I can be a bit of a chocolate snob, and I have rarely come across a more perfect product. This chocolate is vegan-friendly, non-GMO, raw, real, and ridiculously satisfying. Plus, they come in these conveniently packaged portion sizes, ideal for a single person in a single sitting (okay, so sometimes maybe I spring for more than one––but come on, who can seriously be expected to decide*?!).

*My fave is Mint & Maca when forced, but seriously––they’re all delicious.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Five

By Stef Ferrari on Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here.

Jim Sullivan, Photographer (San Diego); Jim on Instagram

The dumplings from Din Tai Fung are out of this world. The recipes come straight from their Shanghai location with the same attention to detail given to each dumpling. Just might be my favorite bite of food I’ve had in quite some time.

Carly DeFilippo, Writer (New York City); Carly on Instagram

The sticky bun at Tulie bakery in Salt Lake City! Flaky dough, crunchy caramel and toasted pecans. An addictive, just-sweet-enough treat for those who typically skew savory.

Anne Watson, Photographer (Southern California); Anne on Instagram

If you love authentic Kansas City Style BBQ & find yourself in Santa Ana, California, then you definitely want to stop by Native Son Ale House (305 E. 4th Street #200) starting this Thursday, Jan 4th when Kanas City-born Chef & Marine Veteran Derrick Foster takes over the kitchen full-time with his award-winning Ember Barbecue. It’s hands-down some of the best BBQ I’ve ever tasted. In addition to traditional slow-smoked meats, he’s also created an awesome “snack menu” that includes his signature “Hogchos” (photo attached) which are his take on traditional nachos, using chicharron in place of tortilla chips, topped with pulled pork, smoked cheese sauce, pork jerky, pickled onion, sour cream, jalapenos and his housemade BBQ sauce. So amazing!

Ziza Bauer, Writer (Nashville & Los Angeles); Ziza on Instagram

Pasticceria Scaturchio in Naples, Italy. A classic little place near the Piazza S. Domenico Maggiore where you can stuff your face and love every minute of it.

Katrina Frederick, Photographer (Los Angeles); Katrina on Instagram

I have been reading The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson––an historic narrative of the planning and execution of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. I love the inclusion of menus from elaborate dinners to celebrate the occasion, many of which have courses devoted to cigarettes and cigars.

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Four

By Stef Ferrari on Thursday, December 28th, 2017

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here.

Antonio Diaz: Founder (Los Angeles); Antonio on Instagram

Brunch at Los Angeles’ Republique. Chef Walter Manzke is a genius with local ingredients and I don’t know any other chef in LA that personally visits a different farmers market every single day.


Jim Sullivan: Photographer (San Diego); Jim on Instagram

Brunch at the James Beard Award-winning restaurant The Workshop in Palm Springs, California, is outstanding. A great way to spend Sunday morning with family and friends.


Anne Watson: Photographer (Southern California); Anne on Instagram

This year our family discovered The Wagyu Shop, an online source that just launched in 2017 for buying some of the world’s best beef, delivered straight to your doorstep. Both American Wagyu primal cuts (like the Flank & Tri Tip pictured below) as well as Japanese A5 Wagyu steaks. We indulged in the Tri Tip for our family’s Christmas dinner at The Watson Ranch this week — prepared sous vide & then seared, it was sublime.  The marbling on every cut of this beef is unreal – melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  Perfect for anyone who loves & appreciates good beef – and great for special occasions. They deliver via FedEx Priority Overnight, so there’s even time to still get some before New Year’s!


Stef Ferrari, Senior Editor (New York City); Stef on Instagram

While it’s not a book about food, per se, yoga teacher* Andrea Marcum’s Close to Om has been high on my anticipated reads list for some time. Everyone, everywhere, in every culture seems to be talking about mindfulness these days, but this book actually makes it seem like balance is an achievable thing, and that extends to the way we do everything––including eating and sharing meals with loved ones. Packed with useful, practical information, written with plenty of wit and levity, it’s a great start-the-year-right read, whether you’re a yogi or not.

Close to Om: Stretching Yoga from Your Mat to Your Life by Andrea Marcum

*If you happen to live in L.A., seek one of Marcum’s near-daily yoga classes.


  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Three–Grab & Go Gifts

By Stef Ferrari on Wednesday, December 20th, 2017

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here.

This week’s edition is all about last––last––minute gifts.

Stef Ferrari: Senior Editor (NYC); Stef on Instagram

Subscriptions! At the last minute, there’s nothing better than being able to purchase a subscription for someone and have the gift in your inbox instantly. I usually try to dress up the presentation, print out a confirmation/explanation of the service and still have something to wrap up. For example, a coffee subscription paired with a mug, or an olive oil subscription tied to a loaf of good bread with a bow.

A few of my favorites:

Nudo Olive Oil: Allows you to actually adopt an olive tree in Italy, from which oil will be produced and delivered to your recipient throughout the course of the year!

Saloonbox: For the boozers in your brood. This subscription sends mix-ready ingredients and instructions for a new cocktail every time.

Mistobox: Sleep in––let the professionals do the work. Varying length subscriptions of hand-selected, roasted-to-order coffee.

And see below for awesome wine options from Pour This…

Katrina Frederick: Assistant Editor; Katrina on Instagram

I’m putting bulbs of black garlic from Obis One in my food-loving family members’ stockings. A nice alternative to coal!

Anne Watson: Photographer (Southern California); Anne on Instagram

I’ve recently fallen in love with Made In Cookware. This line of American-made premium stainless cookware launched this fall and is an affordable option for home cooks who are looking for professional-grade pots and/or pans at home-cook prices. I particularly love my 10″ fry pan for searing meats as well as cooking vegetables. A great last-minute gift idea for anyone who loves to cook.

Jim Sullivan: Photographer (San Diego); Jim on Instagram

My favorite cookbook of 2017. A great addition for any foodie :)

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables

Carly DeFillipo: Writer (NYC); Carly on Instagram

The peak ice collection from W&P Design*. These silicone ice trays (with stabilizing steel frames) bring high-quality cocktail bar ice to the home freezer. What’s the most fun is that even your foodi’est friends likely haven’t made this purchase, and it will instantly upgrade all their drinks—from seltzer to stiff cocktails and beyond. (They even sell them on Amazon for a truly last-minute shipping option!)

*Transparency / Disclaimer: I work for W&P Design…but I’m also giving these to all my friends because I think they’re such a great gift.

Ashley Ragovin: Writer* (Los Angeles); Ashley on Instagram

Pour This is for sure the greatest wine membership on planet earth, and your mom / brother / impossible sister-in-law / boss / neighbor who loves good wine will really appreciate bottles from actual farmers and passionate people around the world. These wines are rooted in community, pleasure, and people. Shameless plug, yes! But great gift idea nonetheless!? Also happy to offer Life & Thyme readers 10% off their purchases with the code LT10.

*Ashley is the curator/proprietor behind Pour This

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

The Migrant Kitchen: Lighting the Scene

By Austin Straub on Monday, December 18th, 2017

Editor’s Note: Austin Straub is a Los Angeles-based cinematographer and also one of Life & Thyme’s filmmakers. He was the Director of Photography for two episodes of our Emmy-winning show, The Migrant Kitchen. Stream the full second season on


Hey! I’m Austin Straub, and I was brought in to DP 2 episodes of the second season of The Migrant Kitchen. Today, I wanted to peel back the curtain a bit and talk about some of the lighting techniques we utilized on the show.

This season, each episode averaged 6 interviews, which kept Ben Hunter (DP of Episodes 1+4) and myself on our toes to make sure each one felt cohesive to the whole, yet placed each character in an environment that reflected them.

One of our main decisions going into this show was to light these interviews with naturally motivated light. We wanted to make sure these interviews didn’t “look lit”. Each space we walked into, we’d first scout a background that we found most interesting, and one that gave us enough space to set up. Then we’d look for where the light was coming from. Most of the time, what a window was letting in just wasn’t enough for us to work with, but that reference gave us a starting point to begin a lighting setup. Our rule was to make sure the light we added appeared to be coming from the existing sources.

In terms of our lighting package, we kept things pretty slim. We usually used only one key light (more on that later) and a couple of black solids to create some contrast or to block light that was spilling in from places that may negatively influence the image. For instance, most of these interviews ran 2 hours long, so we needed to make sure the sun wouldn’t slowly creep into areas we didn’t want it.

For our key light, we used a new LED source from Digital Sputnik (nerd fact: the same lights used to light STAR WARS: ROGUE ONE) The great thing about this light is that it’s completely color tunable. This worked out great for our style of lighting, because we could look at the existing light in the room, and match this light exactly to the natural light, which allowed us to make the windows just a bit brighter without weird color temperature-mixing issues. 99% of the time, we didn’t point this light directly at our subject. Part of our kit was a 2-foot by 4-foot white bounce card. We’d position this just off frame, and then kick the light into this. That gave us a nice, soft, large source for the light to scatter from (real world example: when the sun is hitting the side of a building opposite of the one you’re in, there’s still plenty of light coming through your window). In addition to the Sputnik, we usually kept some 1-foot by 1-foot LED panels around in case we needed to hide one in the background to light up areas of the scene – but most of our setups didn’t require these!

DS1 Set by Digital Sputnik

So that about does it for our lighting, now let’s move to the camera package! This season, we shot on the RED Epic-W. This camera shoots RAW video, which allowed us a ton of flexibility in post-production to correct any color balance issues we might encounter on set. Due to the fast-paced nature of some of our days filming in the kitchens, we often didn’t have time (or space!) to bring in additional lighting, so the extra wiggle room our images gave us also allowed us to focus first on capturing the moment and secondarily on the settings. However, all that RAW goodness comes at a cost! As beautiful as the 8K video (that’s about 35 megapixels for you photographers out there) was looking, we ended up shooting about 75 hours of footage which weighed in at a hefty 50 TERABYTES (no, that’s not a typo). Since there are very few 8K displays are out in the wild, it’s impractical to actually display that full image. However, we were finishing in 4K, which allowed us to stay framed wider on our plated food shots and interviews, and then punch into it in the edit for close-ups without sacrificing resolution. In addition, scaling footage down eliminates noise, which made our low-light situations even more forgiving.

So, now that the technical details are out of the way, I wanted to talk about a few specifics on my favorite interviews from the series! Here they are, along with some handy diagrams!

NAKUL – Badmaash

This interview is probably my favorite, but it wasn’t without its struggles. At the time of our shoot, Badmaash was getting some new neighbors! Unfortunately for us, that meant stopping this interview every 5 minutes to hold for the guys next door to stop drilling into the wall. About halfway through the interview, we realized we wouldn’t be able to finish before we needed to move on for the day, so we paused everything and took detailed photos and notes of our exact setup. Two weeks later, we came back in and set up the shot nearly identically (except for some rogue drinks in the background that got shuffled).

ARJUN – Badmaash

This interview was quite the problem from the beginning! We wanted to shoot both brothers in the dining room of Badmaash, but we didn’t want to have them look too similar, so we decided to move upstairs for Arjun’s. The overhead lights here are warm-tone, which is great for nighttime, but clashed pretty badly with the daytime light that was pouring in from behind. We tried almost every lighting angle imaginable, even giving up on natural motivation, but nothing looked quite right. We finally walked our bounce card just off frame to the left – and in the space, almost behind Arjun – and that little bit of light created a pretty believable wrap around his face. We used a bit of netting (called a double) off frame to the right to soften up some of the natural light hitting his neck, and topped it off with an additional bounce card next to Tim (the director/interviewer) to give us a bit more fill on his face. In the end, I think we ended up with an interview that contrasts Nakul’s, but still compliments it aesthetically.

CHARLES – Omotenashi

We got lucky the day we shot the Tsubaki interviews. LA was blessed with some long-lasting cloud cover which gave us some great soft light in their dining room. Ben and I decided to play around with traditional composition here and “shortsight” this interview by having Charles look off screen away from the “longer” side of our frame. We implemented a really simple setup here: Sputnik into our bounce just off frame right, and a black solid just off frame left to create some contrast.

SEIICHI – Omotenashi

This last one is just for fun, because it’s basically all natural. I feel like this is where the dynamic range of the RED really shines. We used our white card pretty far out of frame to bounce some light onto his shirt a bit so it didn’t fall too dark into the shadows, but this is all pure sun. It’s also one of the few interviews that we did standing up! We had a really interesting setup ready to go a couple hours before this with Seiichi sitting in the back of his work truck, but the parking lot was just too noisy for us to use, so we scrapped that unfortunately, but quickly found this frame in the fish market. I think it ended up looking really great!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you’ll check out all of the episodes of Season 2 of The Migrant Kitchen, now streaming at

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Off the Menu: Issue Two

By Stef Ferrari on Thursday, December 14th, 2017

Editor’s Note: Each week, Life & Thyme contributors are trotting the globe, taking in the sights and turning over all kinds of culinary stones for future stories. In our new weekly Off the Menu series, we ask for their favorite food-related finds from all over––and share them here.

Deepi Ahluwalia, Photographer/Writer (LA); Deepi on Instagram

New on the menu this week at Gracias Madre: Pumpkin Flan. A melt-in-your-mouth moment to linger over, this dessert hits all the right notes for the season with its cool touch and warm flavors. Candied squash, burnt sugar caramel and pecans are composed in Executive Chef Chandra Gilbert’s creamy vegan creation, bringing some serious winter cheer to the palate.

Gracias Madre
8905 Melrose Avenue
West Hollywood, CA 90069

Carly DeFilippo,Writer (NYC); Carly on Instagram

We’ve all tried a Grilled Romaine Caesar and maybe even a Kale Caesar…but a Fire-Roasted Cabbage Caesar salad? At Leuca in The William Vale Hotel, Chef Anthony Ricco elevates the humble cabbage by roasting it over an open flame. Tossed with crunchy breadcrumbs and a bright, lemony Caesar dressing—and adorned with fresh anchovies—this overlooked cruciferous veg finally escapes from its sauerkraut status. An absolute must-try if you’re ever swinging through Williamsburg, Brooklyn! (Photo Credit: Noah Fecks)

The William Vale Hotel
111 N 12th St, Brooklyn, NY 11249

jim sullivan, Photographer (SD); Jim on Instagram

Drift Magazine: Fresh off the printers––the Mexico City issue. Drift is a print magazine that focuses on the coffee culture in different cities around the globe. The current issue is special to my heart as I have spent alot of time in the CDMX and come to love that city.

Hector Pacheco, L&T Biz Dev (LA); Hector on Instagram

Architect turned pastry chef, 3-D printing for the win. More.

Katrina Frederick, Photographer (LA); Katrina on Instagram

After an endless parade of pastry, Mokonuts makes for a welcome change of pace in Paris. With no breakfast menu, the owner makes whatever she has on hand. For us that meant a spice-heavy Lebanese “pizza” with lebneh and a bowl of incredible granola with creative fruits and fresh thyme. The owner herself is inspiring — Japan-born, lived many years in France and San Francisco, studied law, and came back to Paris to open up this flavor Eden. After it all, there are still sweets to wash it all down: the best cookies in town. Good luck choosing between tahini and classic chocolate chip!

5 Rue Saint-Bernard
75011 Paris, France

Ashley Ragovin, Writer (LA); Ashley on Instagram

Cafe Stella Wine Bar in Silverlake might just have the best list in the city right now for drinking great wine. It’s a thoughtful selection of great winemakers around the world, wines made honestly and with integrity. The bottle list has many hidden gems, but the glass pour offerings are just as enticing, and the space feels so good. Jesse, Ross, and Zach are  true hospitalitarians, let them steer!

Cafe Stella
3923 West Sunset Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90029

Elena Valeriote,Writer (Cali); Elena on Instagram

This Molasses Triple Chocolate Cookie recipe by Averie Cooks. I’ve been baking these cookies for years because I love the way they fill the kitchen with the rich, warm aroma of molasses, ginger and chocolate––and they hold up well when I get heavy-handed with the portion of dark chocolate chunks.

Stef Ferrari, Sr. Editor; Stef on Instagram

The first time I tasted this babka, it was a bit of a scene. It was a stormy autumn afternoon, and I stopped in just to say hello to my friend and L&T writer, Jessica Quinn. Of course, I couldn’t leave without tasting something––so I took a slice of chocolate babka to go. As I stepped out, I thought I’d take just one quick bite before beginning my wet walk home, but within a few minutes, I found myself flattening against a building for cover––but still getting soaked––all so I could continue eating this magical thing.

Some bites are custardy and flakey, others crisp and caramelized and crunching with dark sugar. There’s a hurricane of quality chocolate and butter in every inch; this babka is so good I hesitate to tell people about it, especially given its limited availability––Poppy’s is only open to the public Saturdays and Sunday.

But then I realize, the world needs to know. Rain or shine.

Poppy’s Catering
243 Degraw St.
Brooklyn, NY 11231

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook

Letter from the Founder

By Antonio Diaz on Wednesday, December 13th, 2017

We have reached a turning point in America that has been a long time coming. It’s a reckoning that will hopefully cleanse our culture of the deplorable, destructive behavior that has become so deeply rooted––and even normalized––in our capitalist society, where dollar signs and displays of power often take precedence over people. I mention capitalism intentionally; we’re a country founded on the principle that anyone can make it to the top through pure hustle. As an entrepreneur and founder, I respect that.

The playing field is not always level when it comes to policy, economic or environmental perspectives, but of all the many obstacles, inappropriate behavior on the part of peers, colleagues or bosses should not be among them. Whether you’re an entrepreneur looking to build the next big thing, or a server trying to get by, we’re all just trying to hustle, earn a living and climb that mountain. The working environment is sacred to me; it’s the steam room that powers our society, a place that should be encouraging of new talent and ideas, and a setting for achievements that benefit us all, thanks to the hard work of others willing to share their knowledge, professionalism and work ethic.

But when a wrench is thrown into that cog—whether harassment, sexism, racism, or any form of oppression or misconduct—it undermines everything American life stands for; it creates trauma and unnecessary pain, and threatens the entire life of a business (along with the livelihoods of those that work under it) all for the personal gratification of one individual’s despicable interests.

Despite recent allegations that implicate a common, extremely corrosive theme across many kitchens––one hushed for so long–– it is my experience in documenting food culture for half a decade, that the majority of the industry represents a loving and supportive community. One that thrives on and celebrates diversity. And that is the community I fell in love with. That’s the one that inspires us to do the work we do every day.

But the sad truth is most celebrated chefs continue to look a certain way, when the diversity is what makes this industry work and for cuisine itself to exist. By exalting one individual over the many people involved in helping them achieve their own dreams, we’re placing the power solely in their hands––and that has proved to be a very dangerous recipe.

In response to such allegations, our Senior Editor wrote the words, “let’s be an industry of inclusiveness and inspiration, of empathy and support, and of community.” This is a philosophy on which Life & Thyme prides itself—from our work on The Migrant Kitchen to Doyenne: Female Force in Food. But we can still do better. We can all do better. We shouldn’t just tip the pedestal built for those offending individuals in the first place—we need to build new ones for those that haven’t even been given a chance, trailblaze for a different type of pioneer, leadership and generation. If all you’re picking are apples and those apples are bad apples, maybe try shaking the orange tree.

Yes, we will continue to document white male chefs, but we will consciously invest even more in highlighting the success (and struggles) of women, of immigrants, of people of every shade and color and sexual orientation, and the unsung heroes of our beloved industry. The playing field may not be equal for everyone––but we need to give them a chance to play the damn game in the first place.

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook