Annie's Kitchen by Benny Mon I’m chatting with the camera operator, rehearsing the framing of the opening shot one more time, when I feel Rod’s hand on my shoulder. “You ready, Fuentes?” he asks. I look back up at him and smile. “When you’re the director, I’m ready for anything. Season 8, Episode 1, let’s shoot this thing!” He laughs. “I’d be nothing without you as my cinematographer!” I wave him off, suppressing a smile. We’re not normally this friendly, this nice to each other on set. There are too many things going on, too many things to worry about. We’re each in our own world if we aren’t losing our shit at someone else over some small thing they fucked up. But I think we need these little moments at the beginning of a season, a time when we can step back and remind ourselves how much we love this thing that we make every year. I’ve spent the whole day working with my camera crew, with the lighting director and the gaffer and the grips, getting the set just right, making sure we capture the perfect look for Annie’s Kitchen. We’re veterans by now, been doing this for the better part of a decade, but I’m a perfectionist, I’ll admit it. I won’t let the quality of my product slide, ever. No, it’s more than that: every year needs to be bigger and better than the last. And, shit, it has been. Standing here in the dark, unseen space beyond the set, taking in the perfect, colorful, tiled TV kitchen that’s waiting for its chef to arrive, I have a chance to think back to when I met Annie for the first time almost ten years ago. I was young then, fresh out of school and working for the A/V department at ASU doing menial shit for meager pay. In college I’d majored in film, but that degree was just rotting on the shelf until Annie reached out to me. She didn’t seem all that special at the time: a freshly minted sports doctor caring for the university’s female athletes. I thought she was a shinier version of the same old girl who majored in kinesiology because she didn’t know what else to do. Annie’d been a star athlete in high school and college, a sprinter on the track team, but she was smart, too, so she went for sports medicine as a way to stick with sports. She hated med school, though, and when I met her she wasn’t even a year into working for the university, bored out of her goddamn mind. But Annie loved to cook, and she was cute. So her friend, a local news reporter, managed to get her a one-off cooking show to fill an empty slot in the local network’s schedule. The assholes wouldn’t let her use their facilities to shoot, which is why they found me: they needed someone to film the segment on campus. I knew how to work a camera, and I was dying to get behind one again, even for something mundane like this. They didn’t even pay me at this point. I was so thirsty for creative expression that shooting an amateur cooking show was more than enough for me. It was just the three of us that first day, Annie and her friend and me. I remember it so clearly, though maybe that’s because I’ve watched the recording so many times since then. Annie was standing there, a cute, fit, tan brunette in athleisure clothes with her hair pulled back into a tight ponytail, throwing together some Greek-inspired pasta and pastries. “I’m so excited to be cooking with you today,” she told the camera. “Med school takes up all your time, and more; I didn’t have any time for myself, any time to live my life. The fact that I can finally cook again, and that I can share it with other people? It feels amazing.” She was a natural in front of the camera, and, even better, she wasn’t afraid to use cheese and butter and sugar when she needed it. I took a bite of that pasta after we shot, and I almost passed out it was so good. That’s when I knew this girl was going somewhere: she was extremely watchable, and her food was fucking delicious. Which is probably why her show took off so fast. She had the bizarre, infuriating appeal of the girl who feigns gluttony, tossing back fatty foods and sugary treats, but never seems to gain any weight. Don’t get me wrong, Annie wasn’t emaciated, but she was trim and fit, not too tall and not too short. She represented the freedom of alimentary transgression with none of the consequences, and people ate that shit up. (Pun fully intended.) The local news slot became a regular program, and soon Youtube clips of the show were going viral. People loved her. By the the time Season 2 of Annie’s Kitchen ended, Food Network had signed her. Season 3 would broadcast to a national audience. We still use the same set we used for Season 3, not on campus anymore but still right here in Tempe. Season 3 was when Rod came on as director, when I graduated from camera operator to cinematographer, honestly when we got most of our core staff. When it comes to the people who make this show, not much has changed at all since then. Well, except for one thing… A clatter of bowls and plates interrupts my daydream. Some scrawny production assistant is fussing with ingredients on the set and has knocked over a few of them. “What the hell are you doing?” I ask. “We’re shooting any time now.” “Sorry, I’m sorry,” he mumbles as he rushes to put everything back in its place. “You’re sure everything is on the counter? She won’t have to bend or reach for anything?” “Yes,” he whines, “I’m sure. Flor, this is like the tenth time you’ve asked me! I’ve worked on cooking shows before.” “Don’t fucking sass me. You haven’t worked on this show before. It is of the utmost importance that everything is within Annie’s reach. Got it?” The PA sighs and backs away slowly, quadruple-checking that nothing is missing. Meanwhile, Rod’s yelling at everyone to get in their positions, lights are flashing, alarms are ringing, and I hover back to the camera to watch the shot unfold. Some kid holds a boom over the set, the lights dim everywhere else in the room, and everyone shuts up. And Annie walks out.