At the start of summer, photographer Allison Zaucha packed up and hit the road to move cross-country to Los Angeles. Along the 2500+ mile drive, she worked with Life & Thyme to develop a road trip food guide, taking photographs as she ate her way across the country. While her fiancé Mike wrote the story, Allison photographed everything from the best pizza in Nashville to the tastiest ramen in Oklahoma City.
When did you start working with Life & Thyme?
I’ve been shooting with Life & Thyme since 2015 when we were living in Maryland and I began working on stories in Baltimore and DC for them. A story I was particularly honored to photograph and write was one in Baltimore about Ida B’s Table, a restaurant that is serving modern soul food and honoring the African American history and the history of Baltimore. Mike and I have also worked together with them on a project about Waterman on the Chesapeake and an examination into the declining number of crab populations in the Chesapeake.
Did you pitch this project to them or what was that process like?
I pitched them on this project because my fiance Mike and I were moving to California. We have done stories together in the past and loved the idea of documenting this trip and seeing the country in this way. Life & Thyme does a lot of cool city guides throughout the world and I thought this would be a cool take on that idea.
How did you approach a project of this size? What was involved in planning/preproduction?
We began months before the actual trip and began with talking to our editor Stef Ferrari because she’s traveled extensively and has done this particular drive many times herself. She had amazing recommendations all over but particularly in Nashville and we wish we could do the drive again to go to more of them. Stef tipped us off to Fox’s Donut Den in Nashville which was unbelievably good. We also began strategizing around what kind of food you want to eat on a long road trip. I also planned each of our Airbnb’s around the location of the restaurants. From there I began reaching out to our favorite places and began hearing back immediately. There was a lot of communication for the planning of this project with our editors, chefs and managers before and during the road trip. Because we were driving between 8-13 hours a day we kept in touch with each restaurant to make sure they knew where we were and kept them in the loop of our exact timing. It was great teaming up with these restaurants because everyone was really excited to be a part of a road trip guide.
With so many options for food available, how did you decide which places to stop at and which to skip over?
Often road trips lead to greasy, unhealthy fast food and you don’t have time to sit down for a long meal. We wanted to treat each restaurant as a landing destination or starting off point and find locations that really touched on the comfort food aspect. It was important to us that while the comfort food theme was a unifying factor that each restaurant highlighted something unique to the community. Goro Ramen in Oklahoma City is one of two really good ramen restaurants there. Jeff, the owner, grew up in the city and wanted to pay homage to his family heritage while also introducing the community to really good food.
What was your favorite part of the project?
My favorite part of the project was meeting all the amazing people at each of the locations and of course eating the food. It’s so wonderful when you can meet people through food and hear their history and journey to how they got there. For example, we could have spent all night talking to Phil Krajeck at Folk because he has had an incredible journey in Nashville and really has a deep love and commitment to sustainability and experimenting with ingredients. I’m very naturally curious so for me it’s such a joy to use my camera as a means to getting to know people and honor what their story is.
Any funny or interesting stories that happened along the way?
We were on our way to Goro Ramen in Oklahoma City when we pulled off to fuel up the car. Luckily we pulled off when we did because we saw dozens of cars come off the highway and the news alerted us to a potential tornado touching down. When we went in for water a woman inside the gas station advised another co-worker to “take everyone to the storm spot if the tornado touches down.” That’s when we became a little worried! Luckily it all worked out. We ended up going to Goro Ramen the next morning which turned out to be the best meal before we hit the road.
What has the reaction to the images been so far?
People are really excited about it. I used Instagram stories during the trip to show the journey in real time but have been going back on the feed now that the story is published and highlighting each of the stops in the road trip which I hope is a fun way for people to experience what each spot feels like.
Check out Allison’s cross-country culinary adventure on the Life & Thyme website here.
See more of Allison’s work on her website.