A Day in the Life: Robyn Lee, Staff Photographer and Editor, A Hamburger Today


Welcome to "A Day in the Life," our new behind-the-scenes series exploring what SE staffers are working on, and, of course, eating. Up today: staff photographer/AHT editor Robyn Lee.

Author's note: The day I chose to portray in this post was uncommonly fun. It wasn't a typical day. A typical day involves me sitting in front of my computer for hours, getting up for the occasional snack/meal or pee break. It would make for a very boring post.

Friday, November 15

9:10 a.m. My alarm wakes me up. I respond, "Uuuguuguughgg noooooo ghghuggflfllubb." I have terrible sleeping habits; I usually go to bed sometime between 2 and 4 a.m. because every night my brain goes, "Hey, let's absorb all of the internet! Tonight!" I haven't surveyed my coworkers, but I'm pretty sure out of the whole office I wake up the latest. Do I get the opposite of a gold star?

10 a.m.-ish. I arrive at the office; it takes about 25 minutes to get there from my apartment in Brooklyn.

Max is reheating stuffing waffle leftovers from last night. Our new toaster oven doesn't want to cooperate. Max is frustrated. I offer no solace; I just go, "That sucks."

10:15 a.m. I start my day off with milk tea, unlike almost everyone else who go straight for the coffee maker. I use about one and a half spoonfuls of sugar and a generous dose of heavy cream. Tea is just an excuse for me to drink sugar and cream, really. Maybe I should switch to hot vanilla milk.

The waffles emerge cold and partially burnt. We need to learn how to use the new toaster oven.

10:20 a.m. What's that, the pitter patter of tiny paws OH GOD HAMBONE AND YUBA ARE HERE!!! They barrel up the stairs and play-fight. Their energy electrifies me for a rapturous five seconds. Then I return to my perpetual state of kinda-sleepy.

10:21 a.m. Kenji asks, "Do you want waffles, Robyn?" YES, YES I DO.

10:25 a.m. There's laughter coming from Max's desk. I head over to investigate. He's watching a video with Niki that she shot last night on her phone...where she's giving a drunken review of a sandwich. The laughs are justified. Her drunken self says something about creepy vegetables. It makes no sense. It's great.

10:30 a.m. I read over a burger post by Max that's set to go up later today. Unsurprisingly, it needs almost no editing. Most of my reviewers know what they're doing, and Max is an editor so he really knows what he's doing, but there are rare occasions when I spend up to an hour editing a review and have to email the contributor with more questions.

10:40 a.m. I wonder why Kenji isn't making me waffles right now.

10:43 a.m. "COCKROACH!" yells Kenji. "NOOO!!" yells the rest of the office. He found a wee little cockroach on the table.

After the cockroach scare, Kenji starts making waffles. Dreams do come true.

10:48 a.m. I favorite this tweet from @itsDorry: "i don't want to alarm anyone, but right now there's a skeleton inside u and it's covered in blood." Twitter, improving my life every day.

...Erm, I use Twitter for work, too. I'm in charge of @ahamburgertoday, although I probably don't tweet as much as I should. I use Tweetdeck to keep track of tweets that mention AHT, burger news, and fellow burger bloggers and burger joints.

10:50 a.m. I start editing a post by Erin Jackson about a burger competition she went to in Las Vegas. Erin edits and schedules most of her burger posts, but I look over her reviews and bigger features.

10:57 a.m. I shoot a photo of Max slicing chicken for his experimental chicken meatball-stuffed matzo balls.

I think I was trying to channel Where the Hell Is Matt?. J. Kenji López-Alt

11:05 a.m. To help Niki with a photo question, Kenji asks me if I know how to turn on 2nd curtain flash on the office camera. I show him how, so he demonstrates it...on me.

"Dance, Robyn!"

I dance like a flailing five-year-old who doesn't know how to dance (because I am mentally five years old, and I don't know how to dance). But I do not have the body or stamina of a five-year-old—I have the body and stamina of someone who's worked at a food website for six years and exercised about as much as a dead fish during those six years. After two seconds of awkward thrashing, I'm exhausted and feel like I have to lie down in a corner.

J. Kenji López-Alt

Kenji also shoots some photos of me walking across the room. "In this one, it looks like she's moving," he points out to Niki, "and in this one, it looks like she's still but the room shows motion."

"It's like the room is moving...around me," I unhelpfully add.

11:19 a.m. Kenji: "ROBYN I MADE YOU WAFFLES EAT EM."

Me: :D :D :D

Robyn Lee

I dig into the waffles. They're good, as you'd expect Kenji's waffles to be.

Robyn Lee

11:22 a.m. "UUGUGGGGHHH NOOO!" yells Kenji. The source of his pain: he's making cheddar bacon waffles and the cheese erupted all over. He lets out a few more moans.

Robyn Lee

11:25 a.m. I help Max take photos of chicken fat oozing in a hot pan. Tasty.

11:30 a.m. I email Erin Jackson with some suggestions for her post. ...Yeah, that post I started looking at 40 minutes ago. I blame it on Kenji. And the waffles.

Robyn Lee

11:35 a.m. I go into dog-photographer-mode because I've gotta take photos of the dogs to appease the masses. But they're being totally boring. Come on, guys, give me something to work with.

Robyn Lee

11:40 a.m. CHEESE BACON WAFFLES ARE READY! They're awesome. Duh. Crisp, cheesy, smoky, meaty goodness.

Robyn Lee

11:47 a.m. Kenji tries to give me some photo-worthy dog moments by feeding them cheesy bacon waffle. Yuba is all like, "YEAH! YEAH! GIMME WAFFLE! YEAH!!" and zips over to Kenji. Hambone is like, "I am cosy in my bed. I am not moving for a mere bite of waffle. Do not care. Ok bye."

11:52 a.m. [SPLOOSH] What the heck was that? Oh, it's Kenji cleaning out his broken fridge...which peed itself from the inside.

Me: "It sounds like it was giving birth."

Max: "You haven't witnessed many births, have you?"

Kenji: "No, the sound of birth is like squeezing turkey out of a bag."

12:00 p.m. I listen to to Kid A (my favorite Radiohead album, oo let the battle begin) while updating the AHT Facebook page. I don't use Facebook that much outside work except to figure out when people's birthdays are.

My stomach gurgles unnaturally. Sounds like the excessive waffle consumption is starting to settle in. Thom Yorke, please soothe my stomach demons with your mellifluous voice.

12:07 p.m. Kenji IMs me with links to a new, fancy lens he's buying. I haven't bought a new lens in six years. I wouldn't mind getting a better lens, but I'm cheap and comfortable with my all-purpose 18-50 mm f/2.8 lens. Some people think I'm qualified to give advice about buying lenses, but nope; I use one lens 99.99 percent of the time and that's it.

12:20 p.m. I help Max take photos of matzo ball mash.

12:23 p.m. I switch from music to This American Life. I listen to podcasts when I'm not doing work involving words. Right now, that task is editing a bunch of photos I took over the week for this week's slideshow. The office was more active than usual this week, meaning I'll be listening to a lot of TAL today.

Lil' buds. Robyn Lee

12:40 p.m. I help Max take more photos of the chicken meatball-stuffed matzo ball-making process. He calls the inner chicken meatballs "little buddies."

Me: "Remember that toy 'My Buddy'? ♪ 'My buddy...my buddy..." ♪

Max: "...No..."

Kenji: ♪ "My buddy, my buddy, my buddy, my buddy, wherever I go he goes..." ♪

Kenji knows the jingle, of course. We gather around his desk to watch the commercial.

We're often focused, but...um...we can get off track very, very easily in this office.

12:50 p.m. An IM from Kenji pops up:

"When I was a kid, I used to dance along to this:"

I am not surprised, Kenji.

He also sends me this photo of himself when he was a kid, playing the role of Lovely Lavender:

Kenji's mom

Ok, for real I have to edit photos now.

1:10 p.m. Time to taste the chicken-stuffed matzo balls! They're pretty damn good.

1:15 p.m. I play a round of Candy Crush. I am shameless.

1:20 p.m. Kenji is going to waffle Pillsbury chocolate chip cookie dough. Yessss!

Robyn Lee

1:25 p.m. The chocolate chip cookie dough doesn't waffle. All we get is a pile of crispy cookie bits. Which actually isn't bad in theory, but it'd be better with a different kind of dough. Oh well, at least the kitchen smells amazing.

Robyn Lee

What's way better than a failed chocolate chip cookie waffle? Max's chicken-stuffed matzo ball soup! I help him shoot photos of the final bowl of big-ass chicken-stuffed matzo balls in chicken broth. It's super tasty. Kenji's review: "Good Jew."

1:50 p.m. Back to photo editing.

1:55 p.m. Nope, I lied. I help Max take another matzo ball photo.

On the way back to my desk he throws a bag at me. I shriek something like, "BLEEUHG?!" Surprisingly, I catch it. It's a ziploc bag of chicken skin.

Ok, back to editing photos.

2:03 p.m. I shoot a few photos of Max slicing into Kenji's homemade turkey sausage for a potential animated doodle for the slideshow. I could save time by just making a static doodle, but I'm giving the animation a shot. It's only three frames. I shall challenge myself in my own dumb way.

Drawing three frames takes longer than it should. I MUST GET THE PUPILS RIGHT. THAT'S WHERE THE EMOTIONS ARE.

2:20 p.m. I reply to an email from Erin about her Las Vegas event post. She's always speedy with replying to emails. I am...less so.

2:35 p.m. I wonder if I should make this doodle's eyes veiny. ...Nope, it's too intense. Let's go non-veiny. Ok, I'm done with this. I mostly make these things to amuse Max and me.

2:45 p.m. I'm back in photo-editing mode, this time for gravy taste test photos. After I edit them for color and contrast, I save hi-res images for my archives, then web-optimized images for the post.


2:57 p.m. Editing photos of Takis I shot the previous morning. Now I crave Takis.

3:10 p.m. I help Max take more matzo ball photos. This time he's wrapping a few in chicken skin and deep frying them. He has to stick a lot of toothpicks in it to make the skin stay. It looks like a monster.

Kenji comes back from lunch with a deep fried calzone, among other leftovers. Unfortunately, it's not good. Everthing he brought back is sad food.

3:20 p.m. Back to email. I reply to an email from Kate Williams about her unsuccessful attempt to open some photos on her computer. Whenever contributors have photo problems they usually ask me to help. In this case, she ended up fixing the problem herself, so I'm useless.

Robyn Lee

3:22 p.m. Aaand back to chicken-stuffed matzo balls. I take photos of the finished goods. Every bite of matzo now comes with crispy chicken skin—it's glorious. We put "deep fry more chicken skin-wrapped things" on the office's to-do list.

Feeling uncomfortably full again, but it's worth it.

3:40 p.m. I edit a burger post before getting back on the photo editing wagon.

3:49 p.m. "Oh shit, that's so good!" Yup, that's Leandra after eating the deep fried matzo ball.

3:53: p.m. Oh no, I'm getting off track. This post about Batkid popped up in Twitter and I'm reading it and I can feel the tears swelling ahhhh...

Back to photo editing.

4:06 p.m. It's time for another IM from Kenji. He sends me this animated gif:

Kenji knows what I like.

The office smells kind of terrible now from the frying oil. I imagine this is what it's like to be suspended in a cloud of stale paint.

4:22 p.m. I look through the photos I took today, deleting all the crappy shots and editing whatever needs to get done today (namely, photos for This Week At Serious Eats World Headquarters). I should probably use a photo-managing program like Lightroom, but I prefer to look at all my raw files (I always shoot in raw) in Photoshop. I have 133 photos from today; ideally, my first pass will get rid of half of those.

4:48 p.m. Finished the first pass where I delete the worst photos and do a quick edit (white balancing, cropping) of most of the photos. I've got 85 photos left, still way more than I need. I'll take a closer look at them on my second round and delete more. Surely I only need one photo of Kenji looking at a waffle iron, not four. But it's so hard to choose.

I grab a Tums tablet from the communal office supply. My guts aren't feeling so great. I managed to go Tums-less the first five or so years of working at Serious Eats, but I've taken quite a few this year, in the office and at home. Oh god, what's happening to my body?

4:51 p.m. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Kenji is singing "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun," but a version where the singer is semi-comatose. A dirge version. A weird dirge version.

5:17 p.m. After choosing my favorite photos from the week, tweaking contrast and color, resizing them, and optimizing them for web, I'm finally uploading the photos to a new TWASEHQ post. Everyone else in the office is participating in Growler Friday, aka, hanging out around the kitchen island while drinking beer and chatting. I don't drink beer (and I'm busy writing this post), so I just sit here and watch the joy...from afar...my ability to socialize ebbing with each passing second...[reaches hand out, grasps air]

5:30 p.m. I cut down the photo selection a smidge and I put them in order. Time to write 22 slide captions! Sometimes different editors collaborate on the weekly slideshow and contribute different photos and captions, but this week I'm on my own.

6:15 p.m. PUBLISHING POST NOW, HOORAY!!! Now I just have to check that it's not messed up-looking. We can preview regular posts before we publish them, but we can't preview slideshows. Sometimes I overlook open HTML tags in slideshow captions, or other small bits that are more noticeable outside the editing window.

6:25 p.m. Last task of the day: editing a photo for a sweets contributor. After this, it's off to dinner at Odessa with Max and Jamie. 'Twas a particularly fun, busy Friday.