At some point almost everybody who has ever prepped food for an event—whether photographer, cookbook author, caterer, or home cook readying snacks for a meeting or family picnic—has issued a stern warning not to even think about eating what’s been prepared. It alerts spouses, or kids, or, in professional kitchens, associates that they absolutely, positively may NOT touch those brownies or that plate of confections, or even breathe on the succulent-looking ganache-drizzled Bundt cake waiting to be photographed.
Likewise, almost everybody can recount tragic, funny, or bizarre tales of when, despite the warnings, the prohibited food was nevertheless consumed. The French even have a phrase explaining this phenomenon—it’s “piece de resistance,” meaning that which is so desirable it is impossible to resist. Yes, Aunt Harriett had been told, but she was hungry and her blood sugar was low and she HAD to have a few cubes of that gourmet cheese. Yes, Bobby knew not to eat the peanut butter cookies marked, “Don’t Touch,” in big black letters, but his ravenous soccer buddies came in and egged him on.
My own most memorable Waterloo came years ago on St. Patrick’s Day, when I discovered the Paris green cupcakes my mother had made for the PTA bake sale. Yes, I knew she’d promised to provide twenty-four, but the gloriously gaudy color kept calling and calling, and I desperately circled the table trying to think of a way to disguise that I’d taken one from the box. By the time my mother discovered me there hovering and pacing, I was about to capitulate and was in tears from frustration and desire. She must have identified with my misery, because she bought back a half-dozen of those cupcakes and gave me one when she got home.
It’s worth mentioning here along with the green cupcakes that one person’s piece de resistance may be another’s penance. One of my testing assistants, Linda Kirschner, who used to cater, was setting up a buffet at the county courthouse when she realized that although nobody had snitched any food, all the leafy garnishes she’d tucked around the dishes were gone. “I KNOW it was the lurking man who asked if I had any ‘rabbit food.’ Can you imagine?’” she said.
Of course, neither signs nor verbal warnings are normally deterrents when house pets are involved. On two occasions when I’ve been in the middle of shooting photos, my mini-poodle has swiped the featured item right off the set. The first time, I returned from answering the phone to find that the napkin I’d artfully draped around a slice of bread was now on the floor. All that remained of the bread were several crumbs on the table.
The second incident was even more disconcerting because when I came back and looked through the lens at my pretty violet sugar-garnished cupcake, it was suddenly just … NOT THERE!
I learned two important lessons from this: First, poodles are markedly taller on two legs than on four. Second, always shut the door to the studio when leaving it even for an instant.
The latest food thievery—which I’m betting is going to top my bizarreness list (and maybe yours, too!) forever--involves the jar of hot fudge sauce, which I was photographing on my deck last week. (The predatory poodle was locked away in the house.) I left the sauce, exactly as you see it, to go change the camera battery. When I returned, the jar was there, untouched, but the dripping, chocolate-coated ladle had vanished, literally without a trace. No smears on the table cloth, smudges on the wooden planks, or trail of drops leading to the culprit. I wasn’t really sure if it was a case of sleight of hand or paw. I looked further around the deck and bushes, but found neither ladle nor clues.
Part of the mystery was solved the next morning, when I glanced out to see a squirrel frantically searching the deck where the hot fudge had been. Not only had the chocolate not killed him, but he (or she) clearly wanted more. Since the critter was high functioning enough to work incredibly neatly; exit quickly; and remember exactly where he’d found the treat, I’m putting out a sign with an offer I’m hoping he can’t refuse: “Ladle can be exchanged for some hot fudge.”