One of the best parts of photo editor Tim Johnson’s job takes place after his real job is done. Tim spent much of September photographing the most beautiful, creative dishes this city has ever seen for our 10 Best Restaurants feature. Tim shot nearly every photo in the gorgeous 16-page story that begins on Page 42, the cover photo at The Refectory and hundreds of other equally stunning photographs that didn’t make the final cut.
When the photo sessions end—each one takes between 90 minutes and two hours—Tim is often invited to share these dishes that have been specially prepared for the occasion. “These are chefs, but they’re also artists,” Tim says. “A lot of them are a little offended if you don’t try what they’ve prepared. And I’m a food photographer. It helps to have a knowledge of food. What’s wonderful is, afterward, when the chef or owner and two or three sous chefs and wait staff are sitting around tasting and talking together about the food with me.”
For Tim, that food-sharing ritual was never more appreciated. A year ago, he couldn’t taste anything. In April of 2016, he was diagnosed with cancer in his tonsils and lymph nodes. Two surgeries in June and July removed the cancerous tissue, and several rounds of radiation followed in August. “I started gradually losing my sense of taste soon after that,” he says. “Sweets went first, then everything started taking on a metallic cardboard flavor. Then it was just gone.”
Tim says his loss of taste lasted three or four months, spanning the weeks he was photographing last year’s 10 Best Restaurants package. He didn’t bother tasting the marvelous dishes then. There was little point. “I was pretty much living on Ensure and smoothies,” he says.
Then, as gradually as his sense of taste disappeared, it began to come back. It was around Christmas when he first noticed. Asian and spicy foods were the first to return. “Everything tasted really different, but I could taste it,” he says. “Pot stickers tasted great!”
Tim says the following weeks were very interesting. “It was actually a good opportunity to try new foods and really think about how they tasted,” he says. “It wasn’t so much about liking a taste or not liking it, but just being happy I could taste at all and being curious about how different foods would taste.”
He says after more than a year, his sense of taste is finally returning to normal. Sweets were the last taste to come back. It was only last month that he noticed he could taste chocolate again. “Needless to say, I really appreciate food and flavor,” he says, “and I’m extremely thankful that I was able to recover.”
So are we.