[Videos: The Serious Eats Team, Photographs: Vicky Wasik]
On the Severe Eats workplace, there’s one factor everyone knows: Vicky and Stella are platonic soulmates. Can it really feel somewhat unique? Certain. Are they the workplace cool ladies? Just about. Do a few of us want we have been a part of their membership? Sure, sure we do. However can we maintain it towards them? By no means. Their friendship is inspiring, and appears about as rock-solid as their respective talent units are spectacular. However it might be an understatement to say that wasn’t at all times the case. Three years into working collectively, our visible director and pastry wizard rehash the start of their love story.
[Graphic: Tim Aikens and Vicky Wasik]
Stella Parks, Pastry Wizard:
I refused to work at Severe Eats for 3 years.
I might began with a weekly column again within the olden days, circa 2011, however gave it up after about six months as a result of the calls for of my precise job (full-time pastry chef) have been already at odds with the calls for of my future-job (cookbook writer), interfering with the pursuit of my dream job (pajama-clad work-from-home web columnist).
Periodically, Kenji or Ed would name me as much as try to wrangle me again into the fold, however I discovered it straightforward to say no—particularly because the years spent writing my cookbook stretched on (and on (and on)).
I did not have the bandwidth, technically or creatively, to place out the quantity of content material Severe Eats needed from me, notably on a topic as difficult as baking! And moreover, I lived in Kentucky, which made the logistics a nightmare.
Even when I might take the job, they’d both have to rent a talented baker to execute my recipes for step-by-step pictures on the Severe Eats check kitchen in New York, or rent an area photographer to seize the method at my kitchen in Kentucky. Both approach, hiring me meant hiring another person, making a cascade of pricey redundancies.
All of us knew it would not work, nevertheless a lot we wished it might, and in order that recurring job provide grew to become the form of toothless invitation bandied about by tipsy acquaintances at a cocktail party.
“So enjoyable to fulfill you, we must always do it once more someday!”
Vicky Wasik, Visible Director:
I hated the concept of her.
I’d been working at Severe Eats for a couple of yr and a half when the culinary workforce determined to increase by including a pastry knowledgeable to our workers. A job itemizing went up, feelers have been put out, however one title stored popping up: BraveTart.
I had questions. “Who is that this BraveTart individual,” for one. And, ”Why doesn’t she have an actual title?”
I wasn’t conversant in her earlier column on Severe Eats because it ran earlier than my time on the firm, however Kenji and Ed wouldn’t cease ranting about how good she’d be for the job. The hitch? She lived in Kentucky and had no plans or need to maneuver to New York. However they have been persistent, and continued to interact in “what if” discussions.
How would this work? Certain, Kenji had set a precedent of working remotely from the Bay Space and doing all of his personal pictures, however that wasn’t the case with Stella. Our web site depends on fairly rigorous testing and step-by-step pictures, so hiring Stella could be an enormous headache, notably since we didn’t have the finances to rent a full-time photographer to work along with her down in Kentucky, both.
The subsequent factor I knew, I used to be being requested, hypothetically after all, if it was potential to have somebody are available to the check kitchen for one week a month to shoot the complete month’s price of recipes.
Certain, it was potential, however the concept of getting to utterly change my workflow and dedicate a full week to at least one individual’s picture wants appeared loopy to me. (Thoughts you, I used to be, and nonetheless am, the one full-time photographer on workers.) I hemmed and hawed, however made my opinion clear: we would have liked to seek out somebody based mostly in New York! I didn’t know what a BraveTart was, nor did I care to seek out out. It wasn’t private—I simply didn’t wish to cope with the added trouble.
Evidently, I misplaced this specific struggle. I used to be now promised to somebody I’d by no means met for 5 days a month for the foreseeable future.
“This isn’t going to work.”
It was February, 2016, and I’d ostensibly simply began the primary day of my new job. However as an alternative of working, I might walked a secure distance away from the Severe Eats workplace so I might rant to my husband on the telephone.
I had 5 days to knock out pictures for 15 recipes, however no matter day-one momentum I might discovered got here grinding to a halt when the entire workplace determined to waltz out for lunch, taking their photographer with them.
I might already mise-d out my recipes for the day, so there wasn’t a factor I might do ‘til she acquired again.
At that time in my life, I used to be so indoctrinated by restaurant tradition that the concept of a lunch break was neither anticipated nor welcome. It felt like being grounded, and moreover, lunch hadn’t been a each day characteristic of my life since highschool.
Who had the time?
The corporate-wide, lunchtime ground-stop however, the day was off to a tough begin. Whereas I used to be baking, the photographer stored wandering off and it felt like I needed to always corral her to complete the duty at hand.
When she managed to stay round, she was chatting me up with probably the most ridiculous questions and, extra importantly, it appeared like her consideration would at all times drift to the flawed factor. Growing talent as a baker is all about studying to acknowledge the suitable visible cues, just like the golden brown ring on the fringe of a lemon meltaway, not the powdered sugar falling from the sieve.
The aim of meals pictures is to showcase good approach, and I did not see the purpose in getting distracted by the pretty-but-meaningless moments alongside the way in which.
My first impression of Stella was, in a phrase, targeted.
She largely stored to herself whereas she acquired the lay of the land, however I did my greatest to be welcoming—inviting her to exit for lunch with me and another workforce members, asking numerous questions on what she was baking, and interesting in small speak between photographs. However she was decided to bake like a fiend—she needed to get 15 recipes shot that week!
For context, previous to this, my schedule often had me on set doing photoshoots two to a few days per week, with the remaining days devoted to the remainder of my obligations: modifying the entire pictures for the positioning, assigning tasks to freelance photographers, researching inventory photos, and planning future photoshoots.
I wanted any second of downtime between photographs to renew my pc work—I couldn’t afford to fall a full week behind on all my different duties. There was no approach I used to be going to face by her facet the entire time to be at her beck and name. Since my desk was inside eyeshot of the kitchen (learn: IN the kitchen), it appeared fairly secure to stroll away, particularly contemplating that every part she made wanted no less than 20 minutes in an oven after which 30 minutes of cooling time.
Man, I assumed, baking is boring.
I instructed her to let me know when she wanted me, however I discovered myself always ready and checking in along with her solely to appreciate she’d gone on to the subsequent step with out me. Converse up, woman!
It was fairly, although. By the tip of the week, my normal grumpiness about this entire scenario was being changed by appreciation and (gasp!) even pleasure about photographing sweets. Colourful candied pistachios, shiny lemon bars, and cascading powdered sugar?! A photographer’s dream!
Don’t get me flawed, I like to shoot an enormous outdated scorching steak as a lot as the subsequent gal, however this was a complete new world to discover since we’d by no means had a dessert individual on workers. Perhaps this wouldn’t be so dangerous in spite of everything.
“What if we did a herringbone sample?”
From the place I sat on the ground of the Severe Eats check kitchen at 6pm, it appeared clear that Vicky Wasik was the form of photographer who hated meals generally, and me particularly.
All we needed to do was make and {photograph} a easy, lattice-topped pie. This was an advanced recipe in and of itself; all pies are two recipes in a single, with a crust and filling doubling the alternatives for one thing to go flawed.
The issue wasn’t making the pie, the issue was capturing step-by-step pictures of the method with out compromising the outcomes. A lattice pie is basically a sculpture produced from buttery clay, a dough that softens to mush if it sits too lengthy within the glare of digicam lights whereas the “artiste” searches for the suitable angle. The act of weaving dough wants to maneuver at a pure tempo; if the method is drawn out, the dough could crease or break alongside the folds.
And even when every part else is ideal, as soon as a pie goes into the oven some issues are given as much as likelihood. There is not any recipe that may assure some juices will not bubble by the crust at an inopportune spot, or that it’s going to brown evenly from edge to heart.
It is a tall order by itself, and meals stylists are famed for making dozens of fruit pies simply to get a shot of 1 good slice. A pie can look nice in actual life, but not measure up on digicam, a lot much less look inviting sufficient to encourage readers to leap up and bake one at residence.
However given the calls for of my bizarre, cross-country commute, we solely had time for one pie. That meant one shot to get it proper, no errors.
Every thing was prepared, together with the overhead digicam that necessitated my place on the ground, and out of the blue she was suggesting we reinvent the wheel.
This was summer time 2016, nicely earlier than Instagram rockstars like Lauren Ko would flip the baking world the other way up with mind-bending lattices and weaves. On the time, a herringbone crust had by no means been completed earlier than.
There was no tutorial; I used to be armed with nothing greater than her outrageous concept and my refusal to stroll away. I figured any lattice is a sample, and all patterns are predictable. Herringbone might be completed, it might be predicted, it simply wanted some thought.
In the long run, it took each of us to crack the code, however we did it; first with numbered strips of parchment paper woven on the ground, after which, very rigorously, with actual dough on an actual pie.
It took an unbelievable period of time and endurance, and required numerous clear communication, and nonetheless extra endurance. However wanting again, it was the primary time I noticed Vicky as equally dedicated to a venture, as my associate. Not solely that, but it surely was her ambition and curiosity that drove us, difficult me to take a threat and take a look at one thing new.
Throughout the hours it took for the pie to bake cool, we ran out for a pizza and a bottle of wine. It felt like a date; we talked about our previous and our households and our work, our favourite TV reveals and music. And by the tip, I am going to admit that I had determined she was fairly cool.
It did not harm that the pie regarded wonderful, and that nobody had completed something prefer it earlier than.

I take into account myself a reasonably pragmatic photographer. Though I try to make each picture stunning, I actually consider that the meals comes first. Which means no pointless props, and no manipulation of the meals with a view to make it extra “camera-friendly.”
I’ve shot sufficient time-sensitive dishes—the sort which have mere moments earlier than they utterly deflate or lose an important texture—to know that effectivity and velocity are key. That mentioned, I’m not a cook dinner, so I rely solely on the meals stylist or recipe developer to verify I do know what to look out for. I ask numerous questions, which I do know can generally come off as impolite. “Is it imagined to appear like this?” or, “Is there any strategy to make this…much less beige?”
There are occasions, nevertheless, after I simply can’t assist myself, and the herringbone lattice was one in every of them. I knew she’d hate me for suggesting it. We’d been taking pictures pie all week and if there’s one factor I’d realized about pie dough, it’s that it is vitally unforgiving and time-sensitive.
But when she was going to personal me for 5 days a month, I used to be rattling certain going to insist we make some baller pictures, even when that meant spending two hours on YouTube watching a man weave some reeds collectively to grasp the sample.
I extremely counsel this exercise to anybody attempting to steer a workforce constructing workshop, and even, as in Stella’s and my case, these happening a primary date.
I would be the one explaining the step-by-step course of of each recipe, however the fact is Vicky has defined so much to me about how folks study. She’s the one who notices the steps I gloss over, asking, “Wait, what was that?” or, “Is that vital, or are you simply being a snob?”
Typically, it is the questions she asks throughout our shoots that grow to be the premise for the entire put up; factors I assumed self-evident, or too boring to even unpack (“So, are you able to freeze uncooked scones?” or, “What’s that stand mixer thingie you retain adjusting?”).
And, actual speak, her calls for cravings have all too often led to new recipes being developed for the positioning (this is taking a look at you, gingerbread ice cream and pear galette). The child’s acquired good style*!
*Apart from the time Vicky compelled me to dip harmless almond biscotti in chocolate. It was gross. However I did it for her.
All is misplaced if I am unable to clarify to her why I want a sure shot and what precisely I need mentioned shot to seize. That is compelled me to recover from numerous my very own shyness and introversion. I’ve realized easy methods to clarify when the digicam’s targeted on the flawed factor, and that it is my job—not hers—to offer that path.
Different occasions, she’s there to remind me that baking is greater than a set set of steps resulting in a predetermined vacation spot, however somewhat an expertise full of all kinds of beautiful moments worthy of celebration, moments that make baking enjoyable: the simple satisfaction of showering powdered sugar over a recent batch of Mexican wedding ceremony cookies, drowning a coconut cake in shiny caramelized white chocolate ganache, or swirling cherry whipped cream over a chocolate cherry cake (a video we shot, in our pajamas, at my Airbnb simply because it was too fairly to disregard).

As soon as Stella and I opened up to one another, the remaining was, as they are saying, a chunk of cake. We each lastly admitted that neither of us have been notably thrilled about our association, and the great thing about our relationship is that we each utterly understood the opposite’s reasoning.
We might talk and perceive our personal and one another’s limitations and frustrations, and it was by no means adversarial. We simply knew that, ultimately, this was a partnership, and for higher or worse, we would have liked to make it work.
However actually, we did greater than “make it work.” I satisfied her {that a} shot of falling sugar was crucial for the recipe. She skilled me to acknowledge the hallmarks of an ideal crumb, so I might concentrate on what made a bread or cake or scone profitable. Whereas she was once repulsed on the concept of taking a break from baking even to eat lunch, she now will get as excited as I do to close down the set for 20 minutes to create a wonderfully darkish atmosphere for a timelapse of bagels baking within the oven.
Due to extenuating circumstances (an extended story for an additional time), Stella and I discovered ourselves figuring out of rental residences and kitchens for the higher a part of a yr. Think about with the ability to roll off the bed, stroll next-door in your pajamas to an Airbnb, have espresso and a few freshly baked cake prepared for you, and spending the day taking images whereas hanging out with somebody referred to as BraveTart, all as a part of your job. Jealous, huh? Properly, it wasn’t at all times cupcakes and rainbows (though numerous the time it actually was cupcakes with rainbow sprinkles), but it surely actually compelled us to get cozy and comfy with each other.
As of late, we’re extra like a fortunately married couple than aggravated colleagues. I now sit up for each Stella week greater than anything, and never only for the limitless desserts.
On the finish of the final day of my first journey to Severe Eats, Vicky gave me a hug goodbye, and, to be sincere, I assumed it was a lure.
I used to be raised within the south, so I might be as aw, shucks, let’s hug y’all! as they arrive—no less than in social circumstances. However on the heels of a very lengthy and irritating work week, from the arms of a born and bred New Yorker who stored her cool gaze behind the digicam lens, I did not perceive.
At greatest, I noticed it as a gesture of goodwill, and at worst a calculated social sign so nobody at Severe Eats might say she did not give our peculiar association her greatest shot.
Three years later, nearly to the day, I can see that suspicion was simply my insecurity speaking. I used to be out of my aspect in each approach: lots of of miles from residence, residing out of a suitcase, making the transition from eating places to meals media, working in an workplace constructing for the primary time, and having to take action alongside a stranger within the pretty intimate atmosphere of a kitchen.
For per week each month, we eat no less than two (and infrequently three) meals a day collectively, commute to and from work collectively, spend 40 hours within the kitchen collectively, and numerous extra buying collectively (groceries! props! laser cat!).
It’s given me an opportunity to see that Vicky’s the form of one that might be professionally skeptical, personally heat, and frank about each. It’s these qualities which have allow us to develop a friendship past the confines of our job; my time with Vicky is extraordinarily structured because of the nature of my commute, however on the finish of the day, once we ought to be sick to demise of togetherness, we so typically wind up grabbing dinner, or a drink, or midnight gelato, as a result of whereas we could been working collectively all day, we nonetheless want a little bit of time to be associates.

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