Making Side Projects Profitable: The Way We Ate

By Mindy Charski

© Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz
Apple Pie with Walnut Streusel, from the January 1996 issue of Gourmet, is one of the recipes Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz prepared and photographed for their site The Way We Ate.

Gourmet magazine met its abrupt end in 2009 but its recipes are being resurrected and charmingly photographed on The Way We Ate, a blog that photographers Noah Fecks and Paul Wagtouicz launched in 2011. The site has produced a bounty neither of them expected.

The pair started the project to hone their food photography skills while paying homage to a magazine they adored. Each had been trained in photography but held various careers before deciding to shoot food professionally about three years ago.

Fecks had worked as a photo editor, art director, and executive producer primarily in fashion and beauty editorial as well as automotive and consumer product advertising. Wagtouicz had been an editor for feature films before starting a graphic design business; he offered his photography as a service to clients.

“We were starting our careers in food photography and we wanted to go to the next level, and we realized we really had to test,” says Fecks.

It took about a year for the New York City-based duo to collect all 815 issues of Gourmet, which debuted in 1941. They both already had a number of copies, but many of the remaining ones came from libraries liquidating their collections. Around this time they also began experimenting with the format of the site. They gradually purchased props, fabrics and surfaces that have totaled around $10,000.

After launching on Tumblr in 2011, Fecks and Wagtouicz settled in their routine: cooking and photographing two to five recipes from a single issue each week in their East Village apartment. They alternate who handles lighting, food styling, prop styling, photographing and cooking. Together they select recipes; edit; retouch; post to the blog and Twitter; and eat their prepared dishes. They provide links to the recipes when they’re available on Epicurious.com and Gourmet.com.

Their devotion to shooting tests has served its initial purpose. “We’re a million times better because we test every day,” Fecks says. Today Fecks photographs food, dining, and travel for editorial and advertising, while Wagtouicz shoots food, dining and live performance photography for editorial. The Way We Ate has helped them get individual assignments. And, in a twist, they now also get requests to shoot as a team and even to write recipes for magazines.
“[The blog] truly has become like a billboard for us as photographers,” says Fecks. “It’s given us a lot of validity we wouldn’t have really anticipated.”

The Way We Ate, which had around 67,000 Tumblr followers at press time, counts a broad audience including seniors and teenagers among its global fans. It received a boost of visibility when it was featured in a short Tumblr video series called “Storyboard” about four months after its debut. “The moment that video hit, everything changed,” Fecks says. New York magazine’s food blog Grub Street reposted the video and the founders started hearing from other press outlets and book publishers.

The pair landed a book deal with one of those publishers, Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster. The publication, which will have “The Way We Ate” in the title, will be out in November.

“We’re doing a retrospective look at the twentieth century in American cuisine,” Wagtouicz says. “We’ve asked 100 of our favorite people to contribute a recipe that we’ll prepare, style and photograph in the same manner as the blog. But it’s original source material.” Those contributors include chefs, food writers and even the authors’ moms.

“It’s an especially marketable concept because the fascination with classic recipes is really growing—home cooks are starting to look to the distant past for inspiration in a way that we haven’t really seen before,” says Allegra Ben-Amotz, an editorial assistant at Touchstone. “This is a book that, despite the impressive list of contributors, feels like a cozy, approachable introduction to that world.”

She adds, “Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Noah and Paul are so well-loved and well-connected in the community, and that their blog has really started to take off.”

But as far as it’s come, The Way We Ate remains a not-for-profit effort. The only advertising they ever want to feature are the vintage ads from past issues of Gourmet that they scan and present in an educational context. “We feel from now until it’s done, we will never have advertising, in the literal sense, on the blog ever—it’s just truly a personal project,” says Fecks, who has a tattoo that reads “W.W.J.D.” as in “What Would Julia Do,” a tribute to Julia Child.

They have a long road ahead. At the current rate, the two figure they will be cooking, photographing and publishing Gourmet recipes to the site for about 16.5 years. They’re not too bothered by the prospect. “We both feel like in a weird way we’re going to culinary school for free,” Fecks says. “We seem even more excited every Sunday to be like, ‘OK, what are we doing next week?’ and I don’t think that will die down.”

Related Articles:

Making Side Projects Profitable: Me In My Place
Making Side Projects Profitable: The Glow

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