We Work In The Dark (a working title)
We met playing kickball. I had just moved from California to Denver and needed to make friends. It was a cup-in-hand kickball league Thursday nights at City Park with flip cup at Illegal Pete’s immediately after. Those Thursday nights were sloppy but incredibly fun. A real opportunity to get to know people.
I vaguely remember meeting Jimena. Before one of our games, a bunch of us were circled around, having our first beer and bantering. Someone casually slipped in that she had a “food blog”. I think the line was, “Oh, Jimena is Instagram famous” (She had somewhere around 30,000 followers on her personal account at the time. A hefty number compared to us novice Instagramers). I don’t remember how we started talking about it, I believe I kept bugging her, “When are YOU going to take to ME to an event?” She finally caved and took me to a happy hour event held at Julep, this neat southern restaurant tucked away in the RiNo Arts District (possibly have the best deviled eggs ever but that’s for another story.)
That was almost three years ago.
Wednesday, October 30th, 2019
It’s 6:37pm and I am at home prepping for a FaceTime call with Jimena at 7:00pm. We are going to go over our current slate of projects and outlining what 2020 will look like for Comino. These sort of meetings usually happen in person, over coffee or at a bar, but Jimena is in Mexico, taking care of her visa.
As we go over our list of ongoing projects one thing becomes apparent; Comino has had an inadvertent hiatus. 2019 was a great year for Comino; we launched our website, debuted a video series and published multiple stories but we needed to take a couple steps back in order to keep moving forward. In fact, we have been working non-stop since then; producing podcasts, writing stories, filming new videos/documentaries. Making c******.
We live in the world of c******, yes c******. Arcade Fire wrote an entire album about it. The world is dominated by it. A word that was once exciting and new, now feels dirty and like a burden. It’s an awkward position to be in when starting a creative studio. I mean, all we want to do is tell stories and do it at the highest level, but do we HAVE to fight for everyone’s attention? Do we have to churn out c****** every day to keep our audience satisfied? Who is our audience?
Questions we can’t answer.
It usually happens like this; we get deep into a meeting, we beat the shit out of all the details in our line of site until mental exhaustion kicks in, then bing, something clicks. A door opens, the light bulb goes on, a domino falls, an idea is realized.
People need to know why. Why Comino? Why are you doing this? Why should we care?
Questions we can answer.
On the eve of 2020, we decided to use the remainder of our meeting, and 2019 to reflect, do some soul searching as to what it is we are trying to accomplish. What better place to start than the beginning...
Tanner Gibas: The thing that amazes me about you is that you are so multifaceted in your interests and you have so much shit going on, why food?
Jimena Zamora: Well, I always grew up very indirectly with food. No one in my house was a chef or in the food industry but I think my dad always enjoyed Sunday lunches, where we would have this really nice meal at home or somewhere else and get to spend quality time together. He would say something like “everyone be ready at 2:30 for lunch” and would spend most of Sunday together enjoying a meal together. Those are the best memories with my family or close ones so I think it might have subconsciously started with that. How did it evolve into what it is now, I have no fucking clue. I think it stemmed from that, I link food with having the best time and then I eventually realized that food is fucking awesome and I can talk about it forever. Then you learn about Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, David Chang, Chris Ying, and other amazing storytellers who open you into this world.
TG: Do you remember the first time you took a photo of food with a purpose?
JZ: Yes, with REAL intention? I remember I was in Valle de Bravo, which is a magic town near Mexico City, it’s called a magic town cause well...you’ll just have to go and see for yourself. My friends parents have a little farm and they were showing us around. I picked an avocado and put it on top of some hay and just took a picture. That was my profile picture for Comino for the longest time.
TG: So was that the point when writing came into play?
JZ: It was honestly before that but I think I treated them separately. Photography was one way I would “tell stories” and writing was another. I then found myself jotting notes and making lists about food on my phone and at the time I was a freelancer so I thought why not? It seemed like a natural thing, I was taking pictures of my travels and writing about random things, but I really wanted to write about my travels which just happened to involve food a lot. I didn’t necessarily know what it was, I just wanted a place that was solely about my own experiences with food.
TG: What year was that?
TG: Were you back in America at this point?
JZ: No, it all started in Mexico. I was traveling a lot and I wanted a place to put that stuff, I didn’t necessarily wanted to post everything on my personal site. I wanted a place that was just dedicated to that. Then eventually when I came back to the US it turned into something else once I started reaching out to the Denver food scene and started to meet people in the restaurant and food industry.
TG: I’m curious how it morphed into such a palpable, clear cut vision of Jimena. How long did it take for you to get the Comino aesthetic to where it is today? To me, you go back to your early stuff and you have had this great sense of design.
JZ: But I don’t think I saw that, I think you saw it clearly and that’s why you approached me, but I don’t think I saw what it was till the website launched. I think you probably knew before me just cause I was so in it I couldn’t see beyond my peripheral vision. I only knew it felt special to me.
TG: I think what makes Comino from your end so interesting and what resonated with me was that you are operating in this space that is sort of this free-for-all of content. It seems like purely an influencer space and you are thriving in it, even though you at heart are not an influencer, but you have that magnetism of an influencer because of the aesthetic you are able to put out.
JZ: As a designer that’s one of the biggest compliments. If we all take a picture of a tomato and someone can for sure be like this one was taken by Jimena or Comino, that’s the magic right?
TG: I just laugh, we go to these events and it just seems like you are so different. Was it hard for you to go to events and network?
JZ: Yes, it’s hard. When you first start going to food media events, you want to make sure you do well enough of a job to get invited to future events right? This means that if you want to have a seat at the table you have to play the influencer game. At some point I found myself just going around in circles and asking myself the same questions. Do I need to be taking pictures of other people? Do I need to be doing what other people are doing? Or can I just do Comino and would that be enough? Eventually you realize that you want to do what you want to do and hopefully that’s good enough for whoever invited you and if you don’t get invited again then you were probably not a good fit anyway. Regarding the food influencer scene, I think people are still trying to figure out what to do with influencers, media companies, or blogs when they try to promote their spaces. I think there should be more thought put into inviting people who you would think actually fit the brand. Then you have the other side were some people take advantage of getting invited into an event. It’s a constant struggle and learning process I guess….for everyone including us. What about you? Why did you jump on this train?
TG: It’s simple, I saw a space that I was able to go play and easily jump into without having to change it. I think any creative person secretly wants that, they either want to build something from scratch and watch it grow or find something that really engages them and have the ability to jump into it seamlessly. Little did I know that we are the exact same person.
JZ: Yeah I was not expecting that.
TG: It’s great and being such an outsider who loves food but when you start talking about it, my ADD kicks in and I can’t retain any of it but the aesthetic of it and the experience of it always draws me in. That’s something you’ve captured. You’re a contrarian without fighting the system around you.
JZ: I AM a contrarian! I always find myself asking questions on why someone would do something when its not done the way I would do it. I’m very curious I guess….
TG: It’s completely unpretentious in the way you go about it, it’s never directed towards anyone. You just trust your gut which I think it’s hard for people to do in this space. The day-to-day grind of the social media machine can eat people alive cause they feel like they can’t stop or else it will go to shit. I know a lot of people who have become monsters of themselves because they are a slave to that process. I look at that and go, no thank you but I feel like the space needs nuance and more depth which I think it’s what we are trying to work towards.
JZ: We’ve always said, the rule is that there are no rules. The moment you give yourself over to pleasing other people it kind of ruins it. This is not our livelihood, so this is the time to be creatively free and do whatever we want and if people like it, that’s great and if people don’t that sucks but who the fuck cares? I also say this very easily right now, but I know its hard not to care when you’ve put so much time and effort into something.
TG: I think that’s the fun part. We have been in the lab for so long we don’t know who is going to latch on and become our audience but that’s not the point, but I’m proud of our stamina to keep working on this stuff knowing that it’s going to take a long time while there are things happening around us. We are getting that bit of FOMO.
JZ: It’s hard!! But in the end the point, for us, is to create and tell stories of people and places we think deserve a platform. Although sometimes I do feel like everyone is on the boat going down the river, full speed ahead, and we are just over here still sanding away our handmade, custom wooden boat.
...but I wouldn’t have it any other way
TG: ….AND we still don’t know if it’s going to float or not.
It’s safe to say that if it excites us, we are probably going to do it, likes or no likes.
Before you leave….
I wanted to take a moment to say thank you to my wonderful Creative Director and dear friend. He challenges Comino, pushes us to take risks, and encourages me in every way. As you saw, Tanner and I are very much the same person in many ways. We have a lot of the same qualities and imperfections, which always makes for fun conversations. He has believed in this project for a long time, but most importantly he has elevated it to a level I could have never done by myself.
Chapeau my friend! To creating more stories!