Behind The Scenes: The Making of The Juiciest Meat App Ever

Behind The Scenes: The Making of The Juiciest Meat App Ever

Pat LaFrieda’s name is basically synonymous with great meat. The famed New York butcher owns and operates Pat LaFrieda Meats, a third-generation, family-owned meat supplier that caters to many of the top restaurants and burger joints in New York (think The Spotted Pig, Union Square Cafe, and 5 Napkin Burger).

So it’s really no surprise that when Pat LaFrieda’s Big App for Meat dropped, it was quickly named “iPad App Of The Week”. Called “super slick and deliciously visual” by Gizmodo, the app is a must-have for meat lovers everywhere. It covers literally hundreds of different cuts of meat, complemented by hi-res photography, 360-degree interactive images, and 50+ minutes of video.

Fortunately for us, photographer and “Beef Aficionado” Nick Solares was eager to tell us all about the process of photographing for the app. Shooting in freezing meat lockers? Check. Months of eating the best cuts of steak anywhere? Check. All this and more, as Nick gives us his firsthand account of the adventure here.

According to Nick…

The finest steaks are dry aged in near freezing meat lockers for 28 days. I know how they feel. I spent as many days in butcher Pat LaFrieda’s meat locker photographing every single cut of beef, veal, pork, lamb, turkey, duck, and chicken. We took well over 300 images for Pat LaFrieda’s Big App for Meat, the first-ever definitive butcher’s guide for the iPad. In addition to the images there is comprehensive text for each cut, insider tips and secrets, 360-degree interactive rotating meat images, tutorials, a meat quiz, and almost an hour of video.

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Pat LaFrieda is a fourth-generation butcher whose family has been in the wholesale meat business in NYC for almost 100 years, and he provides the best quality meat to over 1000 restaurants nation-wide. Pat teamed up with the creators of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, the Emmy Award-winning Zero Point Zero Productions and Domani Studios who designed and developed the app.

I served as the Creative Director and principle photographer for the project and was perhaps uniquely qualified, having spent the previous five years as a food writer and photographer with a specific focus on meat via my blog – Beef Aficionado – and as a staff reviewer for Serious Eats, America’s favorite food blog.

What was so exciting about the project was that I was able to bring my experience in food, writing, and skills in creating still images to a whole new medium. An app works very differently form either web or printed media, as it combines the non-linear information accessibility of the web while providing a unique physical interaction.

As a photographer, the most challenging aspect creatively was putting aside my normal shooting style – which is wide open using available light with a narrow DOF and making images that are illustrative rather than evocative. We shot indoors under artificial lighting, and because of the design of the app, everything needed to be in focus.  Also, since we worked on a mixed set shooting both photos and video, we couldn’t use a flash system or cameras that were too loud. Getting a deep DOF is easy enough on a 8oz tenderloin steak, but is much more difficult a 85lb steam ship round (which is essentially the whole rear leg of a steer) or an 11 rib pork rack within the tight shooting confines of a meat locker.

Because we captured each cut in a variety of ways we set up a conveyor belt of sorts – the meat would go from the cutting table to the turntable to a light-tent and finally on to a wooden cutting board for a “beauty shot” (a relative term, I suppose). As you might imagine, keeping track of all that meat was challenging, but one of the rewards was that we got to take it all home at the end of the day!

Due to the close proximity of video and still image recording, the shutter releases on my preferred cameras – the Nikon D700 and Leica M9 – were picked up on the video soundtrack, forcing me to switch to mirrorless designs. I worked extensively with the Ricoh GXR system and towards the end of the shoot I was lucky to score a Fuji X100 straight from Japan. Both systems provided near silent operation and excellent images quality, especially because we were working for iPad resolution. I was actually quite surprised by the results, I don’t see these little marvels replacing our DSLR’s any time soon but they make a great back up and in the case of this project saved us a lot of time.

Another thing that saved me a lot of time was my Photoshelter account. Rather than having to upload everything at the day’s end, I could do it as I filled up my memory cards while still shooting – this saved me a lot of time in the evening and also provided instant backup. It also allowed team members off-site to review images while we were on the shoot and make suggestions and requests. I really love the fact that I can upload RAW files, since a lot of other services only allow lower resolution uploads.

There were, of course, other challenges. Since we were essentially shooting in a refrigerator, we had to dress in winter gear. We shot during January and February in Northern New Jersey, and it was actually warmer outside than on the set. To add insult to injury, meat lockers require a lot of air circulation so it was not unlike working in a wind tunnel with all the fans blowing cold air.

The app took many months to develop but I think the results were worth the freezing conditions and long hours – I am tremendously proud of the finished product and working with the the talented people at Zero Point Zero and Domani Studios was inspiring. Our hard work was validated when the app was named “App of The Week” by Apple.

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