Joy and Pain: The Making of the 7x7 Burrito Cover


Unlike some more, ahem, corporate magazines that plot things out a year in advance, 7x7—with our editorial staff totaling six, including the art department—is often executed on a wing and a prayer.

Let’s just say pulling together February’s 7x7 magazine “Food + Love” cover story and the cover that went with it was quite a feat.

Though it evolved out of such innocence.

1. For a year, managing editor Jennifer Pollock—a burrito fiend—has been begging me to do a story on the best burritos in SF. A no brainer, right?

2. When I finally caved, I (i.e. my ego) decided that we had to take this story, which has been done to death, to another level—like a blind tasting with a panel of expert judges all in one room at the same time, including one of the best food editors in the US, a nationally renowned chef, a nationally renowned butcher and a burrito expert! (Do you know how hard it is to schedule this many important people?)

3. But, to be fair, burritos are really the food of the people, so then I thought that we should do a call on for a judge. Over fifty very convincing nominations later, and 301 comments, Prisca "Asada" Chen was chosen. The girl likes her burritos.

4. Seven burritos seemed to be the most one could ask a judge to taste at once (and not puke), so I had to eliminate. After much research, polling, tweeting, inner-office questioning and heart to hearts with my husband, I learned how disparate people's opinions on burritos are. A burrito is a very personal experience. Finally, I narrowed it down to some of the city's most popular burritos representing different neighborhoods. (La Taqueria lovers: I didn’t include La T because they don’t make the typical rice-filled SF-style burrito and the judges would have known instantly.)

5. But, really, why stop there? To make the blind tasting more fun, we decided to throw in a ringer: Chipotle! How fun is that? Fast forward to today: Turns out, commenters don’t read and have determined that I personally deemed Chipotle one of the top burritos in SF. My favorite comment: "Stay in the Marina where you dip-shit preppies belong." (Um, I own a flat in Bernal Heights and have for 10 years.) So far a brick that reads ‘Die yuppie scum’ has not been thrown through my home window. But it's only Thursday.

6. The burrito tasting in the works, executive editor Robin Rinaldi came up with the genius idea to create a corresponding cover that said "love and burritos" all at the same time. Something artful and cool. Something no one had every done before!! (The increasing number of explanation points demonstrates the escalating frantic energy.)

7. But not just anyone could pull this off. We needed a seasoned photographer and a serious food stylist!!! Total pros that could take a bunch of burritos and make something amazing out of tin foil and tortillas. (Right? Right.)

8. Design director Ben Hardiman called up photographer Dwight Eschliman (Esquire to the NY Times Magazine) and food stylist Kevin Crafts (who's worked with everyone from Todd English to Irving Penn). The duo requested over fifty burritos, not including the ones for the tasting. Alas, 7x7 does not have a Conde Nast town car at our disposal, so our edit team dispersed, mid work day, to pick them up ourselves. (At Cancun on Mission and 19th, I was temporarily blocked in by three cop cars, lights flashing, who screeched in to break up a fight—adding some real Mission burrito flavor.)

9. We arrived at the studio and the judges met us there. Thankfully, editor Allison McCarthy is innately an organized person and helped my scatterbrained self label the blur of silver bullets by number so as to not give away the burritos origins. The judges were given sheets of paper for tasting notes and ratings and while the cover shoot took place on the other side of the room, they wrote and pondered. The conversation actually turned to very intellectual and interesting subjects from sustainability to why people don't trust a cheap burrito. They did not spit. The studio did not smell like flowers.

10. About seven very long hours later, the shoot was finished—Crafts and Eschliman styled and shot half of the heart and then styled and shot the other half, generated it on the computer to make a whole heart. The burritos were ranked and the leftovers were brought to Glide Memorial as a donation.

11. Was it worth it? I asked Crafts today what he thought. He said he’s never received so many congratulatory emails about a project he’s done. “I love jobs like this when the client relies completely on my creativity and I’m paired with a photographer whose work I really admire and respect. It makes the pizza jobs with the endless pull of fake cheese and smoke all worth it,” he said. “But I haven't had a burrito since.”

12. Me? I might never have a burrito again.

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