Mexican food is known for many things, but being beautifully presented is definitely not one of them, acknowledges the photographer Anna Knott. Still, she insists that she never met a dish too difficult to shoot, including those for this month’s cover story, Mextravaganza! “My goal was to make the food look happy, fun, and enjoyable,” she says. Her task was made easier by the upbeat surroundings of the restaurants she visited. “It was like a welcoming party every time I arrived at a new place,” says Knott, who joins the masthead this month as a contributing photographer. She regularly takes pictures for the magazine’s Table section, and this month she also shot Arena’s “Beauty School Knockout,” which features stunning jewelry and a funky seventies vibe.
“Talking to her certainly reminded me of all the things she did at the White House that went right,” says MARCIA FROELKE COBURN, a senior editor at Chicago, of her discussions with the former White House social secretary Desirée Rogers, who recently resigned and returned to Chicago after uninvited guests crashed a state dinner. Coburn first spent time with Rogers 12 years ago when she wrote about a trio of accomplished Chicago friends that included Rogers, the White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, and Linda Johnson Rice, the chairman of the board at Johnson Publishing. In Her Next Act, Coburn details Rogers’s renewed life here—and her new role as CEO of Rice’s company, which publishes Ebony and Jet. “It’s time to move on,” says Coburn of the D.C. scandal. “She certainly has.”
As Chicago’s chief dining critic, JEFF RUBY routinely eats his way through the best food the city has to offer. For Mextravaganza! he spent two months consuming almost nothing but Mexican cuisine, his most difficult brush with mass consumption yet. “The issue with Mexican food is that I love it too much, and I can’t leave anything on my plate,” explains Ruby. “I mean, it’s really hard to stop halfway through a taco.” For this assignment, he had a lot more on his plate than just food—he also had to beef up his knowledge of Mexican history, culture, and geography. Still, Ruby insists that his research isn’t always as glamorous as it sounds. “Sometimes I’m just riding my bike to a taquería and eating as much as I can.”
Trade rumors involving Joakim Noah surfaced the morning BRIAN KUHLMANN arrived at the Berto Center, the Bulls’ practice facility in Deerfield, for a photo shoot with the seven-footer. But Noah, unfazed by the speculative chatter, remained calm and collected. “He was really laid back,” says Kuhlmann, “and there was no pretension on his part whatsoever.” The photographer says that Noah was willing to show off his goofy side but played it safe to avoid injury. “I was looking for real high-energy shots,” Kuhlmann explains. “Noah took it to 90 percent of what I wanted. He kept pointing and saying, ‘That’s the coach’s office. I can’t do that or I’ll get in trouble.’”
“It was interesting to have such a normal conversation about such sexually extreme things,” says JEFF HUEBNER of the time he spent profiling the Chicago artist Nicholas Sistler, whose newest series of prints uses vintage erotica. “This is porn of the pre-Hustler variety,” says Huebner. “These images are about power, not just sex.” He adds that Sistler was drawn to the staginess of the images, which dovetailed nicely with the crux of his work: portraits of rooms that blur illusion and reality. While exploring Sistler’s process of selection, Huebner discovered that the artist had ruled out some of the images because he wasn’t in control of the uncertainty. “They crossed the line from fiction to possibly truth,” he says. “It was really creepy to Sistler, so he didn’t use them.”
Photography: (Knott) Anna Knott, (Coburn) Meghan Schromen, (Huebner) courtesy of Jeff Huebner