3 minute read

Live from the Test Kitchen

Live From the Test Kitchen BON APPETIT’S TOMMY WERNER

ON VIDEO PRODUCTION

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ILLUSTRATIONS © ARIELLE ROTHENBERG

TOMMY WERNER GREW UP WATCHING FOOD TV, SO IT’S NO SURPRISE THAT, AFTER A STINT IN EDITORIAL FOR EPICURIOUS, HE MOVED INTO PRODUCING AND DIRECTING VIDEOS FOR CONDÉ NAST. WERNER LEARNED ON THE FLY OVER THE PAST TWO-AND-A-HALF YEARS, PRODUCING FIVE TO SIX DIFFERENT FOOD SERIES, INCLUDING BON APPÉTIT’S POPULAR “FROM THE TEST KITCHEN.”

In the beginning, Werner was producing up to eight “hands and pans” videos for "Live From the Test Kitchen"—tight shots of the cook’s hands preparing a dish with a camera mounted on a tripod—with nothing but a royalty-free music soundtrack. “I asked people if they ever cooked after watching the show and they said no,” Werner recalls. Clearly, the “hands and pans” genre that Werner was using did not achieve his intended goal.

A fan of food-show host Alton Brown’s style of moving around the kitchen while preparing a meal, Werner began to produce videos with handheld cameras that followed the chef du jour—including celebrities such as Natalie Portman—as they worked. This is the style that he has stuck with for "From the Test Kitchen," which is generally unscripted (other than following a recipe every episode). Werner has a running list of ideas that he discusses with the team. Recipes are also selected based on the host’s comfort level and experience.

Ambient sound is recorded during filming, including off-the cuff comments from staff members who are in the test kitchen eating lunch or working on other projects. Werner doesn’t edit out mistakes, either—even when a chef burned the buns for her recipe and had no backup or another ended up with a bit of shell in an egg mixture (Werner retrieved it.). “Those are teaching moments,” Werner says. In real life, “that’s how people cook.”

Werner uses a surprisingly simple setup for “From The Test Kitchen” videos. Given the kitchen’s large wall of windows, he takes advantage of the natural light that pours in. “Lighting is pretty minimal because we have the benefit of all that natural light, which makes the food look dynamite—more like an actual kitchen than a studio," he says. When shooting, the overhead fluorescent lights are turned off and a single Joker-Bug 800 complements the natural light. Placed by the windows, the Joker is aimed at a bounce card over the camera team. Because the natural light doesn’t quite extend to the range top, LED lights in the vent are turned on to illuminate the cooking area.

Two Sony PXW-FS7 camcorders are used to capture footage. A Fujinon MK18-55mm T2.9 lens is mounted on the A camera, while the B camera—used for a three-quarter angle of the on-screen cook and tight shots, like beauties—is equipped with a Fujinon MK50-135mm T2.9 lens.

Audio capture is contracted out, so the equipment varies between operators, but one audio operator Werner works with quite often uses Me-2 II lavs and Sennheiser G3 transmitter packs with a Zoom F8 audio mixer. Werner also likes using Neumann KM-85I Cardioid Condensers and Neumann KM185 Hyper-Cardioid Microphones.

Werner views footage during the shoot on two SmallHD 702 Bright monitors, set in a cage with wooden handles for walking around the set. SmallHD 502s are used as on-camera monitors, and the team uses Paralinx Ace wireless receivers/ transmitters. In addition to an AP and culinary assistant, among other individuals, there is a separate teams for post-processing (using Adobe Premiere), as well as a team for uploading the videos to YouTube. “It’s like an extended family,” says Werner—who clearly enjoys his job.

The bottom line for Werner? “I want viewers to watch and say, ‘I want to hang out with this person,’ and ‘I want to make this amazing dish.’ It’s really exciting to see videos take off in popularity and exciting that people to try out these recipes after watching the videos.” +

ILLUSTRATIONS © ARIELLE ROTHENBERG