In case you haven’t noticed, food is HOT!  And if you own an inn, bed and breakfast or hotel where food is an important part of the experience, you need great pictures to entice potential guests and to let them know what to expect. It’s still shocking to us how many bed and breakfast websites have no pictures of breakfast! Keep in mind that breakfast is a big differentiator between a traditional B and B and a hotel or vacation rental. If you are doing it, FLAUNT IT! Perhaps one of the reasons innkeepers avoid breakfast pictures is that they can be difficult to style, compose, light and shoot. But believe it or not, you can get great photos with a simple smartphone camera these days. We hope this post inspires you to take a few food shots of your own.

Follow us on Instagram (“jumpingrocksphoto” is the username) to see what we are shooting on our iPhone (lots of food!) or visit the professional food photography gallery on our website  for more inspiration.

 

1) Focus First on Your Intention

Whenever we are on a photo shoot involving food, we first try to clarify what type of food photos a property needs. On your website, you should strive to capture WHERE breakfast is served (i.e. a porch, individual tables, group dining), WHAT is served (your culinary style, close-up shots), and HOW (“in process” shots of food, or food being prepared in kitchen). A successful photo should have a clear purpose and intent, well before you snap the shutter. In this post, we will primarily focus on the “WHAT” type of photo.

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WHERE the food is served, at Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn, GA

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WHAT will be served. Close-up of food at Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn, GA

 

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HOW is the food prepared. Food in process at Abeja Inn, WA

2) Keep it Simple

Keep the food and the propping simple. Stay away from heavily-patterned plates, placemats and colors or textures that “fight” with the food. The goal is to highlight the food and make the viewer’s mouth water…and get them to book a room! The viewer should be able to easily relate to the food; more recognizable dishes are best. Stay away from casseroles (what is this, breakfast or dinner??) , soufflés (they FALL!) or overly-complicated dishes that require a long verbal description to tell the story.

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Keeping it simple at Glasbern Inn, PA. It is what it is! Note the play of shapes: triangles, lines and circles.

3) Turn off that Flash and Find a Window!

Great photos of ANY kind are all about light, so first turn off all incandescent lights and use natural light. Our favorite set-up for any type of camera is window light backlighting the food and using mirrors and white foam-core boards to reflect light into the scene. Pick a bright window with direct exposure, then diffuse it with vellum or window sheers, wax paper, parchment paper or even get creative with lace! Set up a table in front of the window and get a couple of white boards to reflect that window light back onto the food. Get a small make-up mirror or wrap a brick in foil and use that to help open up the shadows on the dark side of the food. You’ll notice you are shooting into the light (what photographers call “backlighting”). Backlighting is key to bringing out the texture, dimension and color of food. Also try side-lighting, where the window is to the right or left of the camera. As you get more experienced, you can experiment with more direct light on the food. This is tricky, but it can be beautiful.

Check out this illustration (from above) for a back lighting set-up:

 

 

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The breakfast table at Crisanver House Inn, VT. This is an example of direct lighting – tricky but beautiful when it works. We used a very thin piece of silk on the window to cut down on the highlights and control contrast.

 

 

4) Props and Background

Remember this type of shot is all about the food. But a few well placed props can provide context or make it more visually appealing. For a breakfast shot, we often use coffee or tea and/or juice, some silverware and a napkin. You can use these elements on the edge of the frame just to warm up the shot. Do you do a menued breakfast?? If so, add the menu just coming into the frame. Think about contrast: too many darks and lights outside of the food will detract from the food itself. Again–this shot is all about the food! Keep bright color and contrast in the frame to a minimum. Keep in mind your background as well–it does not have to be a white tablecloth. We have been known to shoot on wood floors, slate, tile, or black felt. Dark plates can be a beautiful and moody background for some foods, especially darker or jewel-toned food (roasted plum anyone?)

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Menu with Berry Shortcake at Lookout Point Inn, AR

 

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Roasted plums at Brampton Inn, MD. Keeping the background mid-toned rather than white brings out the great jewel-tones in this dish

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This pizza and beer sampler at The Inn at Turkey Hill was shot on the wood floor of the old barn in which the the restaurant is housed. The wood tones work beautifully with the amber beer colors and toasted pizza crust.

5) Compose It

Great composition is about engaging the viewer and keeping the eye moving through the photo. Use color repetition throughout the scene (red peppers and a red napkin) and shapes (round sunny-side-up egg with triangular toast points) to create interest and harmony. Don’t be afraid to crop a part of the plate off and get closer! Shoot from the diner’s perspective. Try shooting from above. Getting on a step ladder and shooting down at a table-scape works great for many dishes.

 

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One of Gayle’s amazing quiches from Eden Vale Inn, CA. This is a great study in contrasting shapes and color repetition.

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The granola parfait at Sea Rock Inn, CA. This is a close up element from their buffet. One parfait would be boring, but three makes the composition engaging because of repeating colors and shapes.

 

6) Food Styling…with Style

Styling can make or break a good food photo! When you create food for a food shoot, every step from cooking the food to assembling the plate should be in service of telling the story of this plate. If you are shooting an omelet, construct that omelet in a way that the viewer can tell what kind of omelet it is without a caption. One of the biggest mistakes we see is innkeepers over-garnishing (powdered sugar, parsley, sauces) so that you cannot even tell what the food is. A minamalist  approach is best. One trick we employ often is accentuating the three dimensional aspect of a dish by stacking it a little higher than you would normally serve it. Also, always add sauce and garnish at the table at the last minute and keep an eye out for wilting herbs. You could write a book on food styling, but wait–it’s been done! Our favorite book on the subject is by Delores Custer called “Food Styling”. Matthew took a class with Delores a few years ago; she is a genius and this book is interesting to any foodie.

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This egg baked in a cup at Beechmont Inn, PA was completely reconstructed for the camera to tell the story of the dish and highlight each element.

7) iPhone or Fancy Camera?

As much as we hate to say it, these days you can honestly get great photos with a smartphone. The newer models of the iPhone shoot quite well in low light conditions, they have built in features like image stabilization and High Dynamic Range (HDR) and also have good color representation. Will you get better photos with a fancier camera? Yes, but you must know how to operate the camera to get those photos. If you put a $1000 DSLR in automatic and shoot away, the results will honestly only be marginally better than with a smartphone. Understanding the manual controls and lens selections of a DSLR unlocks many of its strengths. The latest version of the iPhone operating system even has a slider to control exposure, which we use all the time. Also remember–most smart phones have a feature to select focus by touching the screen. Be sure to do this or the food might be out of focus, while the background is in focus.

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These were shot with the diagram in tip #3, using side lighting . Can you tell which photo is the iPhone shot? The left is from a professional DSLR and the right from a older model iPhone, the 3S.

 

Here is a gallery of some iPhone food shots we’ve done over the years….

 

 

8) Add a Sense of Life!

What takes a food photo from great to awesome?? A sense of life, a captured moment or a movement. In food photos, you can get that through steam coming off a plate, an action shot of a sauce being poured, or a hand flipping an omelet. A chef’s hand, adding a garnish, also can add a sense of life and captured moment.

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A lemon soufflé getting a hit of powdered sugar from the chef at Goodstone Inn and Spa, VA. The black background makes the sugar really pop!

9) Selective Focus

Selective focus is a technique where one portion of the image is in focus while the background falls out of focus. It’s a great way to simplify the image and draw the viewer to a particular part of the image. It’s easy to achieve with a DSLR camera and a lens with a low aperture, but not really possible with a smartphone camera. The good news is you can achieve that same effect with some of the special smart-phone apps out there. Yes–there’s an app for that.

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iphone photo with selective focus technique added via iPhone app “Camera+” filter called “depth of field”. It simulates look from a high-end DSLR

10) Apps and Such

Speaking of apps, if you are shooting with a smartphone, you can use one of the many camera apps to tweak exposure, color and clarity. Our hands-down favorite is Camera+, ($2.99) available for iPhone only. Camera+ allows you to shoot in manual mode, changing many of the settings that are “baked in” to the native camera app in the iPhone. You can also do lots of tweaking to make your pictures pop. AND, they have that filter called “Depth of Field” that simulates the selective focus technique we mentioned in tip 8. Instagram, free for iPhone or Android has some great editing tools including “Tilt Shift” which mimics selective focus. Be careful not to overdo it with filters though; the food should look natural!

11) Inspiration

To shoot great food, you need great recipes. Eight Broads in the Kitchen, a collective of innkeeper-cooks just released a beautiful new cookbook with tons of fabulous recipes and photos (many from us, including the cover!) Believe it or not, the cookbook even includes one of Matthew’s own recipes for Buttermilk Biscuits, which we made at our inn, The Woolverton Inn. Another book that was just released which we LOVE for breakfast recipes is Huckleberry: Stories, Secrets  and Recipes from our Kitchen. Huckleberry is one of our favorite breakfast spots in the country, in Santa Monica, California. This is a great book with creative and inspiring breakfast ideas.

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Cover of the new Eight Broads cookbook

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Wonderful creative recipes from one of our favorite breakfast spots in California

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jack Hollingsworth, a professional photographer and iPhone photography advocate made this informational video about shooting food with a smartphone. Check it out for more information:

 

 

 

 

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In preparing for our presentation, “Take Your Guest Rooms from Yesterday to Today and from Tired to Fresh—On a Budget!” at The Hospitality Marketing Summit in Denver next week, we stumbled upon some pretty interesting and inspirational room re-dos. We’ll be presenting these–and more great room decor ideas–gathered from our 10 years traveling North America, shooting over 150 inns, hotels and B&Bs.

 

Chanticleer Inn, Lookout Mountain, Georgia

Note all the changes that make this room feel much more updated!

1) A more tailored bedding approach. Note that the pleats are gone on the bedskirt and the pillow arrangement is cleaner, with a graphic-style decorative pillow and chic, white Euro-shams in the back. No more scalloped edges on the bedspread.

2) The top of the armoire has disappeared(!) and the flat-screen TV now sits directly on the fireplace, opening up the space and allowing a much improved TV-viewing experience. Clean, crisp upholstered chairs were added in slate gray, a great updated and versatile color choice–and now there are two chairs instead of just one (a major upgrade!) The toile curtains were replaced with a new elegant design. The bedside lamp was refitted with a sleeker drum shade.

3) The carpet was changed out for a wood floor. We are seeing this A LOT! Wood is much more sanitary and cleaning-friendly, especially in a room like this that steps right out to the garden. Also, wood makes the room potentially pet friendly, or at least MORE pet friendly.

4)  In a stroke of genius, the tiny pedestal sink was removed from the bathroom and a nice vanity sink was added in the bedroom. We love this change, as it allowed for a luxury shower to be added in the tiny bath–and justified a rate increase!

YOU GO Chanticleer Innkeeper-Designer Extraordinaire, Audrey! Amazing changes.

AFTER

Chanticleer Inn Rooms 3 1 XL Get Inspired with These Room Makeovers!

Room 3 at Chanticleer Inn – AFTER

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What makes a photo go viral–beyond the silly, the ridiculous and the tricky? We’re talking about a viral photo in the context of the hospitality and travel marketplace. Over the years, a few of our photos have done just that–but how did it happen? Let’s talk about a few social platforms other than Facebook, Google Plus and Twitter. Those big-name tools are important, but very often other niche sites provide better traction. Believe it or not, when we looked at our own web analytics, we discovered that almost all of the traffic to our blog and website comes from these viral photos! And, we learned that Pinterest sends us much more traffic than Facebook…wow. Here are a few tips and insights from our experiences:

Case One: Food

1) Great food photos and accompanying recipes get fantastic traction! 30% of the most pinned photos last year on pinterest were food photos. Be sure to get great, crisp photos of your top culinary creations, and then post those photos with the recipe on your blog. Also, think seasonal, colorful, simple to prepare and PHOTOGENIC. Get some in-process shots as well; oftentimes those are more interesting than the finished product. Keep the composition clean and simple, lots of open space. Keep in mind that many sites require a square crop of the image and this should be considered when composing the photo. foodgawker.com is the big player in this arena and you can get serious attention IF they accept your submission–their selections are highly-curated and it’s competitive, but the big boys of the internet and giant corporate bloggers cruise this site for content and re-post. It’s easier to get accepted to tastespotting.com–less traffic, but it can drive hoards of people to your blog.

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Swiss Woods’ tomato recipe–a viral phenomenon

The Parmesan Heirloom Tomato recipe from Swiss Woods Inn, which was posted on our blog about a year ago went crazy viral. It all started with Read More…

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We recently returned from a photo shoot at L’Auberge Provencale (our 6th or 7th time?) and afterwards, Mark was compelled to write a “love letter” to owners Celeste and Alain, who spearhead the constant evolution of this fabulous inn.  Here is that letter, along with some pictures from the shoot, featuring the stunning cuisine of Chef Joseph Watters. But gorgeous food still has to taste great…and it does. After the shoot, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a spectacular meal, which we will never forget. 

Dear Celeste and Alain,

Since our recent shoot there, I’ve been thinking about you two—mainly reflecting on what makes shooting there so deeply rewarding—and successful. The fact is that we get great shots there because the key to the best shots is invested collaboration. Starting with your preparation for the shoot, Celeste, your involvement brings ideas that are always innovative, focused and seemingly infinite. Watching you and your amazing new chef, Joseph, respecting each other’s talents and perspectives, while moving towards a shared vision, was truly inspirational. It’s so obvious that you really care; it’s just in your DNA.

Even more impressive, that level of care is reflected in every aspect of L’Auberge Provencale. Even after 30 years there, you continue to realize your vision–always evolving, adding, renewing and improving. Recently you embarked on a mission to completely rebrand the restaurant—new name, new website, new everything! Your newest project—completely redesigning the restaurant space, adding a new bar, expanding outdoor dining and building a spectacular new top-of-the-line kitchen—is no little plan. You simply don’t know the term.

The phenomenon that is Alain and Celeste is only fully appreciated when witnessing it like we do: first-hand and behind the scenes. I know that after a few years in the business, there is a tendency towards complacency—it’s understandable. What is more difficult to understand is how one could continue to be so inspired, so eager to embrace change and so energetic in implementing big changes.

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Prep table for shoot at L’Auberge food shoot

I remember the first time we were there working. I was blown away by the consistent and DETAILED execution of your Provencale theme throughout the inn—the fabrics, the ochre walls, the tile, the artwork, the gardens, the staff—and my personal favorite: the fact that you all answer the phone in FRENCH! I love it.

I’ve come to realize that the quality of what you deliver is actually derived from the incredible respect you have for your guests. The basic assumption is that your guests will appreciate the 6 varieties of house-baked bread at dinner, that the tile in their bathroom is authentic hand-painted tile from Provence, and that the fabrics and colors surrounding them are all truly Provencale. You assume that they will be somehow moved by the care that goes into every plate, every room, and every space. And I think they are.

The sad fact is that this level of commitment is rare. And nowadays, with hotels co-opting every creative idea they can from the inn world, and lodging properties becoming more and more alike, you are doing what makes this industry relevant—you are offering something they cannot. You have a unique vision, and the creativity, the taste and the spark to bring it to life. And you do all of these things with great humor and grace.

So I guess this is a love letter…or at the very least a fan letter. Call it what you Read More…

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After an inn-filled, 2-week shooting trip through New England, we ended up shooting at one of our favorite places: Squam Lake Inn in Holderness, NH. We have been working with owners Rae and Cindy and their remarkable team for several years. It’s been exciting to see them grow and change…while doing everything perfectly in the meantime. Over the last 4 years, they have upgraded and expanded their restaurant, renovated and redecorated guest rooms and bought the local general store with an ultra-luxe lakeside vacation rental above. These gals are dynamos at all things retail–their new Squam Lake Marketplace is just another jewel in their crown of successes. I particularly loved their branded “home” t-shirts with the Squam Lake silhouette, but seriously, that is just one of the things that made Mark keep asking “how do you do everything so…perfectly???” And, yes, Mark (who once started crying in Dean and Deluca in NYC because everything was “so beautiful”) really did tear up when describing to Cindy how inspired he was at their achievements.

What really makes the whole thing sing is the indescribably warm-yet efficient-staff, the completely natural sense of hospitality and the overall vibe they have created and nurtured. It’s worth visiting the place just to soak up the vibe. And if you do, be sure to dine at the restaurant and order the fried chicken…and here’s the most important piece of advice: order the ice cream sandwiches.

Honestly, there are too many cool things to mention in one blog post…stay tuned. Mark says he could write a book…

 

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Macaroon ICE CREAM SANDWICH from Squam Lake Inn and Marketplace with coffee chocolate chip and sea-salted caramel ice cream (SEE RECIPE AT END OF POST)

 

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Lakeside vacation rental at Squam Lake Inn, located above The Marketplace, where they sell the ICE CREAM SANDWICHES

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Woodhaven Food 13 X3 The Winners Circle: The Only Drink for Derby Day

Mint Julip, Inn at Woodhaven, Louisville KY

 

We are working in California* today, but since it is Derby Day, we are reminded of those great Mint Juleps we photographed (and gladly drank!) with Marsha, the innkeeper at Inn at Woodhaven a couple of years ago. Here is a recipe for for this classic drink if you are celebrating today:

  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) club soda
  • 2 heaping teaspoons superfine sugar or simple syrup
  • 15 fresh mint leaves, plus sprigs for garnish
  • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) high-quality whiskey or bourbon
  • 2 cups crushed ice

Stir together club soda and sugar in a julep cup, until sugar just begins to dissolve. Add mint leaves and–this is very important–using a muddler or back of large spoon, gently press leaves into the liquid until bruised but not completely crushed. Add your booze of choice, then fill cup with crushed ice and stir briefly. Add mint sprigs and a short straw and head out to the verandah!

*Home of “California Chrome”, favored to win today, by the way…

 

 

 

 

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We recently did an “update shoot” for one of our favorite inns, the grand Saratoga Arms, in downtown in Saratoga Springs, NY. Innkeepers and Owners of this family-run business, Amy and Kathleen Smith, have made some really smart updates to this property, carefully blending the traditional style with an updated new look. Because we’ve been shooting for them for years, we have some SaratogaArms Exterior%20%286%29 S Great Ideas for Blending Traditional and Contemporary Styles from Saratoga Armsinteresting before and after shots showing the decor changes. Instead of tearing out all of the classic (and pricey!) wallpaper and discarding great-quality furnishings, they made more modest changes that make a huge impact—all without breaking the budget.

The big changes they DID make:

  • * They eliminated many large armoires  which had previously held televisions, replacing them with contemporary wood pieces with a dual function: they contain a refrigerator and provide ample clothing storage (with a great top surface to boot!)
  • * Wall mounted flat screen TVs throughout
  • * They chose all-white bedding, a more contemporary pillow styling, and reused the old traditional custom bedspread as a pop of color and pattern at the foot of the bed. It just happens this whole look is super photogenic and clean!

Smaller Changes:

  • * Some wallpaper removal and fresh paint
  • * Many new lamps with a more contemporary flair
  • * Some smaller, more updated chairs in some rooms in solid white or bold colors

We did our part in styling, lighting and composing the photos to make them feel more 2014 and less 1999. It was a joint effort for sure!

 

Saratoga Arms Rooms 201 01 XL Great Ideas for Blending Traditional and Contemporary Styles from Saratoga Arms

In Room 201, they painted the walls this fresh green color, along with the other changes mentioned above; this was our favorite!

 

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This room is on the lower level and has a lower ceiling than the upper level rooms. The color and furnishing make it bright and cheerful

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We’ve always wanted to go to Chile, so we blocked some time off in November to fly down and explore the country. November is spring in Chile and that was welcome, coming from the November gloom of Philadelphia. We really only explored the bottom half of Chile, but that was a 2000 mile chunk of this long (REALLY LONG) skinny country sandwiched between Argentina and the Pacific Ocean. We fell completely in love with one hotel in particular, really a country inn style accommodation on a point in Lake Villarrica,  called Hotel Antumalal, near the town of Pucon, which is about 500 miles south of Santiago. We chose to fly because it was a 14 hour drive! Here is a quote from the hotel’s website describing the property:

“On a wooded point overlooking the lake, between gardens, terraces and waterfalls sits the Hotel Antumalal. Meaning “Corral of the Sun” in the Mapundungun language, Antumalal’s vibrant and modern architecture fits harmoniously with its setting. The main rooms extend above a cliff with an entire wall of glass overlooking the lake. Wood-paneled walls, soft white carpets and an immense fireplace create an elegant yet simple ambiance. In a modern twist on 1950s style, the furniture uniquely blends native wood, iron, and rope. Recent additions, such as the pool and spa use wood, rock and cement to remain true to the original architecture and to integrate with the surroundings. Each bedroom is furnished with a wall-sized window so that the calming landscape is perfectly framed.

Construction began in 1945 on what once was a graceless piece of rocky outcrop. Influenced by the Bauhaus style the design was conceived by the owners themselves along with the Chilean architect Jorge Elton. Within five years they had successfully transformed the space into the magnificent building and stunning gardens that we enjoy today. The hotel represents a tribute to the Pucón area: nature came first and the complimentary linear design was designed to frame and honor it. The Antumalal remains an architectural jewel.”

The dining was spectacular in every way, with views over the lake and mountains, and featuring vegetables from their garden.

It was so lovely that we plan to return…if only to Antumalal. Yes, it was that good. Good enough for Queen Elizabeth, who visited when it first opened in the 1950s.

(Hoping to put some more pictures up from the Chile trip soon, Patagonia, etc…)

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Hotel Antumalal ensconced in 12 acres of gardens and woodland on Lake Villarrica near Pucon, Chile

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The lounge in the Hotel is surrounded by glass and has a wood-burning fire, constantly glowing

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View from the grassy gardens of Hotel Antumalal over Lake Villarrica at sunset

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1) Bed and Breakfast…and COFFEE!

StFrancis Food 03 X2 A Look Back at 2013: 10 Amenities, Trends and Ideas we Loved

Italian-made Cappuccino / Espresso machine at St Francis Inn

We’ve always thought coffee represented “low-hanging fruit”–easy to improve upon and impress guests at inns (and hotels for that matter). It’s obviously a big part of our culture (especially among young people), so WHY is the coffee so completely boring at 99% of the inns we visit? Sadly, the quality is so poor we often secretly bring our own. Typically, we’ve found the  quality of the coffee and brewing techniques deteriorate the further you move away from The Pacific Northwest or New England. Generally speaking, the coffee in the South is the weakest and least interesting. (Who are we–the coffee gods?) During our shoot in December of 2013, it was great to see what Joe Finnegan and his team at St Francis Inn in St Augustine have “brewed up”. They offer delicious cappuccino and espresso to guests, using their sparkling new cappuccino/espresso machine–a serious machine which the staff operates. We loved the fact that the specialty coffees are complimentary, and everyone LOVES them! Joe says it has been an overwhelming hit with his guests. Read a guest comment on Trip Advisor.

2) Adding a Contemporary FLAIR

In 2013, we saw many inns adding a contemporary twist to otherwise traditional spaces. It’s amazing what a little paint, new furnishings and bedding can do to make a room feel fresh and new. Sometimes it’s as simple as a new way of making the bed or arranging the pillows.

 

Lucilles Room6 05 XL A Look Back at 2013: 10 Amenities, Trends and Ideas we Loved

At Lucille’s Mountaintop Inn in Georgia, they blend contemporary and traditional styles with finesse. The bedding, lampshade and color-palette make the room feel fresh.

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On the first day of winter this year, we made our very favorite winter dish, in honor of Judy Rodgers, the chef at San Francisco’s Zuni Cafe who passed away early this month. Judy was a fantastic chef and cookbook author and we were so sorry to hear of her death. We’re fortunate to have been to her restaurant in San Francisco several times and our copy of  “The Zuni Cafe Cookbook”, published in 2002, is in tatters from use. This Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken is a real winner. It’s a dry 24 hour salt-brined small bird cooked in a high-heat oven served atop a crunchy bread salad with greens, currants and pine nuts. Matthew has made this dish so many times he can do it with eyes closed. Please note that we like to add cauliflower to the mix–it’s optional.

 

 

Zuni Cafe Roast Chicken 07 L The Worlds Best Roast Chicken  A Salute to Judy Rodgers

Zuni Cafe Chicken © Jumping Rocks Photography

 

Zuni Layout The Worlds Best Roast Chicken  A Salute to Judy Rodgers

Bread Salad before it goes in the oven and chicken resting before carving © Jumping Rocks

Zuni Cafe Chicken

Adapted from Judy Rodgers by Eric Asimov of The New York Times with further adaptions by Matthew Lovette

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