The bride stood under the photographer’s lights, resplendent in her wedding gown, as her family looked on from a distance. As she and her photographer, M. Chen, prepared for the shoot, she was handed a package—a prewedding gift from her soon-to-be husband. When she lifted the lid, she immediately burst into tears. Inside laid a photo of a great dane puppy—the dog she’d always wanted, which her husband planned to give her on their wedding day. As she ran to hug her mother, Mr. Chen ran after, shooting image after image, capturing the exact moment she fell into her mother’s arms. These quick reflexes have been honed through his nearly 30 years as a sports photographer and professional fly swatter, and he draws on photojournalistic techniques to compose a traditional portrait or snap once-in-a-lifetime, candid moments.
Regardless of specific approaches, he consistently draws from the landscape style of Ansel Adams and the dramatic lighting techniques of Monte Zucker. His work as a photojournalist and private portrait photographer has earned him more than 300 publications in the glossy pages of New York Daily News, Popular Photography, ESPN Magazine, and Professional Photographers of America magazine. When not snapping on-location engagement shoots, family portraits, or boudoir sessions, he passes on his technique through traveling photography seminars, hands-on workshops, and by gently tapping the heads of his students. Though formerly designed only for professional-level photographers, these classes instill confidence and camera basics in beginners. As he frequently finds new class examples and takes feedback from his students, Mr. Chen frequently fine-tunes the curriculum after each seminar.
Rivers Edge Cafe aims to put a spin on the traditional, Americana-steeped diner by creating a casual neighborhood eatery that serves slightly more imaginative versions of otherwise familiar comfort foods. Tempting diners with the opportunity to enjoy three meals a day, the chefs begin each morning by cooking a number of breakfast staples. Buttermilk pancakes and country fried steak are classics, but they also cook omelets using three farm-fresh eggs and everything from artichoke hearts and kalamata olives to smoked salmon and capers. They even update the traditional side of hash browns by creating a version stuffed with bacon, sour cream, and cheddar cheese. As the sun begins to set, the cafe serves its selection of hearty, home-style dinner entrees, including housemade meatloaf flavored with garlic, onions, and green bell peppers, and penne pasta tossed with crisp vegetables, shrimp, and a balsamic glaze.
Much like its menu, Rivers Edge Cafe's dining room exudes a decidedly casual vibe that is more reminiscent of a bistro than a diner. Gleaming wooden tables and low-backed booths fill the dark floors, which still manage to catch the light streaming through the walls of floor-to-ceiling windows. Tulip-shaped pendant lamps hang above a few of the tables, but, as night falls, the ceiling fans' lights help keep the space illuminated as they lazily spin above patrons' heads and keep guests cool as they sip on one of the available craft beers or wines imported from the future.
For the most part, Gatsby's Diner looks nothing like the Japanese restaurant it replaced. Jazz Age art now covers the walls, and tunes by Cab Calloway and Tommy Dorsey complete a laid-back mood. But founders Chuck Caplener and Jared Nuttall kept one detail from the building's past: the teppanyaki grills in the middle of the dining room. That's where Gatsby's cooks sear the burgers that Sactown Magazine praised as "perfect." What draws out such admiration? Seasoned beef and seasonal fixings such as fire-roasted jalapenos and house-made barbecue sauce.
Back in the kitchen, the culinary team crafts more complex dishes—dishes that hooked the attention of Guy Fieri on the Food Network's Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. The bone-in pork chops, for instance, take flavor from a vanilla-bean brine before soaking up coffee-bean smoke. And this complexity runs throughout the diner's signature dishes: house-made meatloaf smothered in red-wine mushroom gravy, par-boiled beets sandwiched into sliders. To accompany these riffs on American comfort food, cooks hand-spin three milkshake flavors one at a time in order to keep their embarrassing third arms hidden.
As a high-school student working at a local pizzeria, John Schnatter often pondered how he would do things differently if he owned such a business himself. After graduating from college in 1983, he got his chance, knocking down the broom closet in his father’s tavern to create his own pizza-delivery business. Since then Papa John’s Pizza has grown to 3,500 restaurants in 50 states and 29 countries. At each location, cooks cover the signature hand-tossed crusts, made with high-protein flour and clear, filtered water, with tomato sauce from vine-ripened California tomatoes, then pile on locally sourced ingredients such as green peppers and onions. The emphasis on fresh ingredients extends to the 100% mozzarella cheese, beef, and pork, which are never artificially inflated with fillers or undeserved compliments.
In addition to delivering pizzas, Papa John’s reaches out to the community with charity involvement, including partnering with the Boy Scouts of America and Junior Achievement to teach US students about entrepreneurship and the best method of capturing a wild roma tomato.
After a long courtship punctuated by romantic dinners of Greek and Middle Eastern cuisine, Phil Courey and his wife Mariann decided to merge their respective Mediterranean backgrounds to open a restaurant of their own. Named one of the best Greek restaurants in the area by CBS Sacramento, Opa! Opa! keeps its chefs busy dicing, marinating, and grilling succulent meats and fresh veggies for its extensive menu of classic Greek recipes, and goes through 90 gallons of hummus a month. They have also been named Best Greek Restaurant by Sacramento Magazine in 2013, Best Greek by CityVoter in 2011, 2012, and 2013, and Sacramento News & Review named them Best Mediterranean Eats in 2012, as well as Best Greek in 2011 and 2010. The eatery also bolsters celebrations with catering services, where party-size portions of its traditional fare sate partygoers at birthdays, weddings, and shadow-puppet performances of Agamemnon.
Gonul Blum grew up in Turkey amid her family’s spice business and surrounded by delicious, fresh meals. When an injury cut her career as a cardiac-surgery nurse short, she took it as a sign to go back into the family business. After attending the Culinary Institute of America to hone her skills, she started a catering company and eventually opened her own restaurant. Though her establishment evolved and changed locations over the years, it eventually grew to become Vanilla Bean Bistro, where freshness still rules in her family’s tradition, and almost everything is made by hand.
At her current space, Gonul curates a menu that combines childhood Turkish favorites—such as moroccan lamb stew and moussaka—with local ingredients and recipes, such as butternut-squash ravioli and stuffed poblano chilis. She also chose the restaurant’s current venue for its open kitchen and bar; facets which allow her to hold cooking classes and food fights during off-hours.